The Hotel Jerome has been an Aspen landmark since it opened in 1889 as the town’s first grand hotel.
It was the vision of Jerome B. Wheeler, who had made his fortune with the Macy’s department store before becoming a major investor in Aspen’s silver mines and wanted Aspen to have a European-style hotel along the lines of Claridge’s in London.
The brick, three-story hotel debuted with 92 rooms but just 15 bathrooms. It was Colorado’s first hotel with hot and cold running water and electric lights, and it had steam heat and a water-powered elevator, as well as elaborate Victorian woodwork. The room rate was $3 a night. Today it has 94 rooms, each with its own bathroom.
The hotel also is home to the J-Bar, which features historic photos and other remnants of the saloon that served silver miners and other townspeople in the 1890s, though today it offers sports on big-screen televisions along with burgers and sandwiches. The bar’s legendary drink is the “Aspen Crud,” a milkshake with five scoops of vanilla ice cream and three shots of bourbon that’s served in a tin mug and reportedly was developed while the J-Bar served as a soda fountain during Prohibition.
The hotel had a rocky start. Wheeler originally made a construction loan of $60,000 to a pair of innkeepers. The hotel’s cost, however, exploded to $150,000, and the innkeepers disappeared. Wheeler took over the project a month before the grand opening, along with a stack of unpaid bills, and was able to get the hotel off the ground. Wheeler, however, lost the hotel for back taxes in 1909 after the silver crash forced him into bankruptcy.
During World War II, skiing soldiers training with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division at nearby Camp Hale would enjoy $1 a night rooms and mugs of Aspen Crud.
The Hotel Jerome has long drawn celebrities, with actors Gary Cooper and John Wayne among those who stayed there and journalist Hunter S. Thompson a frequent guest of the J-Bar.
The hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.