Hotel Jerome, Aspen review: How the west was won

Read our writer's views on this property below

Hunter S. Thompson no longer props up the bar, but the Jerome is a storied celebration of US history, writes Lance Richardson.

The hotels of the US cover a vast spectrum, from Waldorf Astoria splendour to the Bates Motel variety on a dusty road to nowhere. Somewhere in this spread sits a series of hotels that act like living museums, embodying the story of the country's westward expansion, the lofty ambition of its people to tame the wilderness and make something monumental and new. The Driskill is one such hotel, built in Austin, Texas, to flaunt the wealth of a local cattle baron in the 1880s. The Old Faithful Inn, in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, is an imposing log cabin, perched next to an enormous geyser as if to prove the dominance of man over nature.

The Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colorado, was conceived as a way of bringing civilisation to the Rocky Mountains. A lavish resting place in a town that sought to fend off savagery with a gilded opera house, the hotel aspired to rival The Ritz in Paris. Jerome Wheeler, a Civil War hero and the president of Macy's department store, put up the necessary capital after migrating across from New York City. His wife hated the move west, but the locals seem to have loved it - they got the first elevator west of the Mississippi River and lined up for hours just to take a ride.

The Jerome opened in 1889. The tax department seized it 20 years later. Ski combat troops slept on the floor during World War II. It closed in the 1960s, then reopened again.

A Bauhaus artist painted the terracotta exterior white and blue; the paint was later removed. Hunter S. Thompson took up residence at the J-Bar and became a famous fixture. The town blossomed and turned into a haven for millionaires and billionaires stopping by for an apres ski.

All this cumulative history takes a toll, of course: the Jerome closed last year for a much-needed makeover. After five months it reopened in December, with impressive results.

When I visit the Jerome, on its first weekend after the reopening, the finishing touches are still being applied. But sometimes you know a cake is good before the icing has fully set.

The lobby is a curious melange, with miners' artefacts and animal trophies sitting alongside Chinese vases and zebra-print couches. On paper it doesn't work, but in person the effect is something of an elegant bazaar, with vestiges of the Old World, Orient and Africa shipped into the Wild West on a steam train. You feel as if you're on the frontier as conceived by the editors of Vogue.

This impression continues into the terrific Living Room lounge, with cow-skin floor rugs and an open fireplace. Women in fur coats sip Beaujolais beneath a vintage American flag with only 38 stars (Colorado was the 38th state to join the Union). The Living Room and the more casual J-Bar are good enough to attract a local clientele; this is the sort of place in which you want to relax after a chilly day on the ski slopes.

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In many ways, these social spaces are the star attraction of the newly renovated hotel. They are the most attentively detailed, and the subject, on this first weekend at least, of countless conversations among guests and staff: Did you see the antler chandeliers in the Wheeler Room? Have you eaten at Prospect, the fine-dining restaurant? Is J-Bar just as good as it used to be?

With such a high benchmark, the guest rooms can seem a little spartan. My junior suite on the third floor is so spacious as to seem under-furnished. I like that certain aesthetic motifs are carried on from the bars, though - my chairs have hooves, like the stools downstairs.

The gourmet wet bar, included in the price, is stocked with delicious treats such as pepper beef jerky, while cocktail packages are just an iPad touch away (room and maid services can also be ordered this way).

The suite decor is muted, embracing tradition, but I question the inclusion of an imposing photograph of Chief Buckskin Charley, described simply as "Ute Indian Chief 1880". Imagine decorating a hotel room with photographs of indigenous Australians and providing no further detail. More information about Chief Buckskin Charley is at the Aspen Historical Society, housed in a building also constructed by Wheeler.

For this hotel, the past is never more than a step around the corner.

The writer travelled courtesy of Aspen/Snowmass.

 

Trip notes

Where Hotel Jerome, Aspen, Colorado. +1 970 920 1000, hoteljerome.com.

How much Rooms start from $395 (plus tax) in summer and $695 (plus tax) in winter, and include a gourmet wet bar and snacks. Special offers help guests take advantage of the local ski opportunities and the in-house spa.

Top marks The Living Room is destined to become one of Aspen's premier gathering spots and is a must-see, regardless of where you're staying in town.

Black mark A tiled-up fireplace in my room feels like a missed opportunity in a place where gas fires are a dime a dozen.

Don't miss "Aspen Crud": devised to baffle the authorities during Prohibition, it's also the J-Bar's signature drink. It mixes vanilla milkshake with bourbon.

More information aspensnowmass.com.