A night out at The New Sheridan in Telluride

A night out at The New Sheridan in Telluride

Roger Mason painting

In the beginning there was Telluride's The New Sheridan Hotel. At least for us.

Twenty-five years ago, Clint Viebrock rode into Telluride on his metal horse, a Yamaha, on his way to no place in particular. One night at The New Sheridan Bar and The Sheridan Hotel was all the convincing he needed: Clint had found home.

Friday night, December 17, Telluride Inside… and Out returned to a vastly different New Sheridan under vastly different circumstances. We were there as a couple at the invitation of general manager Ray Farnsworth to experience the hotel in all the glory of its latest incarnation following the 2008 renovation, which cost about $7 million – and Ray, who lovingly shepherded the process, more gray hairs.

A date night at The New Sheridan? Twist my arm.

The welcome mat was out  when we checked in at 6:30 p.m. Front desk manager Robert "Bo" Bedford greeted us like we were long lost friends. So far, so good.

But it gets better.

NS room Our room was one of the 26 beautiful new rooms and suites created by world-famous interior designer Nina Campbell on the bones of what had become a tumble-down miner's hostel over the years. Campbell's mandate from the current owner was clear: restore The New Sheridan to its original Victorian splendor, but include all the amenities a guest might rightly expect from a luxury boutique hotel, from fee WiFi and flat screen TVs to the best mattresses money can buy and in-floor heating in the tiled bathrooms.

Home run.

Comfortable ensconced, we made our way down the grand staircase – too bad I had left my dress with the train at home – and just a few steps from the hotel to The Historic New Sheridan Bar, largely unchanged from the year it opened: 1895. The place boasts a carved mahogany bar, tin ceiling, beveled and lead glass panels and ornate light fixtures. But the friends we had hoped to hook up the New Sheridan Bar with had long since headed out into snowy night for a birthday dinner. It was back to the hotel, where the scene in The Parlor proved The New Sheridan had reclaimed its position as the hub of Telluride's social scene.

Back in the day, The New Sheridan Hotel and Bar were places to see and be seen – unless you were someone's mistress. Then you dined discreetly at a table behind one of 16 velvet-lined booths that lined the Continental Room restaurant, each equipped with a button to summon a waiter when needed. ("Call" boxes on the wall of the pool room and the lounging alcove between the pool room and the bar are relics of the days folks did not air their dirty laundry in public.)

With mistresses safely ensconced away from prying eyes, wives often dined next door in the American Room, said to have rivaled Denver's Brown Palace for cuisine and service. The fact Victorian gentlemen liked to gamble is no big secret. Obviously higher the stakes, the better.

The cafe/bar known locally as The Parlor, also the entrance to the New Sheridan, was SRO when we arrived for a drink before dinner. Ditto the Sheridan Chop House, bar and restaurant. Both places were packed to the rafters with captains of industry (Richard Betts and Todd Brown), former mayors (Davis Fansler, John Pryor and Stu Fraser), media titans (Suzanne Cheavens and Stephen Garrett of KOTO radio), plus lots of friends, including Brenda Colwell, celebrating a birthday along with John Livermore, and random locals out to have a good time.

Chop House And at the Sheridan Chop House, a good time is as good as it gets, thanks to the skills of executive chef Erich Owen, who took over the kitchen in April 2008.

The last time we ate at the Chop House, we were a party of 8, following a reading at the Wilkinson Public Library of Pete Decker's latest novel, "Saving the West." On that occasion, Pete's son, gourmet/chef Chris Decker, judged the lamb  "perfect" and John Hunt proclaimed his hamburger was "terrific," a sentiment I overhead repeated last night in The Parlor, where two young friends were chowing down. And so on. DeeDee Decker summed up: "We keep coming back to the Chop House because we like it so much."

Our sentiments exactly. Only this time was different: we were not ordering off the menu. Ray had arranged for chef's choice. And Erich, not surprisingly, chose well.

I am not, nor do I pretend to be, a food critic. My palate is not insured by Lloyds of London. Don't expect me to parse all the fresh ingredients or wax rhapsodically about herbs and spices. The ingredients are fresh and high quality, which is all you really need to know. It is the creative way Erich combines them that makes all the difference. And not just within a single dish. From dish to dish: Erich orchestrated our meal as if he were composing a symphony, complete leitmotifs.

One of the recurring through lines was truffles, which figured in three of five courses: the Japanese Hamachi sashimi, the Wagyu beef carpaccio and the seared scallops. Seafood was another of Erich's "themes": tempura rock shrimp, Japanese Hamachi sashimi and seared scallops, variations on sweet and tangy flavors.

Having guessed at the method behind Erich's madness – if he introduces a story line, he does not leaving it dangling – we figured there had to be a payoff to the Wagyu beef carpaccio, our meat appetizer. That turned out to be another main course, a New York strip. The carpaccio was "soft" in contrast to the much more "muscular" steak dish, plays in texture similar to those we had experienced among the seafood dishes. Our taste buds were smiling by the time we sampled dessert: a coconut chiffon pie. I think that's what the confection was. By that time dessert came around we had eaten more food and drunk more wine than we do in a week.

The subject of the wine raises a whole other point. A good meal for us is not just about the food, however good. A fine dining experience – notice the operative noun "experience" – is about the service. The service sets the tone and governs the flow of the meal.

Cory Widau is the restaurant manager at the Chop House. Cory knows a thing or two about service and, as it turns out, the grape. The wine he choose for us was Linne Calodo 2008 "Slacker," a blend of 70% Syrah, 25% Grenache and 5% Mourvedre, with notes of roasted lamb chops, cranberry and cedar. The aroma, the mouth were nothing short of spectacular.

After the first pour, Cory bowed out graciously, leaving the rest of presentation in the capable hands of our waitress, Brittany, who struck the exact right balance between helpful and hands off.

Which brings me to my final point. Places have faces. And Ray Farnsworth is
the face of The New Sheridan.

Ray, who has worked there for 14 years, embodies the understated elegance of The New Sheridan and its adjuncts.  He hovers over the place like a mother hen, sweating the small stuff, because, in the end, it is the small stuff that makes all the difference. We saw that in Erich's dinner. In each and every contact we had with Ray's staff, Bo, Cory, Brittany, the concierge Alane Woehle, who helped in the morning, all of them reflect Ray's easy warmth and careful manner. There was a leather bound book by the side of our bed that told us everything we needed to know to make our stay memorable and hiccup free.

It was both.

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