This month, Kevin Costner directs and stars with Robert Duvall and Annette Bening in Open Range, the big-budget western about a group of cowboys driving their cattle across the vast prairies, guided by a steadfast code of honor that puts them in a fight-to-the-finish with a corrupt sheriff and kingpin rancher. It’s another last-gasp-of-the-West saga from Costner, who won multiple Oscars with Dances With Wolves, in which he also starred and directed. But for Costner, the West is no mere movie fantasy; it’s a destination he’s spent a lifetime searching for, scouring every corner of America for his vision of a perfect Western paradise. He found it in the early ’90s in what seemed like an unlikely place: five minutes outside of glitzy Aspen, Colorado. During the next dozen years, he bought parcels of what would eventually total the 165-acre ranch he calls home, a place he loves so much he wants to be buried there. “I’ve got the best view in the world,” he says, calling from his ranch house, where he shares the grounds with elk, deer, and bear. “I’ve got the best bar in town. I’ve got the best breakfast place in town. I can fix a drink out here, and you won’t ever want to leave.”
Where do you head when you get back into town?
“The place we always go to have dinner with the kids is a restaurant called Cache Cache. Jodi [Larner, the owner] is kind of a grande dame, and she has just always taken care of me. The first day I walked in, Jodi had this great smile and said, ‘I was wondering when you were going to walk in here.’ And we’ve been friends ever since.”
Where would you recommend visitors to stay?
“The Hotel Jerome and The Little Nell. I’ve frequented both of those places. I stayed at The Little Nell when we made For the Love of the Game. That hotel is the hub of activity. If you haven’t met the person you wanted to, you’re bound to during the course of your stay because people just make their way through there. There’s nothing quite like room service, right, but I really enjoy having lunch at The Little Nell. It’s really fine dining and I guess next to Cache Cache, I find myself there.”
Where’s a great place to get a good meal for $25 or less?
“Woody Creek Tavern. It has such a great rep. It’s a burger joint near the river where people just feel real comfortable. If you were to ask them, my guess is they feel like the Woody Creek Tavern has maintained itself and hasn’t moved with any trend that Aspen has experienced. The Ute City Bar was always a favorite restaurant/bar of mine, but they changed the bar and that just changed everything for me. Oh, it’s still good food, but it was a bar I used to go to a lot. I’ve also eaten at Little Annie’s, a real casual place downtown, a ton of times.”
What’s downtown like?
“The greatest thing about it is that you can drop your kids off there. Not that I want to do that, but it’s the one town I’ve been in that I felt like I could have left them by themselves when they were 10 or 12 for a little bit. It feels safer than anyplace I’ve ever been. It’s a very contained place. It’s not like one street is very charming; there are four or five streets that have really held onto their architecture. It makes for fun walking, and you can see it on everybody’s faces. They are just real happy to be here from wherever in the U.S. or the world they’ve come.”
Any stores you particularly like?
“Well, I was sad when we lost the fishing shop next to The Little Nell. But my favorite store is the Miner’s Building, which is sort of Aspen’s general store. I go in there and get the stuff I need. I’m not at home more than an hour and I’m already digging or doing something. So I go down to Miner’s, and I’m not really the handiest guy in the world, and I’m always trying to half explain what I’m trying to do, and the guys come out from behind the counter and there’s always a good exchange. I let them come up and fish with their kids up here. There is just an exchange.”
What should people pack for their visit to Aspen?
“There are some people who look pretty snappy downtown, but I’m looking down at myself right now and everything I have on has to go in the wash as soon as we’re done talking here. I’m just in Levi’s, a sweater, and boots. I’ve always got a little raincoat, too.”
What’s your favorite Aspen landmark?
“The Wheeler Opera House. I’ve been there a number of times to hear music, and the beat goes on. They had something in mind when it was being built in the 1880s and here we are in the 21st century enjoying it. I actually enjoy the architecture, that style. The windows and moldings out in front of the shops. The extra-thick enamel paint where you feel like there are about 50 coats on. I like that.”
Can you recommend any good day or weekend trips from Aspen?
