March puts the ‘sun’ in Sun Valley as days grow suddenly longer and brighter, the snow on the mountains begins to turn to corn, and the party at River Run, Roundhouse, and Warm Springs moves outside. Think bluebird skies, lots of live music, the sun on your face, and nothing to do but play all day. Lucky for so many that spring break falls smack in the middle of this munificent month. This year, the pleasures of a family spring break in Sun Valley are even more palatable with a Kids Ski Free special in March. Yes, you read that...
There are some places that simply call to us. They stir something within our souls. They always feel like coming home.
If you’re reading this story, then there’s a good chance that Sun Valley is that kind of place for you. Kurt Harris knows how you feel.
Kurt first came to Sun Valley for a weekend back in 1989, and he stayed for two years. He then returned for second time for the winter, and wound staying for a decade. He actually left again, only to return a year and half ago to open the new Duchin Lounge.
When asked what keeps calling him back, Kurt can’t name single thing—instead he gives a variety of reason why he loves Sun Valley.
“You get spoiled. Everything is right here,” Kurt said about the easy ability to pursue his passions like fly fishing, snowboarding and hiking. His other passion of surfing may be a little tough to pursue in the middle of the Northern Rockies, but that’s why he takes trips regular to places like Mexico and Cambodia.
Kurt grew up in Oregon and learned to ski at Mount Bachelor when he was in kindergarten. He immediately fell in love with alpine sports. “It was surreal. The experience of the blue skies and the snow, it just kind of stuck with me,” Kurt said.
An opportunity to help open restaurants in Portland drew him back to his home state after his second stay in Sun Valley, but Kurt still felt the calling for life in the mountains. So when the opportunity to open the new Duchin Lounge presented itself, Kurt left the Big City for the remote, yet culturally rich, community tucked into the wilds of Idaho.
“This is a fairly metropolitan small town,” Kurt said. “But it still has its untouched wilderness. That’s what I like about it.”
Kurt’s love affair with Sun Valley is about more than just the place and all it has to offer. It’s about the people, too.
“There’s still a nice sense of community here,” Kurt said. “Even though it gets busy during the summers and winters, it’s still a small town, where everybody waves hello to you.”
Part of the original Sun Valley Lodge from 1936, the Duchin Lounge was also remodeled along with the main lodge in 2015. Of all the changes made, the Duchin Lounge went through the biggest transition from past into the present.
The “Wrinkle Room,” as it was once known, was a dark and cozy and completely lost in time. The lounge was known for hosting the likes of Ernest Hemingway, but it seemed like much hadn’t changed since Papa had hung out in the smoky old lounge.
The new Duchin Lounge is open, airy and much more welcoming. And while some long timers still wish the Duchin hadn’t changed, the new family-friendly lounge that opens into the lodge lobby has quickly caught on.
“I loved the old Duchin. It was cozy and familiar,” said Kurt, whose official title is bar manager. “Now it’s much brighter and more open and alive. There are fresh mountain breezes coming through the open doors. For the most part, it has been received really well and people are enjoying the new space.”
Besides being more open, the Duchin Lounge has also raised the bar on the cocktails and wine it serves. The new lounge has become known for its unique and ever-evolving wine menu and for its “Signature Cocktails,” including their Weekly Drink Specials. Concocting new cocktails and sharing new flavors with guests is one of Kurt’s other passions.
“I like to introduce people to things they haven’t tried before or haven’t tried in a while. We offer a whole pallet of opportunities on our drink menu,” he said. “There’s great history in cocktails. So whether it’s a new drink or a classic we’re always trying to find flavors that give people that ‘Wow’ moment. We’re trying to offer a really high level experience.”
Kurt said fresh and high quality ingredients are the key to the success of the Duchin’s cocktails. Kurt’s decades of restaurant experience also helps him understand flavors, but he admitted it can sometimes take 15 to 20 experiments before he nails the flavor a new cocktail.
But as Kurt so wisely said, “If you don’t fall down every once and while, you’re not trying hard enough.”
Even if that means you stumble off course for a while, that’s fine for folks like Kurt, or you or me. That’s because sooner or later you’re bound to rise back up and return to that special place like Sun Valley that always calls—and welcomes you—back.
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