There is no name on the door, but you know exactly where you are. That’s because the Caribou Club, although quite private and unlike anywhere else, has elements that are reassuringly familiar. The Caribou will remind you of places perennially in fashion, where you know you’ll meet old friends from all over the world. It is quietly old-world and well-bred, like a vintage Bordeaux, but unassuming and comfortable like a Beaujolais. It is the sort of establishment where the bartender might ask what you would like, but most probably will say, “a martini, three olives, one ice cube,” because he remembers you from the night before. It’s also the kind of place where a woman could wear jeans and a silk blouse, set off by a beautiful silver belt buckle-or a drop-dead Dior.
The Caribou opened twenty two years ago in the historic Collins Block, around the corner from the Wheeler Opera House and down the block from the Brand Building, where the founder, Harley Baldwin, first brought to town many of the fine stores that Aspen has today. The attention to detail that makes all the difference begins when your foot is in the door. You enter into the Caribou through a full-bodied mahogany-and-brass door and down the staircase into a wood-paneled foyer with 19th-century paintings of western landscapes, like views of Capitol and Pyramid Peaks. Someone welcomes you-by name; another takes your coat. You feel as if you were the houseguest of a great friend.
You move easily into the Great Room, a large but cozy space with British racing-green walls covered in first-class Western art: a Remington, a Bierstadt, a Nesbit. A roaring fireplace, overstuffed chairs, a ten-foot sofa that’s five feet deep, strewn with inviting down pillows. Your feet can rest on an ottoman the length of the sofa covered in Pendleton blankets from the ’30s. Undoubtedly you’ll see people you know. The Great Room can be anything you want it to be-a place for a glass of champagne (at six thirty in the evening or one in the morning), a cup of tea steeped and served in wonderful teapots, accompanied with the perfect small snack or dessert. Or it can simply be a venue for a meeting of the minds or the hearts.
The Caribou Bar is one of those masculine bars that women love. Of course you can sit down, but somehow, this bar is made for standing with one foot on the brass rail, an elbow on the perfectly burnished mahogany surface. Here, a margarita begins with squeezing fresh limes. Classic cocktails, like a Rob Roy or a Manhattan, seem just right in this context, but so does a glass of wine or champagne, or a beautiful glass filled with ice, served with two shots of vodka. Your brand is always in the house. A bar menu is offered in the Bar and Great Room. You might want a light small plate, dessert or entire dinner in a more casual and comfortable setting. There are mementos on the bar wall. Your racing colors and a picture of your horse winning the Kentucky Derby, a favorite temple in Angkor Wat, or your grandfather receiving an Oscar.
The Main Dining Room is a seductive shade somewhere between Etruscan red and a ripe tomato. Candlelight and antler chandeliers provide a soft ambience, but enough light for you to read the menu. There are banquettes and seven round tables: Frette linen, oversized dinner napkins and silver cutlery that feels good to hold.
Caribou cuisine is what you want to eat most nights: well seasoned and simple. The top-notch Caribou kitchen serves modern American cuisine with just the right amount of international zing. Peppercorn filet of beef, roasted rack of lamb with fresh herbs, house-made pastas, lipstick chili relleno of crab, foie gras torchon and crisp duck confit. Farm-fresh vegetables, the best caviar and seafood plateaus. Desserts are very light and delicious. You might want fraises des bois and crème fraîche-a memory of Provence in summer or a lemon sorbet just lemony enough to make your lips pucker. Chocolate Voyage, coconut soufflé, and cookie box surprise. The waiter might persuade you to have a small piece of tart, fresh berries, a dollop of sorbet-all on the same plate. There’s coffee and an extensive specialty tea menu after dessert-in any room you like-and Armagnacs, et al. after coffee.
Then you might sink into small, cozy divans – with or without your Armagnac, or move on to the dance floor. The Caribou nightclub is intimate and sexy. The DJ begins her transition music after dinner, tempting you to turn it up a notch. Things heat up as it gets later. Shafts of light transform the room into a warm tropical night as the dance floor begins to fill up.
Probably one of the nicest things about the Caribou is that you can drop in just to say hello. Or have some champagne, or rendezvous with a chum. Or spend the entire evening. After all, you belong.