“I took a backpacking trip one time out of Snowmass with six of my friends from Ohio. It was really a very beautiful place, but I couldn’t give you the name of it. The gist of what happens here is when my friends come to town, we all kind of work. We play for about four days, then decide that one day is for work. What’s interesting is, whoever’s up here, they end up working a day and ultimately it’s almost always their favorite day.”
What outdoor things do you like to do?
“There’s great rafting here. The Roaring Fork River spills into the Colorado. You get on somewhere in Basalt. Then there’s one as you go over the Continental Divide that’s really, really nice. The significance of the Continental Divide is that, without a doubt, you’re closer to God, and at that point is where the rivers split. Everything to the east is running to the Mississippi and everything to the west is running to the Pacific. It’s not so much for us [to cross it] now, because we can travel over it at 50 miles an hour. But at one time it was a life-and-death moment to get over the Continental Divide before the snows came or just [figure out] how you would actually cross a mountain range and still hold onto your possessions.”
Any other favorite outdoor spots?
“I don’t really feel the need to go anywhere else. But I enjoy being invited. We are always invited down to Don Johnson’s. He has a fabulous place down there in Woody Creek, and he makes everybody feel welcome. But I come here and I really kind of nest. I’m probably not here more than an hour before I’m on the tractor, and away I go. In fact, I just about tipped it over today. Yeah, I was in a tough spot. I take ATVs into the backcountry, and we start at Lincoln Creek Road and head back into the upper lakes.”
Do you have any secret fishing spots?
“Sometimes I go down on the lower Frying Pan River. It’s down valley toward Basalt. The fish are much, much bigger there than they are in the higher altitudes. I’ll do a float trip, and one of the fishing guys has been really great, Kea Hause. We met him when we started coming up here. When somebody is good to you, there’s no reason to change. He takes me down on the lower Frying Pan, but I bring him up on the property here sometimes.”
Where do you take people when you’re all done working?
“A lot of times they want to go out and feel the nightlife, so we go to the Double Diamond or to Caribou or anywhere music is playing. Or we can always catch a movie at Stage 3.”
What about golf? I bet there are some beautiful courses there.
“I usually get in a game or two, even though golf’s not really my sport. At the Maroon Creek Club, the people are great. I have been taken down to the Roaring Fork Club by guys who are members there. I enjoy the company, and I’m always biting to get back there. But the first course we started playing was the public course, Aspen Golf Club. It doesn’t really matter to me, because I’m looking for the company, not the challenge.”
Do the balls go higher because of the altitude?
“Yeah, but that means they also go to the right and left farther, too. With the gain, you get the pain.”
Most people probably don’t know that Aspen has several sushi restaurants, which is pretty good for such a small town. Which one’s your favorite?
“Kenichi is a really good place for my family. My theme, my whistle, my song is pretty much the same. You know, if you’re good to me, I’ll usually be back. I love the bar there and having drinks down there. Takah Sushi also has great food. There’s this back table, and that’s where we generally sit. If Kenichi isn’t open, I wouldn’t think twice about going to Takah or Matsuhisa [the Aspen outpost of famed L.A. sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa].”
What about a place for a special occasion?
“I like Syzygy. The bartender there is a guy that I hang with. Syzygy is a great restaurant, but also a great place to hear some jazz. I’ve had some great nights in there, no kidding. The big musical event is Jazz Aspen Snowmass. I really recommend that to anybody. It’s three or four days where you’re going to see some of the biggest acts in the world. You can do your outdoor thing all day, and about 3 o’clock you start getting yourself over there and you can see world-class music.”
Where do you go after dinner?
“It’s always good to have ice cream at Paradise Bakery, right in the center of town. It’s a very communal place. I really kind of live here. It doesn’t matter if I’m seen, it doesn’t matter if I’m not.”
What’s your favorite bar?
“I like going to the Whiskey in The St. Regis because I have this buddy Joe who works behind the bar. We talk hunting all the time. Hunting and fishing.”
Any other nightlife spots that are hot?
