Aspen Princess: Take a page from BV and up your game, Basalt
The first thing we did when we pulled into Buena Vista was stop at The Buena Viking for burgers and tater tots, one of the town’s renowned food trucks stationed along Main Street — pretty much Ryan’s dream on a plate.
A lovely courtyard furnished with picnic tables, tea lights and a fire pit lent a more sophisticated ambience. Or maybe it was the two dudes sipping whiskey sours from the distillery next door, sporting complicated facial hair and clad in outfits that are supposed to look mountain casual but are still intentionally fashionable. Between the handcrafted cocktails and the menus scrawled on blackboards in elegant chalk script made me feel, for just a second, that I was in Brooklyn and not in the middle of nowhere, Colorado. This tiny downtown, with its dusty mining-era brick buildings is sandwiched between the mighty Arkansas River and the shadow cast by the Collegiate Range, a stack of 14,000-foot peaks that dominate the horizon of this wide, high-desert valley. But still, it somehow reeked of hipster.
That’s because Buena Vista, pronounced “boona” not “bwen-a” by locals (or just “BV”) has been totally reinvented in recent years, mostly due to the vision of one dude. I do not use the term “dude” lightly in this context. Jed Selby, who is 39 years young, is single-handedly responsible for the development of South Main, the town’s storybook riverfront neighborhood. It took 10 years, and a lot of guts and grit, but he pulled it off: a sustainable, walkable, urbanized neighborhood in the Colorado Rockies complete with restaurants, hotels and a world-class water park. A former pro kayaker (see, I told you “dude” was a fitting descriptor), Selby purchased the 41.5-acre property, which was essentially a town dump when he first found it. Inspired by the urbanism movement, he wanted to create a “walkable” village like something you’d find in western Europe but with modern construction and design.
Basalt, are you listening?
Town planners, City Council members, Mayor Jacque, I think you need to call this guy, like today. Hire him as a consultant to do for Basalt exactly what I think everyone has wanted from the start: to preserve the beauty of the river, maintain public access and protect open space for recreation while, at the same time, allow for a sophisticated but charming development that will enhance the community and bring with it some desperately needed amenities. Did I mention the sound stage? What could cost less and attract more people? Answer me that!
The real crown jewel of South Main is the Surf Hotel, which has somehow achieved a perfect balance of rustic sophistication and modern elegance. We stumbled into its restaurant Wesley & Rose after a night of camping in the volcanic rock formations of Four Mile and a long day at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs, all sunburned and crusty with dust-covered feet. I wasn’t even wearing a bra and my hair was wild on account of there being no conditioner left in the women’s locker room shower. We loved the creek-side hot springs, where shallow spring-fed pools allow for this amazing circulation of cold and hot water, and it was the perfect place to keep a toddler armed with sand bucket and shovel entertained for hours. The springs are mineral and not sulfur, so no rotten egg smell and no tarnished silver.
At any rate, we rolled into town with plans to go to House Rock Kitchen, a restaurant that had come recommended by several people, only to find it was closed for a wedding reception. Like any good Aspenite, we somehow landed at the town’s most expensive, most luxurious property. I know this to be true because we ran into not one, but two other couples we know from Aspen at that very restaurant. There we all were, in the farm-to-table concept restaurant with its reclaimed barnwood plank floors and stately color palette of white and dark green. With enormously high ceilings, the dining room is adorned with some of the most gorgeous light fixtures I’ve ever seen, big drop pendants and industrial cage-like chandeliers, all very custom-looking. The walls are all paneled with wainscoting and a series of tall, narrow multi-paned windows that are reminiscent of an East Coast boarding school or an old meeting hall or even a chapel, very stately and old-fashioned. My favorite, though, were the Parisian cafe tables and white and black wicker chairs.
After dinner, we walked along the river on the impeccably manicured trail and meandered around the neighborhood, ending our evening with lavender and honey gelato at The Midland Stop, a small corner cafe that, like the rest of the South Main development, does feel a little contrived. If I’m being honest, the whole thing feels a little bit like a facade or a movie set. You keep expecting to see a door swing open on the horizon. Still, it’s impossible to avoid the juxtaposition of new and old. And you have to assume that eventually, as the town continues to grow and become even more hip as it attracts young families who love the outdoors but want gourmet food and decent espresso, it will all start to blend in.
Still, I can’t help but think Basalt could learn a thing or two from Jed Selby’s playbook and do this riverfront right. We have only one chance. We are the valley where a river of money literally flows in from Aspen and we have some of the most brilliant architects and designers in the world.
So why is it so damn hard to make Basalt everything it should be? I say let’s give this urbanism thing a try and maybe our little-town-that-could will finally be cool enough to have an alternative pronunciation (Bay-salt? Basalty? B-Salt?), an acronym (BCO?) or even a tagline. Very few other places can claim it: two rivers run through it.
The Princess is still really tan. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the name of the restaurant as The Buena Viking.