A Toast to the Duchin Lounge

If you are over 21 and have visited Sun Valley once or spent your whole life here, chances are, you have memories of time spent at the Sun Valley Lodge’s elegant watering hole, the Duchin Lounge, commonly known as the Duchin Room.

Come to the storied, elegant Duchin Lounge on Sunday and toast the watering hole's rich history

Come to the storied, elegant Duchin Lounge on Sunday and toast the watering hole’s rich history

With the fabulous, imminent renovation of the iconic Lodge, the Duchin Room will close its doors until next June this Sunday night, August 31. But the doors are not closing quietly! From 8:30 p.m. until midnight the Duchin Lounge will host a big party featuring some of the best live music anywhere. The legendary Joe Fos Trio will delight the audience with stylings that draw fans from all over the world. Favorites Paul Tillotson and Brooks Hartell will also keep the jazz going as drinks are poured and the new era of the Sun Valley Lodge is toasted.

When the Lodge was being built, much focus was on the novel exterior but the interior got a good deal of TLC from bandleader Eddy Duchin's wife Marjorie

When the Lodge was being built, much focus was on the novel exterior but the interior, including the bar off the main lobby,  got a good deal of TLC from bandleader Eddy Duchin’s wife Marjorie

Revel in the tradition that started when the Lodge was first built more than 75 years ago. When Sun Valley was just taking shape as the preeminent year-round resort in America, Marjorie Oelrichs Duchin was hard at work envisioning interiors to welcome the notable guests she knew would flock to rural Idaho once the resort was built. Wife of famed bandleader Eddy Duchin, Majorie created a colorful, simple and comfortable environment. Sun Valley visionary Averell Harriman was so pleased with her efforts, he honored her by naming the bar just off the main lobby in her honor. Bet you thought it was named for her husband. I know I did!

Friendly, knowledgeable bartenders are a big part of the Duchin experience and why people come back time and again

Friendly, knowledgeable bartenders are a big part of the Duchin experience and why people come back time and again

From that time on, the Duchin Room became a favorite gathering place for all the beautiful people – whether they were from Hollywood or just down the road. In the ensuing years, the lounge gone through numerous incarnations, sometimes incorporating a restaurant, other times acting primarily as a bar, but it was always a central part of the Sun Valley experience.

Dancing to the best live music has always been part of the Duchin experience

Dancing to the best live music has always been part of the Duchin experience

I have many fond memories of the Duchin Room. In the winter, it is the perfect place to gather with friends après ski to compare runs, enjoy a toe-warming coffee drink (Frangelico is my favorite) and listen to live music. In the summer, I have spent many a night sipping drinks like the signature “Stumbling Islander,” (described as “a Mai Tai on steroids) on the Duchin deck admiring the figure skaters and just taking in the beautiful environs. Many special birthday parties have started or ended in the Duchin Lounge as have celebrations of every stripe. If you want to go somewhere where you are just as welcome in ski boots as stilettos, this is the place. My particular favorite spot to survey the scene was the high booths in the back of the room. This perch offered a great view of the entire room and a lot of privacy

Don't miss the incomparable Paul Tillotson Sunday night

Don’t miss the incomparable Paul Tillotson Sunday night

Joe Fos' loyal fan base stretches around the world. He will play with his Trio Sunday night

Joe Fos’ loyal fan base stretches around the world. He will play with his Trio Sunday night

I am not certain what the “new” Duchin Room will look like when it reopens June 2015, but it is sure to be elegant, comfortable and true to its long history

Let’s raise a glass to the Duchin Room and all the memories that have been created there. But even grande dames occasionally benefit from a little facelit and I look forward to seeing how the Duchin Room emerges after the spring.

Raise a glass to the Duchin before it temporarily shuts its doors on Sunday. Thanks for the memories!

Raise a glass to the Duchin before it temporarily shuts its doors on Sunday. Thanks for the memories!

And don’t worry. The Ram Bar at the Sun Valley Inn will remain open and pouring the best libations all fall, winter and spring. This warm, comfortable room offers a different feel than the Duchin but it a wonderful place to sip and savor the Sun Valley experience.



