Le Tour de Biscuit
Lance Armstrong, according to my golden retriever, Clover, knows exactly what he’s talking about. It has nothing to do with the bike, of course – it’s all about the biscuit.
In dog parlance, that means knowing which stores in Aspen hand out biscuits to four-legged shoppers and exactly where said biscuits are kept. And proper canine appreciation, according to Clover’s behavior, is to act not only like each and every biscuit you receive is the first – and best – you’ve ever tasted but also like it may well be the last you’ll ever have the good fortune to get.
So with fellow Aspen biscuit-seekers in mind, Clover and I set out one recent Friday morning to map the Tour de Biscuit, a selective sampling of downtown stores and businesses that dispense free doggie treats. To help with the research, we recruited two other team members: Susie, a rambunctious 10-month-old golden who is a friend of Clover’s, and Mike, a rambunctious 47-year-old friend of mine to draft off Susie (and serve as her handler).
The Tour de Biscuit starts in front of The Aspen Times office on Main Street and heads east toward the Hotel Jerome. The Jerome, which also accepts dogs as overnight guests, is well-known as a biscuit stop among the canine set, as friendly staffers dispense Milkbones from the outside bell desk. According to TJ, one of the guys out front when we visit, “dozens” of dogs come by the Jerome each day. “You’ll see a dog across the street [pulling toward the hotel], and the owner is hanging on for dear life,” he adds. I nod in recognition, having been on the leash-handle end of this scenario many a time.
Michael, TJ’s colleague, notes that golden retrievers are the most frequent visitors. In fact, we learn that Brooklyn, a golden based at The Aspen Times, comes by so often that she has her own stash of Eukanuba treats, provided by her owner, behind the desk.
Continuing east, we cross Mill Street, with Susie in the lead, to pay a visit to WestStar Bank. Banks are always a safe bet for scoring dog snacks. On entering, we spy a selection of multicolored biscuits attractively displayed in a square earthenware bowl on a long table. It looks so enticing that Clover and Susie jump up to help themselves, which doesn’t bother the bank employees one bit.
“Our biscuits are the most ritzy,” jokes Stephanie. Indeed, the biscuit display shares table space with an original Remington sculpture. “A lot of people say they do the dog biscuit route,” adds Stephanie as we explain our morning’s mission.
To do a brief comparison of local financial institutions, we cross Main Street and walk two blocks to Mesa Bank, where Country Prime biscuits are on the menu. Again, we get an enthusiastic welcome. “Some of our best customers are dogs,” says Paul, who gives Clover and Susie their treats from a bowl atop the counter. “They’re always in a great mood.”
We head up the block and walk left on Hyman toward the Wheeler Opera House, our next destination. On the way, we pass a new store called Aspen Inside and can’t help noticing the sign in the window that says “no dogs.” “Un-Aspen Inside” would be a more appropriate way to describe a store that bans some of this town’s most revered citizens.
At the visitor center desk adjacent to the Wheeler box office, biscuits are displayed in a glass jar with a memorial to Cumi, the beloved former dog of Polly Ross, who bartends at the opera house. Cumi, says the woman behind the desk, used to come by every day to get a biscuit. Clover and Susie put their paws on the counter to better view Cumi’s photo, and then they appropriately pay tribute by chowing down on several treats.
Our next stop, on the Hyman Avenue mall, is C.B. Paws, Aspen’s original upscale pet boutique. After helping a couple of women decide among the extensive selection of dog collars, an employee rewards Susie and Clover for their patience with a couple of treats from a glass jar behind the counter. C.B. Paws also has a variety of gourmet dog treats for sale (How does a carob-and-yogurt-dipped bone-shaped biscuit sound?). On the way out, the dogs take a long drink at the large water bowl just outside (all those biscuits can give you dry mouth after a while).
As we stroll down the mall, Clover gazes forlornly at the former location of Aspen Drug, which used to be one of her favorite biscuit stops. The building now houses the “Snowmass Village Discovery Center,” which is really just a fancy way of promoting timeshare sales at the Snowmass Club. Alas, dog biscuits are not part of the discovery process, although the saleswoman admits that “we should get some.”
Though they’re not on our usual shopping circuit, we decide to check out some of the Brand Building retail emporiums to see if they give out biscuits. Lana Marks is a no, though after talking with us, Isabelle, the manager, decides that she will get some to have on hand.
We’re hopeful at Gucci – after all, I once saw a $50 dog frisbee, in black, of course, on sale here. But once again, Clover and Susie come away empty-pawed (and empty-mouthed).
We cross over to The Gap. As we approach the cash registers, an employee named Linda takes one look at Clover and Susie and, without saying a word, automatically ducks beneath the counter and reappears with two Milkbones, which she presents to the dogs. She’s clearly done this routine before. “The dogs all know where to go,” she comments when I ask her if The Gap attracts many local canines.