“The Caribou Club. It’s one of those places that you can really count on. People seem like they want to somehow bash it, but whenever I’ve been in there, I’ve seen everybody. I think that it has provided an incredible environment for out-of-towners and the people who go there. I guess the best way to describe the Caribou would be almost like a smoking club, although no one is smoking. It’s really dark wood, like a library feeling. There’s a big dining room.”
What’s your favorite season?
“The summer and pushing into the fall. I’m not a snow person, although when I’m up here I appreciate it. I like it when the leaves come and go.”
What’s your most memorable Aspen moment?
“Little Blue is a local band that plays at the Whiskey, and they let my daughter sing one night. Lily is a very beautiful singer, but right away, my nerves started to play. Lily was reading the lyrics. She didn’t even know the song. Here she was, 15 years old, and singing in front of all these adults who had to stop all their talking and turn around to see this thing. She wasn’t up to the mike, so nobody heard a word. I looked down at her sister, Annie, who was kind of mouthing the words, helping her, and I saw Lily going down in flames. My heart broke. When the song ended, the people clapped, even though they were clapping for nothing, because they couldn’t hear her. I asked Lily if she was going to do another song and she said, ‘You bet your ass I am.’ I saw something in her face, and it reminded me of granite. Her second song was another one she didn’t know, a Sheryl Crow song. She started to sing and this time, she blew the room away. What I saw in my daughter that night was her courage. So the people really had something to clap about. When they did, it marked the moment in her life. And in mine.”
How is the perception of Aspen different from the reality?
“I know there is a reputation out there, ‘Oh, the glitzy Aspen,’ but I don’t think so. I think you can find glitz wherever you go. I think you can chase money and the party wherever you want. But if you find your collection of friends, you don’t feel that effect, and if I didn’t, I clearly wouldn’t be here. I just had this thought. Our lives are in the balance, right? Every time I drive up here I think, do I have 100 more times to come up here in my life, or 10? Because we don’t know what fate really gives us. Let me say this, I feel more at home here than anyplace in the world. There are some places that are real spiritual for me. Like the Black Hills of South Dakota. I always have a special feeling there, but I have made my home here. I plan on being buried here.”
he said. . .here's where kevin gets cozy in aspen.
expensive; (970) 920-1000
the little nell
expensive; (970) 920-4600
country french; expensive
pan asian; expensive
little annie’s eating house
japanese/south american; very expensive
paradise bakery & café
bakery/ice cream; inexpensive
japanese/pacific rim; expensive
ute city bar & grill
woody creek tavern
wheeler opera house
aspen golf club
maroon creek club
roaring fork club
jazz aspen snowmass
series of concerts and events held several times throughout the year.
kevin may have his favorite aspen spots, but we have a few of our own as well.
moderate; (877) 282-3743.
only five minutes from downtown, this romantic enclave exudes intimacy and seclusion. the cabins and cottages are particularly lush, boasting overstuffed furniture and in-room jacuzzis.
moderate; (800) 433-0832.
here, impressive views of aspen mountain and an inviting fireplace lounge with free coffee and hot cider beckon visitors.
moderate; (970) 920-9333.
feast on northern italian cuisine with a heart-stopping vista at the base of the silver queen gondola.
campo de fiore
expensive; (970) 920-7717.
fantastic italian food and a fun, convivial atmosphere.
inexpensive; (970) 925-2313.
full- and half-racks of baby back ribs headline the menu at this down-home joint. eat in or take out.
expensive; (970) 925-9969.
a culinary sampling includes double-cut colorado lamb chops and mustard-crusted trout.
amen wardy home
a frequent stop for visiting luminaries for its funky home accessories.
explore booksellers and bistro
owned by katharine thalberg, whose father, irving thalberg, once ran hollywood.
paris underground antiques
antiques shop specializing in french, midcentury modern styles.
local hiking trails. in town, walk the rio grande trail. otherwise, hike up to hunter creek (if you’re looking for a mild walk), drive up to maroon bells (before 9 a.m., after which it’s buses only), and, if you’re feeling energetic, do the monster hike to grizzly lake (ask for directions, accessible only by four-wheel drive).