Recipe from the Resort: Trail Creek Meatloaf with Tomato Onion Relish

The Trail Creek Cabin patio was full on July 4 with people enjoying great food and a great ambiance

The Trail Creek Cabin patio was full on July 4 with people enjoying great food and a great ambiance

Trail Creek Cabin is located merely a mile and a half east of the Sun Valley Lodge, but is a world away. Step inside the rustic cabin, built in 1937, and step back into an era both of simplicity and glamor; one where meals with friends lasted for hours and ended over a fine single malt scotch. Once Averell Harriman’s private hunting lodge, this idyllic location on the banks of Trail Creek hosted gatherings of some highly influential people, including by many reports, Ernest Hemingway. Today, the cabin’s rough-hewn exterior, log furniture and grand fireplace still exude a masculine, woodsy energy, but don’t let that fool you – the food is refined, sophisticated, and offers just the right fresh, healthy, flavorful ingredients that still give a nod to Trail Creek’s hunting lodge heritage.

Make your own history at Trail Creek Cabin, built in 1937

Make your own history at Trail Creek Cabin, built in 1937

For a festive Fourth of July celebration, my family, friends and I ventured to Trail Creek Cabin to enjoy a meal beneath one of the most spectacular Idaho sunsets I can remember. Under Chef Wendy Little’s discerning eye and exacting palate, the menu offered something for everyone in our party of seven that included four children. Wendy, who has been with Sun Valley Company since 2009 and the chef at Trail Creek Cabin since 2010, said the special environment at Trail Creek Cabin informs the menu, with hearty steaks and meatloaf year-round favorites. For summer, Wendy also incorporates a great deal of fish and farm fresh, local, organic greens and vegetables into her seasonal offerings. For children, she insists on the same high quality of product as with adults, simply cutting down portion size and offering sides to appeal to the younger set. “I don’t do chicken nuggets or strips or any of that,” she laughed.

As we were under a bit of a tight deadline to get to Sun Valley On Ice, our server quickly took our order that included wild salmon, Idaho trout, cowboy rib eye steaks with buttermilk onion rings and baked potatoes (a favorite at the table), Kobe beef sliders, organic chicken and a buffalo and lamb meatloaf. All delivered wonderful flavor and excellent sides, but the meatloaf proved the most interesting. Chef Little agreed to share this recipe with the readers of The Valley Sun.

Trail Creek Meatloaf is a year-round favorite

Trail Creek Meatloaf is a year-round favorite

Trail Creek Meatloaf with Tomato Onion Relish

For the relish: (yields approximately 2 cups)
1 small onion minced
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tbl. Olive oil
7 oz. ketchup
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 large roasted red bell pepper, peeled and seeded

Chop tomatoes and pepper into a coarse dice, sauté onions and garlic in the olive oil, then add the chopped peppers and tomatoes.
Add the ketchup and Worcestershire sauce and cook 15 minutes.
Cool before stirring into the raw meatloaf mixture. Reserve the extra sauce to spoon on top of the meatloaf as a sauce.

For the meatloaf (yields one four inch deep meatloaf pan)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2.5 pounds ground buffalo meat
1.25 pounds ground lamb
3 eggs
4 ounces heavy cream
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1.5 cups tomato relish
½ pound bacon for lining the meatloaf pan
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

Place meat, eggs, cream, tomato relish, salt and pepper in the bowl of a kitchen aide mixer. Using a paddle attachment, slowly blend these ingredients.
After these are mixed, slowly sprinkle in the breadcrumbs and mix for three minutes more. Cook a small piece to check for seasoning.
Line a Teflon pan with strips of bacon and then fill with the meat mixture. Place more strips of bacon over the top of the meatloaf if necessary.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes, remove the foil and bake another 30-45 minutes until an instant read thermometer registers 155 degrees.
Allow the meat loaf to rest for 20-30 minutes before slicing. Spoon reserved tomato onion relish on top of each slice and serve.

Makes ten generous, delicious servings that taste even better the next day!

