Getaway: An Insider's Guide to Aspen
By Erin Lentz
There’s an old local adage in Aspen that the town’s bestkept secret is its summers. The jig is up, however (sorry, Aspenites), and come June through August, increasing numbers of in-the-know Miamians trade azure seas and oppressive heat for hiking boots and mountain trails. The tiny resort of Aspen may have staked its international renown via superb skiing, but an Aspen summer has its own glory: active mornings, lazy alfresco lunches, and a heady mix of art and culture. The chic mountain town’s bevy of affluent second-homeowners includes top Miami players who just so happen to also influence Aspen’s bustling summer scene.
Miky Grendene, the celebrated owner and founder of Casa Tua, first visited Aspen 20 years ago on a ski trip with Turnberry Associates principal Jeffrey Soffer. “Jeff invited me and [Miami developer] Ugo Colombo to his house,” Grendene says. “I love the nature of Aspen. It’s a great ski station and a great little town, but has a cosmopolitan culture.” In 2010, Grendene decided to bring his Northern Italian cuisine and private club to Aspen, drawing on his famous Casa Tua brand in Miami to lure the jet set in the mountains. A three-story building in the heart of downtown was redesigned to accommodate the impeccably appointed Casa Tua Aspen, a central hub for Miamians looking to wine and dine while in the Rockies. Grendene’s decision to open there was driven more by quality of life than by dollars and cents. “I opened Casa Tua Aspen simply because of my desire to spend time here,” he explains. “It may make more sense to open in New York City, as it doesn’t have Aspen’s off-season, but I started a business so I could live here and be part of its special community. I also thought the town was lacking a good Italian restaurant. I have seen an increase in Miamians over the last three years, and they like to come to Casa Tua Aspen because it feels like home to them.”
Grendene has gone so far as to form his own Casa Tua ski team, which participates in several charity events, including the Ajax Cup, and his Aspen restaurant and private club hosts highprofile events, including fundraisers by another prominent Miami couple, Mark and Robin Levinson, of Levinson Jewelers. Last summer, the Levinsons gathered friends, many from Miami, in support of the music-education programs at Jazz Aspen Snowmass, which stages the anticipated June festival (June 21 to July 6) and Labor Day festival (August 30 to September 1). The Levinsons first visited Aspen 30 years ago and now spend every summer in the mountains. “It’s so captivating and beautiful, you can’t not be there,” says Robin Levinson. “And I love all the boutiques, including P.E. 101, Nuages, Max, and Chequers.”
The Aspen-Miami connection first ramped up during the ’70s. A yen for partying often found Miamians of ambiguous employment touching down in private jets, with wads of money to spend. Dressed to impress, they would dance into the wee hours at Aspen’s former Andre’s nightclub, famous for its retracting roof and a mix of A-list celebrities and rowdy town locals. Recalls entrepreneur and lensman Larry Sands, who in 1972 launched the Optical Shop of Aspen (which eventually grew into a nationwide chain of stores, including a current Miami outpost), “The Miami clientele has always been strong. Some of my first big customers in the ’70s were rich Miamians. Those were the drug days, and the Aspen-Miami scene was often related to it. It was almost a competition on [which city] had the biggest party scene. These guys would always stop off for sunglasses, God bless them, and pay cash, and then went on to open up successful, legitimate businesses across the country.”
These days, Aspen is certainly less of the freewheeling Wild West, and several lucrative businesses with a Miami flagship or a Miami owner are integral to the resort’s retail and dining scene.
“Aspen is summer camp for adults,” says former longtime Miamian and Belly Up Aspen owner Michael Goldberg. As Aspen’s music man and partner in Matsuhisa restaurant, Goldberg is at the center of the town’s diverse summer culture scene, a three-month offering of world-class art, music, dance, food, and theater unlike any other mountain town in North America. “It isn’t just the musical offerings that make this place special,” he adds. “You can’t be at a loss for cultural or intellectual challenges.” As with the Levinsons, Goldberg advocates the Jazz Aspen Snowmass events, as well as the Aspen Ideas Festival and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (August 19 to 25), all interesting events that add to the amazing season of classical music put on by The Aspen Music Festival and School (June 27 to August 18). Additionally, an Aspen summer is bookended by the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen (June 14 to 16), a three-day epicurean extravaganza of grand tastings, seminars, and cooking demos headlined by the who’s who of the culinary and wine world, including Mario Batali and José Andrés, among others. Launched in 1983, the success of the Aspen event helped spawn Miami’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Lee Brian Schrager, the mastermind behind the SBWFF and vice president of corporate communications and national events at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, says of Aspen’s fest, “Since I’m not involved in producing the event, the Classic is really a time for me to enjoy myself as I visit with great friends and colleagues.”
