Top Luxury Hotel – Vail’s Hotel Sebastian – Winter Warmth
In Vail, a boutique hotel embraces a culture of hospitality BY ROGER TOLL
A strange thing happened each time I returned to the Sebastian on my last visit to Vail: I would aim for my room but would ﬁnd myself instead on one of the lobby’s comfortable sofas, sipping from a warm mug of hot chocolate or a bottle of water brought by a thoughtful employee, and losing myself in yet another coffee table book full of spectacular photos of nature, art, or history. Sometimes the library just off the lobby grabbed my attention, and I’d check out the books that reached up to the 18-foot ceiling, or I’d play a quick game of backgammon with a friend. More than a hotel, the Sebastian felt like the manor of some eccentric and generous host but imbued with the Latin warmth of a tasteful hacienda in Mexico or Argentina.
From my ﬁrst step inside, the Sebastian felt quirky in the best sense of the word — personal, idiosyncratic, warm yet sophisticated, and chic in a hip, informal kind of way. So personal, in fact, that I knew it had to be the vision of an eclectic mind. Who, I wondered, is behind this hotel? So when Daniel Hildebrand, the manager of the hotel’s Residence Club, introduced himself to me as I stood admiring one of several sculptures by the remarkable mid-20th-century British-Mexican s urrealist L eonora Carrington, that’s what I asked him. “Alejandro Marti,” he said, “from Mexico City.” Perhaps unnecessarily, he added, “He’s a great lover of art.” And an artist himself, I discovered while thumbing through a cofee-table book that turned out to be focused on Marti’s abstract paintings. In his photograph on the overleaf, he looked active, rugged, and full of bonhomie — exactly the sort of host I’d expect at such a gracious hotel.
The Sebastian’s guests seem to run young, mostly between 30 and 50, and they speak in a spattering of languages and accents. Hildebrand conﬁrmed that it is particularly packed with relaxed, well-dressed families during the year-end holidays and Semana Santa, that week before Easter when Mexico shuts down and wealthy families bring their long wine-and-laughter-laden dinners to Vail. To Block 16’s attentive wait staf, those tables of large, festive families and friends attest to the beneﬁc showering of trickle-down economics, though with generous Mexican guests, it’s more like a downpour.
“We pride ourselves on our service,” Hildebrand told me, attributing much of the philosophy to owner Marti. “When a guest asks for something, our response is always to say, ‘Absolutely.’ You hear it so often that we even laugh among ourselves. But that is our philosophy: whatever the guest wants.”
I, perhaps, would like another perfect cappuccino, and some more lost minutes with a good book. And I think I know just the sofa.
Marti bought the property — built in 2008 as the Vail Plaza Hotel and Club — in July 2010, and set out on a dramatic renovation. It was completed a year later, and Timbers Resorts, a boutique hotel group, assumed management responsibilities. The hotel stands around the corner from the new, modern eight-story Solaris complex in what could be called the “new” Vail Village. With Bōl (a Euro-sleek bar and bowling alley), Matsuhisa by Nobu, and the super-hip CinéBistro, the area is distinct from most of Vail’s ersatz alpine roots.
Abstract paintings by famed Mexican artist Manuel Felguérez hang in the lobby and library, where a large fireplace separates the registration area from the lounging spaces and the Frost Bar. The Sebastian has ﬁve hotel ﬂoors and two residence ﬂoors; individually owned residences range from one to four bedrooms, and 36 of them are in the rental pool with the 100 hotel rooms. The hotel’s Bloom Spa offers ﬁve treatment rooms and Swiss hydrotherapy, and there is a large and well-equipped ﬁtness area with personal trainers. In the early evening, guests hang out in any of four hot tubs on a large patio with a pool and a long ﬁre pit.
The hotel’s ﬁne-dining restaurant, Block 16, wraps around an 18-foot-high glass wine tower, and the circular motif extends to round, high-backed booths upholstered in fun, elegant fabrics, with echoes of old New York’s classic Stork Club. Handsome paintings and sculpture — largely Mexican with some ﬁne Huichol art — ofer contrast to the modern lighting.
It is a three-block walk through Vail Village to The Sebastian Base Camp (which is, in turn, just yards from Vail’s cushy new gondola), where boots and skis are stored and warmed in a comfortable clubroom, and skiers can order specialty cofees, smoothies, or customcooked beignets in various ﬂavors at the hotel-owned Beignet Café. Most days, I had already been well cafeinated, with a no-fuss Nespresso from my room’s espresso maker on awakening, and breakfast in the Market on the ground ﬂoor, where Hannah pulled a truly ﬁne cappuccino. The Market ofers a lunch and dinner menu as well — salads, hamburgers, pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, and tasty sweets — and is popular with folks who want an easy meal, as well as with those with children in tow. Dishes are prepared in an open kitchen; the dining area is like a village market, with yet more bookshelves along one wall for when eating alone.