Chef Wendy Little of Trail Creek Cabin works painstakingly to share Idaho's local flavors and Sun Valley's rich history with diners

Chef Wendy Little of Trail Creek Cabin works painstakingly to share Idaho's local flavors and Sun Valley's rich history with diners

While I would certainly recommend making this meatloaf at home (dinner one night, sliced into picnic sandwiches the following day!), no visit to Sun Valley is complete without going out to Trail Creek Cabin. Rent a bike from Pete Lane’s, hop on the bike path, and pedal out for light fare and a signature huckleberry mojito on the peaceful creek-side deck. Or make a reservation for the whole family or a romantic dinner for two on the lawn and enjoy Chef Little’s carefully crafted fare that incorporates more than just a bit of true Sun Valley flavor!

Happy Fourth of July weekend!


The deck on the banks of Trail Creek -- there is no nicer spot for a glass of wine and a light bite

The deck on the banks of Trail Creek -- there is no nicer spot for a glass of wine and a light bite

Sun Valley Movie History: How Gone With The Wind Shaped Sun Valley’s Debut

This week the second annual Sun Valley Film Festival comes to town. In honor of the event and the enduring bond between Hollywood and Sun Valley it represents, The Valley Sun blog is running a series of movie history posts by guest blogger Jennifer Tuohy. For more on the festival, which ends tomorrow, March 17, visit sunvalleyfilmfestival.org.

“Sorry to hear you are still set on ‘Sun Valley.’ I am not sure whether Irene wired you her latest suggestion – ‘Ski Haven.’”
David O. Selznick to Averell Harriman, November 4, 1936

David O. Selznick was a unique figure in the golden Hollywood studio era. Producer of arguably some of the greatest movies ever made – from Hitchcock’s Hollywood debut, Rebecca, to the enduring classic, Gone With the Wind - Selznick was a force to be reckoned with. A close friend of Sun Valley’s founder Averell Harriman, Selznick responded with his usual gusto when his buddy asked him to help sprinkle a little star dust on the opening of his grand palace in the snow.

As reams of telegrams and letters between the two friends attest, Selznick set to work immediately, “producing” the arrival of a trainload of celebrities at the resort for New Year’s Eve. Varied reports from the time indicate that the “Sun Valley Special” carried with it an assembly of Hollywood’s shiniest stars. The celebrity choo choo was an inspired idea, agreed Harriman. “This expedition should have good publicity value and help to keep the place full for the rest of the season.”

Arguably the origin of the type-A-Hollywood-producer stereotype, Selznick was anxious to control tightly the publicity generated by his scheme, and consequently drove Harriman’s publicity guru Steve Hannagan slightly mad with his customary pages of memos, including this one sent in early December 1936:

Dear Steve, For the love of Pete please don’t let anyone send out anything about Sun Valley Special without my first seeing and initialling it for if wrong thing goes out I will have to leave town. Am confident wide publicity can be obtained indirectly counting on your good taste to see to it this isn’t handled like a Billy Rose special to the Dallas Exposition but rather as casual photographs of stars en route and at American St. Moritz etc. Not trying to tell you how to run your business but am trying arrange this as favor to Averell and I must be careful it doesn’t boomerang at me or Sun Valley.

Selznick had good reason to be careful about his image, as he was in the early stages of producing what was to be the defining motion picture of his career, a little movie named Gone With The Wind. Just a few months earlier he had picked up the rights to the sumptuous Southern novel set in the midst of the civil war, and it’s hard not to deduce that Selznick’s little trip had some business motivation behind it. In fact, many of the Hollywood power players he rounded up for the 26 hour train ride to central Idaho had key parts to play in his plan for Wind: Samuel Goldwyn, who “owned” Gary Cooper, the star strongly rumored to be Selznick’s first choice for the role of Rhett Butler; George Cukor, Selznick’s first director for the film; and Errol Flynn, also on the list to play the roguish Charlestonian Butler. In the end Goldwyn point blank refused to loan out Cooper, and Warner Brothers terms for the use of Flynn were unappetizing to Selznick. Perhaps to throw a bone to his disappointed pal however, Goldwyn sent the recently widowed Norma Shearer a request to come join them all at Sun Valley shortly after arriving. Shearer was one of many actresses considered for the role of the film’s heroine Scarlett O’Hara. Shearer eventually declined, joking, “Scarlett is a thankless role. The one I’d really like to play is Rhett Butler!” Shearer’s visit to Sun Valley was not fruitless however. She fell in love with the area and returned year after year, eventually marrying one of the resort’s ski instructors, Martin Arrouge.

