Aspen Times Weekly: Midnight Special |

Aspen Times Weekly: Midnight Special

Eddy Duchin playing piano at the Copacobana, Rio de Janeiro. (Photo by Hart Preston//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image | Time & Life Pictures


“You can appreciate the concept of the Midnight Supper more when you understand how it fits into the St. Regis brand,” says St. Regis Aspen Resort marketing manager Jessica Young. “It’s timeless, yet still relevant in a very contemporary way.”

Daily and annual rituals have come to define St. Regis Hotels & Resorts around the world. Here’s a sampling:


Caroline Astor hosted afternoon tea with her elite group of friends frequently during New York’s Gilded Age. Now every St. Regis around the globe hosts afternoon tea (in Aspen, 4-6 p.m.), inviting guests to enjoy distinct interpretations of this English legacy. Each property’s tea service is inspired by the respective traditions of each location — think: iced tea poolside in Bali or a formal Japanese tea ceremony in Osaka, Japan.


Though the true origins of the Bloody Mary cocktail remain unclear, Fernand Petiot, bartender at The St. Regis New York’s legendary King Cole Bar, perfected his recipe for a vodka and tomato juice cocktail he called the Bloody Mary in 1934. (He claims to have invented it in Paris in 1921.)

Since the name “Bloody Mary” was deemed inappropriate for the hotel’s sophisticated clientele, it was rechristened as the Red Snapper. Today it remains the signature cocktail of St. Regis Hotels & Resorts — each property crafts its own interpretation of the original with different spirits and spices. Try the St. Regis Aspen Resort’s version, the Downhill Red Snapper, infused with fresh basil and dill garnished with two olives and a pickle, in the Shadow Mountain Lounge.


Every afternoon around 5:15 p.m. in summer and 4:45 p.m. in winter, the St. Regis Aspen Resort head butler marks the transition from day to evening by sabering a bottle of Champagne in the courtyard. The tradition began when John Jacob Astor IV founded the first St. Regis in New York in 1904, and it’s one that happens at all properties before sunset.


Since the “Old King Cole” mural by artist Maxfield Parrish was hung at the St. Regis New York in 1932, each St. Regis resort features a showpiece work by a local artist over its lobby bar. “Strong Wind: the Myth of the Aspen Trees” by Bo Bartlett (2013), unveiled in December 2013 in Aspen’s Shadow Mountain Lounge (pictured left), depicts a Native American folk tale of a young warrior seeking true love.


Held annually in the St. Regis Aspen Resort courtyard (this year on Dec. 17 at 5-7 p.m.), this complimentary community tradition features the Aspen High School Choir and Band, photos with Santa Claus, holiday cookies, festive beverages, a dual Champagne sabering, and more.

IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE that Aspen was, at one time, a place so depressing that people packed up and moved away in droves. The year: 1898. The silver mining boom — which counted Aspen as the largest silver-producing district annually in the U.S, turning out one-sixth of the national total, according to the Aspen Historical Society — had gone bust, and the town’s peak population (estimated between 10,000 to 16,000 in 1893) was in swift decline. Developer Jerome B. Wheeler, namesake of the Hotel Jerome and the Wheeler Opera House, was on the brink of bankruptcy, and Aspen Mountain, dotted with defunct mining claims and an ore tram over Spar Gulch, would remain undeveloped as a ski resort for more than three decades. The Quiet Years had arrived.

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, the opulent Gilded Age was in full swing. Caroline Astor, grande dame of New York City’s upper crust, threw a lavish, late-night affair at her Fifth Avenue home (site of the Empire State Building today) following a performance at the Metropolitan Opera House. Matriarch of one of the richest, most well-connected society families, Astor invited some 400 of her closest friends to a decadent, 10-course meal followed by ballroom dancing. Astor’s “exclusive” Midnight Supper was born — and the extravagant fêtes she hosted over the years inspired son John Jacob Astor IV to build a hotel where they could continue into perpetuity: the St. Regis New York, in 1904.

On Thursday, Sept. 1, the St. Regis Aspen Resort reprises the storied tradition that has continued at the brand’s properties around the globe: the annual Midnight Supper. Here the event has been adapted for modern times in the mountains: it’s held at 8 p.m., instead of peak witching hour; by candlelight in the hotel’s courtyard instead of a stuffy ballroom; and capped at 35 guests (tickets to the event, $350, are nearly sold out).

Instead of fine wine, as Mrs. Astor fancied, the five-course meal will be accompanied by Buffalo Trace Distillery bourbon of varying ages — including pours from its limited-edition Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve (13-year and 23-year). Instead of jazz, East Coast-based old-time country band the Howling Kettles will perform following the meal. Though Midnight Suppers here at the St. Regis Aspen Resort began as private events for special clients, the property opened them to the public last summer as a way to share the hotel’s reputation as a group of world-class hotels united by ritual.

“Everything we do is with intention, to be, in some way, a legacy,” says St. Regis marketing manager Meredith Schurch. “We cherish the timeless traditions we carry out every day. Every St. Regis [around the world] sabers a bottle of Champagne. Every St. Regis has a Bloody Mary recipe. Every St. Regis has a unique mural above the bar.” (See “Traditions Over Time,” opposite page, to learn more.)

The Midnight Supper is also the first major event at the St. Regis Aspen Resort — notwithstanding the mind-bogglingly diverse Sunday brunch, the resort’s latest ritual, which began a few weeks ago — at which new executive chef Samir Roonwall will be able to flex his style with a special menu. (Ditto for new executive pastry chef Carolina Polo, one of our town’s most talented confectioners.) Though Roonwall, a 30-year industry veteran with stints in Dubai and Toronto, is a huge fan of Asian cuisine and plans to revamp the Trecento Quindici Decano menu in coming months with more international flavors, the Midnight Supper menu will showcase American standards — with a few surprises.

“The theme is going to be bringing some classics back and presenting them with our own unique twist,” Roonwall says. The first course, Romaine hearts, for example, is his take on Caesar salad.

Roonwall looked to the history of the Midnight Supper in selecting wagyu steak and Colorado striped bass — though he’ll punch up the local product with zippy coriander chimichurri and pickled cherries-plus-peach salsa, respectively.

“We are placing the vegetable component before the main course,” Roonwall shares of the third dish, stated simply as “peas and carrots.” “Just something that we came up with that creates a positive influence on the entrée and makes it a bit more exciting. They are not spiced, but will be infused with some herbal oils.”

The third course, “quinoa, seafood, and crispy things,” sounds straight out of 2016, adding texture à la crunchy, dehydrated ingredients.

Of course, an Astor-inspired gathering wouldn’t be a party without ample booze. Following Sazerac cocktails to kick off the evening, “We’ll have some really rare bottles of Pappy — for people to experience,” says St. Regis marketing manager Jessica Young. “It’s like liquid gold.”

For dessert, Polo will prepare lychee chiboust — rich French custard with lavender meringue and passion fruit sauce — to pair with neat pours of hearty George T. Stagg whiskey, aged in new charred oak barrels for at least 15 years.

“It’s so special,” Young says. “The Midnight Supper [harks to an era] of unfathomable wealth and bespoke experiences. It’s not every day you can sit in the courtyard here and have this really intimate dinner with special pairings.”

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