Outside the nondescript door that simply reads “PRIVATE,” anticipation and curiosity builds. What’s inside, or rather who is inside, generates a range of possibilities. Maybe it’s the Trump kids on holiday for spring break, or Mariah Carey dining in the coveted wine room? Anything is feasible at the one place in Aspen that always delivers the who’s who. No need for flashing neon lights to lure patrons to this nostalgic place: Its reputation keeps the Caribou Club consistently named as the best and most exclusive club in Aspen.
Fondly referred to as “The Bou,” this is not your ordinary hideaway. Envision Hollywood flare and an ambiance that evokes a sultry vibe—the options of how to spend your evening are tailor made for your mood. Dark mahogany walls and rich velvet couches invite you to relax and socialize while sipping a Bombay martini, straight up with a twist. The action at the blackjack table may entice you to take a chance at your luck, but you won’t walk away with anything more than bragging rights. Still, playing blackjack is a pleasant distraction from standard nights spent elsewhere. Perhaps a five-course meal from veteran chef Miles D’Angelo will satisfy your appetite for fine dinning, while sommelier Oliver Jaderko pairs the most elegant vintages from both domestic vinyards and abroad. The night doesn’t end until you’ve taken a twirl on the dance floor, just as resident DJ Kai plays your favorite tune.
But, first … you will have to get through the door!
Descending a grand staircase to reach the podium where you will be greeted conjures a memory from the Gone with the Wind scene when Scarlett floats down to meet Rhett Butler eye to eye. Except here, you will come face to face with one of the savviest, yet fiercest, hosts: gatekeeper Billy Stolz. Either way, unless you’re a member or are put on the selective guest list, your chances of entry are slim. Working the door, as Stolz describes, takes someone who is strong enough to stand up to the most outlandish excuses for why a person should be granted entry sans membership. It takes someone who is smart in order to remember names and faces of the extensive member list, and also someone so genuine he makes you feel like you are the only customer they’ve ever hosted.
The strict door policy is one reason why celebrities are notorious for making the Caribou their personal hangout. The integrity of a clandestine night is ensured by the absence of paparazzi, who are strictly prohibited in order to protect the privacy of high-profile guests. In fact, it’s so low-key that often A-list celebs are present but undetected. However, getting a glimpse of a star or two isn’t unusual, especially during high seasons.
The Caribou first opened its doors twenty-seven years ago with resistance from Aspen city planners. Original owner Harley Baldwin countered with a brilliant idea to dig down instead of building up at the historic site located at 411 E. Hopkins. Baldwin imagined a place with the texture and aesthetics of a rugged, yet elegant Aspen. Unsure if a private club in a seasonal town would succeed, a trial run in the spring of 1989 paved the way for how the Caribou Club would fare.
Prior to the certificate of occupancy and final building permits being granted, Baldwin organized “The Illegal Party,” providing a sneak peak of what to expect from the final product. The scene was chaos, but the outcome was sensational. People who attended were fascinated at the prospect of a new way of spending an evening in Aspen. The following week, The Caribou officially opened its doors, and with the exception of a few weeks during off-season, has never closed.
Stolz believes the longevity is due to the consistency of staff (many who have surpassed twenty years of service, and most who can claim over ten) and investing in keeping the continuity of the décor decade to decade. Painstaking efforts, such as repairing rather than replacing sofas, are made to ensure time lapses between visits won’t impact the familiarity of the Caribou furnishings.
While the nostalgic presence of the Bou is comforting, its trajectory for growth is essential. In the past decade, expansion into the catering arena has evolved. Evidently, what’s trending now is ultra private. Today’s patrons want the exquisite food served at their most noteworthy events by the remarkable staff. The catering side has grown to such epic proportions that event dates fill quickly. An impressive kitchen expansion secured the augmentation of the catering business. The option of an off-location Caribou experience has provided a sensible alternative to the trickier request of renting out the actual Caribou location for private events, especially when the occasion is desired during prime business hours.
Aside from the momentum of the catering side of the brand, which also includes an art gallery, the future of the Caribou remains solid. There will never be a franchise or a “Caribou Two.” Not because it hasn’t been offered, but because the Bou is unique: There can only be one. Stolz and the team are settled in for the duration of the ride. With decades behind them and retirement nowhere in sight, the likely alternative years down the road, behind that door marked “PRIVATE,” is Billy Stolz standing with his cane, possibly waving it at the poor soul who naively thought they could slip through undetected.