In 1940, shortly after Wind was released featuring Clark Gable (another star to frequent Sun Valley) and Vivien Leigh in the lead roles, Selznick pulled hard on some strings to arrange to screen the movie at Sun Valley. “At my request,” he wrote to Harriman in February 1940, “[we will] work something out for Sun Valley on ‘Wind’ even though it is a complete violation of our policy.” Sun Valley was considered rather too small and too short an engagement to waste a print of what was fast becoming the biggest movie in Hollywood’s history.

Selznick and his party arrived in Sun Valley on December 31st, 1936, himself and his closest friends occupying rooms 206, 207, 306 and 307 for just four days. According to the account of Felix Schaffgotsch to his boss Harriman (who was unable to attend the opening of his pet project due to the “coming out” of his eldest daughter Mary), the “Hollywood crowd” were “crazy about the place.” They spent their evenings dancing to the orchestra, being entertained by the Austrian ski instructors, playing ping pong, and frolicking in the pool. “Madeleine Carroll and party went swimming last night at six below,” reported Schaffgotsch.

“The warm water swimming pool is obviously a sensational success and quite a novelty,” wrote Selznick to Harriman in a lengthy letter following his stay. He did complain however, about “how easily pneumonia was obtained after hopping out of the pool and running indoors.” “It is pretty cold in Ketchum, believe it or not,” he wrote, “all your advertisement to the contrary notwithstanding, I believe we hit zero a couple of times.”

The much-publicized lack of snow at Sun Valley’s opening has long been proclaimed as a disaster, however for parties unaccustomed to the thrills of winter sports, it was barely an annoyance. With his accustomed foresight, Hannagan, who despised the cold, had arranged for a slew of entertainment and activities to be on hand, and these kept the celebrities and other guests happy. The ice-skating rink was a particular hit. Selznick actually lamented the fact there was any snow at all, “There wasn’t supposed to be enough snow but there was enough for me to make a monkey of myself on skis and skates, and enough for the rest of the party to go wild about winter sports and spend a fortune at the Saks shop…” he said in his letter to Harriman.

The only major blip in the Hollywood crowd’s Sun Valley vacation, where otherwise they had had “a perfectly magnificent time,” and were “simply heartbroken that we had to leave,” was at the big New Year’s Eve bash. Before Selznick left Hollywood for Ketchum, he had received a wire from screenwriter Sidney Howard, who was working on the script of Wind. Howard had wanted Selznick to meet a friend of his named Morgan during his stay at the resort. He duly accepted the introduction, and while Selznick would live to regret the meeting and its tarnishing of his precious image, for Sun Valley it led to the best publicity the resort could have hoped for.

Morgan insinuated himself into the Hollywood party, following them everywhere, stealing dances with the ladies and securing a spot at their table for the New Year’s Eve dinner. During the evening he brought over a banker from Chicago, Charles F. Glore. Presumably somewhat inebriated, Glore approached the table, pushing Selznick out of the way, and plopping himself down next to Lili Damita. When the producer protested, Glore stormed off, sweeping Selznick’s wife, Irene, out of the way, and swiping Selznick on the arm. Selznick, infuriated, demanded an explanation from Morgan as to his friend’s behaviour. Morgan, unruffled by the incident, ignored Selznick’s fury and calmly turned to Claudette Colbert requesting a dance. Selzinck, not known for his calm and restrained personality, screamed at Morgan that he “did not care to know him” and ordered him from the table. Morgan obliged, joining Glore at the adjoining table where the two started stage-whispering about Selznick, with heavy emphasis on the word Jewish. Enraged, Selznick abandoned all pretense at civility, walked over to the gentlemens’ table and planted a punch on the unsuspecting banker, leaving him with a split nose and two black eyes.