From there, it’s over to Cooper Street and Pitkin County Dry Goods, where Clover has charmed the sales force many a time with her “orphan” face. The store doesn’t disappoint, as Stacy, who’s behind the counter, immediately produces two small Milkbones upon request.
After stopping in at Chepita for some more Milkbones (and a glance at one of my favorite human treats – their jewelry), we lunge on down to Banana Republic. (Lunging is the canine equivalent of a bike race breakaway.) This is the place where, several years ago, I became aware of the depth of Clover’s devotion to shopping (i.e., biscuit bingeing). At that time, it had been a few months since we had been in Banana, and the store had been remodeled. Clover amazed me, along with the saleswoman, by pulling me over to a clothing rack where there used to be a closet, in which the staff used to keep the dog biscuits.
“I guess she wants a treat,” laughed the woman, when we realized what Clover was doing. My smart little golden then immediately learned the new layout and, ever since, makes a beeline for the cash registers and the stash of biscuits she knows is behind them.
Unfortunately, for this visit, too many other dogs had beaten Clover and Susie to the punch. Leslie, the manager, searched all of the cabinets behind the counter for the usual box of treats but came up empty-handed. “People have been giving out puppy treats like there’s no tomorrow,” she apologized.
Undeterred, the two dogs followed the scent over to the visitor’s information kiosk next door, where Erik graciously handed out biscuits. When we asked, he admitted that he’s never had anyone inquire about which stores hand out dog treats: “This is such a dog-friendly town that they know everybody has biscuits,” he surmised.
From there, it was over to another of Clover’s favorite stops, Gorsuch, by the gondola (after a quick duck into Hamilton Sports to sniff butts with Oliver, the handsome black lab who hangs out there). The salespeople at Gorsuch always fawn over Clover as if she had just dropped $1,000 on a cashmere sweater, so we wanted to make sure that the store gets on Susie’s biscuit radar. Here the dogs enjoyed some IAMS biscuits, a welcome new addition to the brands they’d nibbled elsewhere.
Then it was over to The Little Nell hotel, another required stop on the Tour. The Nell has earned a stellar reputation for pampering both its human and canine guests, and the hotel staff certainly doesn’t ignore doggie day visitors, either. Clover shows Susie where the biscuits are kept, behind the bell counter.
“We have regulars who come by every day, two in the morning and two in the evening,” Parker tells us. “They automatically sit before we even ask them.” (We assume he’s talking about the dogs and not the owners.) “It’s Pavlov’s dog experiment proven,” adds his co-worker Sean.
Before we leave, the dogs enjoy another drink from a bowl of water that one of the bellmen fetches especially for them.
We charge down the Cooper Street mall to Living the Dog’s Life in Aspen, another high-end pet-product purveyor where you can find things like a pillow that reads, “What part of woof don’t you understand?” Here the dogs encounter a biscuit bonanza. The dog treats on sale in the glass display case look as if they were imported from a Parisian patisserie, and some varieties are available for sampling. Clover and Susie wolf down a couple of “sugar cookies” and “pizzas.” Other items on the tasting menu include energy bones, brownies and Fraser treats, locally baked biscuits flavored with cinnamon, molasses and honey. Of course, the store provides water for clearing the palate in between samplings.
It seems hard to top these last treats, but the Tour is not quite over, as we still need to make our way back to The Aspen Times. We stop at the Ute Mountaineer, where after getting their Milkbones, Susie and Clover curiously sniff at the stuffed dog sitting in a folding chair by the entrance. And at Tod’s, redolent with the smell of Italian leather, the dogs get a couple of biscuits while we’re told that the owner’s two dachshunds often visit the store (though not today).
Carl’s Pharmacy is our next-to-last stop. Clover can’t walk by this place without trying to pull me in the front door to the cash registers, where the biscuits are kept. From Andi, I learn that mine is hardly the only dog to exhibit a magnetic pull to the drugstore: “Dogs in the vicinity make their masters come in here first before they’ll let them run their errands,” she says. It turns out that Brooklyn – she of the personal treat stash at the Hotel Jerome as well as one at Carl’s – often wanders in on her own from the Times office next door for a midafternoon pick-me-up.
You’d think that at the tail end of the Tour, which has been going on for more than an hour and a half now, the dogs might be tired and full. Hardly. As Susie and Clover energetically beg for yet another biscuit from Cindy, who is working behind the cash register, another staffer walks by, observing, “What is this, a pharmacy or a kennel?”
This stage of the Tour de Biscuit ends at The Aspen Times, where Heidi and Dottie in the reception area spend a good part of their day dispensing treats to both visiting and “working” dogs (a canine crew of about half a dozen accompanies their owners to work at the Times each day).
Susie would, I think, pronounce her first Tour a success. And Clover is already looking forward to another day’s stage. With five years in Aspen under her collar, she’s been completing Tours even longer than Lance Armstrong has been winning them.
Cindy Hirschfeld is the author of “Canine Colorado: Where to Go and What to Do with Your Dog,” now in its second edition. She’d like to investigate the “tour de massage” next.
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