Andy Stonehouse
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

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February 20, 2013
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Aspen Times Weekly: Living the luxe life in Aspen

ASPEN - My friend leveled with me as I told him about the general agenda for our Aspen weekend, the idea being "pretend to be Paris Hilton. Go all out. Don't end up in jail."

"Our BMW is going to carry some heavy gravity. But if you wear a fur coat, you'll look like Kelsey Grammer, and they'll laugh us back to Beaver Creek."

Like everyone else living outside Pitkin County, I'd always sensed a certain peculiarity with Aspen's relationship with its famous visitors: They come to town to pretend that nobody notices they're here, and you largely oblige them, though you are indeed fully aware of their presence.

So what's it actually like to roll around with the weight of a Grammy winner and her entourage, insufferable dog in tow and weird concierge requests played to the hilt?

Not so bad, it turns out. Those folks with the private jets bigger than the American Airlines commuter do get very special treatment, but according to the community's highest-ranking celebrity handlers, they mostly tend to be pretty nice about it in return. With a few glaring exceptions.

Sadly unable to convince anyone to loan us some time in their Gulfstream G650, we'd opted for the next-best tool to connote immediate presence: a new BMW M6 Coupe, one of the fastest, most wildly distinctive, rear-wheel-drive sub-supercars on the market.

With 560 twin-turbocharged horsepower and a paint job (the not-at-all exotic Sakhir Orange Metallic) that allows the car to be seen from space, I braved the Interstate 70 passes with ultra-high-performance summer tires to make our entrance, avoiding incarceration and very much enjoying the non-frozen portions of the trip.

At the Jerome, still vitally fresh from its 4 1/2-month, Todd-Avery Lenahan/Rowland + Broughton high-luxe makeover, the M6 seemed to have found an appropriate home, and we were quickly surrounded by the cowboy-hat-wearing staff, eager to help us in any way we desired.

This, we discovered, might be the biggest secret to those living the big life: You will always receive more-than-enthusiastic service. Your every wish will be catered to. At times, you will require a lacrosse stick to keep the bellmen and room cleaners and front-desk attendants from providing you with too much help.

However, if you are like two of the Jerome's most recent, high-profile guests (Christina Aguilera and Alanis Morissette), your entourage will help keep you safely isolated from too much public contact as you settle into one of the hotel's three, refurbished executive suites.

Somehow, in the flurry of intense courtesy and the bellman's instructions on how to operate the in-room cappuccino maker and the iPad that serves as your electronic concierge connection (a nice touch, indeed), our bags did indeed temporarily disappear. So we contemplated our own junior suite's celebrity-friendly larder - "everything is complimentary except the Fred-brand bottled water in the fridge," we were told, our interest now piqued in that exclusive and dangerous Fred water - and settled around the suspiciously mirror-topped coffee table while the bags were rediscovered. Then the cheese plate arrived. I was hoping for Cristal, as well, but they were on to us already.

"This is not bad at all," my friend noted.

Critical to the complete satisfaction of guests with their own reality series, and even those without, veteran Jerome concierge James Cryer said he prides himself on providing just as much service as the hotel's now-even-more-high-end clientele desires - noting that Daryl Hannah had been in the hotel's very attractive new Living Room bar the night before.

"With higher rates comes a certain expectation of service, and we're working very hard to maintain that," he noted. "We're getting more recognizable celebrities, but they mostly want to be treated like everyone else."

Cryer, who grew up in Los Angeles and says he attended junior high with Paris Hilton ("She likes to cause the scene - and she's more of a Little Nell kind of client"), also deals with the typical routine of catering to celebrity diets. And as for the over-the-top requests?

"It's never anything like asking for a cheetah in their room," he said dryly. "But I did spend almost five hours one time doing the legwork for a client who wanted to land a helicopter in our courtyard so he could go on a raft trip on the Upper Arkansas. I was going to call in a high-altitude-capable helicopter from Grand Junction, and I got a permit to land it on the Rio Grande field - and then I told the client the exorbitant price that all would cost. And he decided to pass on that."

Cryer says his biggest coup is being able to land his high-flying guests the off-peak dinner reservations they often desire, which for some reason always seem to be in the restaurant dead zone of 7:30 p.m. Cache Cache, Matsuhisa and Pinions always top the list, be it stars such as Bill Murray, Cheech Marin or Mick Jagger - all of whom are pretty cool in person, he said.

"That's the witching hour, and sometimes even the general manager won't call you back with a request like that," Cryer said. "So sometimes I have to drop the name, mention that this person is going to come in and they should anticipate a higher bill, and they can put them in a high-visibility location if they want. That's where being a long-term concierge comes in."

True enough, things are indeed a bit different at The Little Nell, the more well-established nexus for high-roller visits.

On a tour of the 1,900-square- foot Little Nell suite, retailing for about $5,000 per night and situated literally spitting distance from the gondola, I began to understand the appeal of the hotel to those A-list clients. You've heard the stories of the days when the sparring Trump clan decamped there, The Donald taking one side of the joint and Ivana settling into her own set of suites; turns out that's all true.

Katriona Hembury, the Little Nell's pleasant and very British guest-relations manager, explained that the hotel's long-established position as go-to spot for celeb visits has drawn the occasional paparazzo to the lobby - but in the hotel's efficient approach, they're asked to check their camera equipment or to kindly vacate the premises.

"Our guests are paying for that privacy, and we do everything to honor their requests," Hembury said. "We want our staff to be aware of who they are, but we also don't want them to be asking for autographs, either. You can come here, be yourself, and we won't shout about it."

In her eyes, The Little Nell's guests understand what they're getting themselves into. Otherwise, they'll cross the street and end up in the pool at 39 Below.

"Most recently, it's been a lot of high-end international businessmen from Australia and Brazil," Hembury said. "We also had a group of Ukrainian diplomats who did not want to tell us who they were or what they were doing."

And what about the tales of celebrities behaving badly? Hembury said that, like Cryer's clients, people are, for the most part, low-key and pleasant, but occasional problems do arise.

"I would say that my experiences with that caliber of guests have been 99 percent positive, but there's just that 1 percent that ruins things. In our eyes, spitting on staff members or destroying rooms is not acceptable," she added.

For the majority who do exhibit good behavior, The Little Nell is more than happy to cater to requests ranging from private shopping trips ("They'll sit outside Fendi while their staff goes inside and picks stuff out," Hemburg said.) to arrangements to head off to Silverton for heli-skiing, plus the typical desires for first tracks with private ski instructors.

(I had hoped for a bit of dirt on how the Aspen Skiing Co. caters its on-mountain offerings to the occasional celebrity skier or snowboarder request, but they graciously declined to discuss their policies.)

Tour complete, my friend and I settled into Campari and sodas and yet another local artisan cheese plate at the Nell's Element 47 and theorized what it was going to take to pull off this lifestyle.

"You're going to have to write 'Marley and Me,'" my friend said. "Or maybe some young-adult book with werewolves. Otherwise, we're out of luck."


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The Aspen Times Updated Feb 21, 2013 06:40AM Published Feb 20, 2013 09:38PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.