Lloyd Castagnetto, a bridge and building supervisor for the Union Pacific Railroad, later recalled “[there] was blood all over everything that night.” According to his account, the first person to throw a punch was Errol Flynn. Regardless of the facts, the story of Hollywood celebrities spilling blood in Sun Valley was too sensational to ignore. When an employee called Steve Hannagan lamenting the turn of events, he shouted back down the line, “What do you mean your party’s ruined? Not an editor in the country can resist this story!” Then he sat down and penned what became the memorable party headline for the ages: “Sun Valley Opens With a Bang.”

Jennifer Tuohy

For more from the Sun Valley Movie History series click here.

Rolling back the years at Sun Valley


The Lodge and its surrounds in 1937. This image was found in Averell Harriman's papers at the Library of Congress - you can see the handwritten notes on it detailing plans for the grounds.

When Joe Burgy first laid eyes on Sun Valley Lodge in 1937 he thought to himself, “This is the most horrible looking thing – a dingy brown cement building stuck out in a hayfield surrounded by sagebrush.” The future sports director for the resort just couldn’t imagine what in the world they intended to do with this luxury hotel in the middle of the Idaho wilderness.

The transformation that occurred when Averell Harriman hauled in hundreds of trees from the surrounding mountains to spruce up the sagebrush flats around his million dollar gamble, is a testament to the power of landscaping.

The same view of the Lodge taken in 2012

Fast-forward to 2012 and the old lady was in need of a bit of a facelift. “That first landscaping went in 75 years ago and most of the trees then were collected off the mountain and Trail Creek,” said Mike Turzian, owner of Sun Valley Garden Center and the man in charge of the resort’s horticultural design for more than 35 years. “A lot of those trees have lived their life cycle and are at a point where they can no longer fight off disease. All the trees we removed this year were heavily infected with scale.”

So it’s a case of out with the old and in with the new as the diseased trees make way for approximately 350 young spruce trees, 500 new aspen, 2,000 sprightly shrubs, as well as hundreds of flats of flowers. The resulting look has opened up new views of the Lodge and let light back into the historic building, stripping decades off the grande dame of American skiing.

“It’s definitely brought the architecture of Lodge back as a focal point and not the trees,” said Turzian. The change is quite remarkable. I remember when I first saw Sun Valley Lodge almost a decade ago, I was surprised at how difficult it was to see the wooden facade for the trees. Today the sight is not dissimilar to that Burgy saw all those years ago, but instead of being surrounded by dusty sagebrush, the Lodge now stands tall amidst healthy young trees and the largest planting of flowers ever seen in the valley.

“The impetus for the change was both the age of the existing landscape as well as the  goal of bringing it back to the standards Mr. Holding so enjoyed, when he first took charge of the resort.”

According to Turzian, in his younger years Mr. Earl Holding loved tending to the landscaping, sometimes working side-by-side with the gardeners. “It was definitely his recreation,” Turzian said. “Holding used to insist we wait until he arrived to start and would stay until the end of the day.”

Mike Turzian and his landscaping crew hard at work around the resort. More than 75 people are working on the project, which is estimated to be completed in 2014

However horticultural historians need not despair, some of the oldest trees still remain. “The big trees on each side of the Lodge, and on the north side of the Inn were probably moved here by Harriman when they were 10 feet at the most. Now they are approaching 120 feet,” Turzian said. That could make them over 100 years old.

Going forward, the biggest challenge for Turzian and his crew is trying to create some diversity in the landscape using the minimal amount of northern hardy nursery stock available to them. It’s a tough job in a climate that routinely drops to -20. But the fresh look has also presented an opportunity to modernize. The new landscaping has been designed to minimize water use through installing more efficient sprinkler heads and a drip system, as well as selecting more drought tolerant plants, all while still maintaining the setting worthy of this special place.

Here are some images I snapped around the Lodge since the transformation began this spring. But don’t take my word for it, come up and see for yourself.

Happy trails!

Mrs. Sun