Perhaps the strongest Miami-Aspen connection is a burgeoning contemporary art scene that involves a staggering list of Aspen and Miami collectors, curators, artists, and gallerists. Fulland part-time Aspenites, including Nancy and Dr. Robert (Bob) Magoon, and John and Amy Phelan regularly attend Art Basel Miami Beach. Conversely, the Aspen Art Museum’s annual ArtCrush (July 31 to August 2), chaired by Amy Phelan, attracts the top tier of Miami taste makers, including Debra and Dennis Scholl, who have owned five Aspen homes and are involved in both art scenes. They first searched for the perfect escape from Miami in 1989. “We had begun this methodical search for a place to get out of Miami in July and August,” Dennis says. “We went to Park City, Whistler, Telluride, Vail, just about every ski place you can think of. When we found Aspen, we knew we were done right away. There are many wonderful ski towns, but there’s only one Aspen when it comes to cultural opportunities.”
In the summer months, Aspen’s art scene is at its peak, with the Aspen Art Museum and Anderson Ranch Arts Center luring top collectors from around the globe. Both institutions have become powerhouses on the international art circuit. “In the summer, Aspen has the greatest aggregation of American collectors anywhere,” notes Scholl. “To spend the summer hanging out and talking about art with collectors of such high caliber is incredible. Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson (CEO and director of the Aspen Art Museum) and Barbara Bloemink (executive director of Anderson Ranch Arts Center) have really changed the level of engagement possible when it comes to contemporary art. And there is an incredible number of Miamians engaged in the art community in Aspen.”
Among them are Chad and Ilona Oppenheim, Sandy and Tony Tamir, Gabi and Tato Garza, Miami’s Bass Museum of Art President of the Board of Directors George Lindemann, Aaron and Dorothy Podhurst, and Don and Mera Rubell, who own one of the greatest private contemporary art collections in the world. In fact, the abovementioned Magoons were one of the first Miami couples to flock to Aspen. “When they came and stayed, a lot of Miamians took note. People certainly follow Bob and Nancy in matters of taste,” says Scholl.
“The Aspen Art Museum was very smart to invite artists, museum directors, curators, and collectors, during a time of year when Aspen is at its best,” notes Silvia Karman Cubiñá, executive director and chief curator of Miami’s Bass Museum. “The shows are always great, and the residents and people close to the museum make a beautiful effort in hosting everyone. For these reasons, Aspen has become an art moment in the art-world calendar.”
Just about every Miamian with a passion for Aspen touts the grandeur of the mountains, and the outdoor adventures, as the reason for first visiting, and ultimately buying a second home. From June through September, Aspen’s trails are humbling and exhilarating, whether on foot, horse, or bike. Like many, Miami real estate magnate Ugo Colombo and his wife, interior-design maven Sara, first visited Aspen as avid skiers, but soon fell in love with the rewards of summer. They purchased a home near Aspen Highlands and now spend as much time as possible there. “Summer in Aspen is a complete change of mind, and perhaps more interesting than winter, as there’s a wider variety of things to do—hiking, biking, kayaking,” says Ugo. “It’s a very healthy lifestyle. The restaurants and shops are of high quality, and it doesn’t have a highway running through the middle of it, like Vail. It’s a cozy mountain town and is more difficult to access, which makes it exclusive.”
Sara, who owns the über-chic home-design store Nest in the Miami Design District (a Bal Harbour location is set to open the end of June), credits Aspen’s small-town vibe for quality time with their two children. “Aspen is much more conducive to family time than Miami,” she says. “It’s a slower pace of life and much more intimate.” (Shoppers, take note: Sara scours Aspen’s Paris Underground Antiques for rare vintage pieces, and Lee Keating’s Performance Ski is a must-stop, too. “Lee has such great style, and a great eye for both summer and winter,” she says.)
Surprisingly, the adrenaline-fueled sport of dirt biking is Ugo Colombo’s current outdoor obsession when in town: “We bike [more than 30 miles] to Maroon Bells and Crested Butte.”
Colombo’s wilderness rides are just the kind of connection with the land, the scale of the continent, that makes Aspen and the raw mountains around it so special. It’s a place where you can be dwarfed by the Rockies, yet return to a sophisticated town whose cuisine and culture are avant-garde—a tale of two quite lovely realities that Miamians can’t seem to resist.
photography by jeremy swanson (aspen); laziz hamani (la muna); galdones photography/food & wine (andrés); Jason Dewey/Courtesy of the Aspen Art Museum (migrant fruit thugs)