The Quintessential Guide to Aspen’s Infamous Nightlife Scene
Not everyone is a night person. For some people, plans stretch from morning coffee through an après cocktail, after which nothing much matters until the following day’s dutiful buckling of ski boots. We do not judge these people; surely there’s a place for them (Alta, anyone?). But in Aspen, we pity them. ’Round these parts, the after-hours, off-piste pastimes are as adrenaline-pumping, soul-renewing, and downright fun as the spectacular local ski terrain.
Whether you seek a gastronomic feast, a candlelit two-top, a club-hop with friends, or a boozy bacchanal, you’ll find it—and a whole lot more—after the sun goes down in Aspen. So catch that second wind already: the undisputed champion of ski-town nightlife awaits.
For When “Over The Top” Sounds Right On The Money
Remember that classic country song, “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time”? Welcome to Aspen, where if you’ve got the money, a bunch of restaurants have got the goods to deliver a dining experience you’ll long remember. Need proof? Try this hypothetical: you’ve been working your tail off for the past year, and you feel like you deserve to spend, oh, $500 a person on food. (We’ll leave wine aside this time, on the grounds that dropping a few grand on well-aged bottles is too easy hereabouts, and the choices too personal.) Here’s how you might do it.
First, a little pregame warm-up, ideally a grande plateau of seafood on ice and a glass of Champagne. Sounds like Jimmy's Bodega, the lively ocean-centric spot where the crustaceans and the bubbly are always top-notch. And, what the hell, let’s add some caviar to that platter. The tab? $268. Now to the main course. Maybe Cache Cache, which feels like a big, casually elegant dinner party where the chef just happens to cook impeccable, French-accented dishes. The rack of lamb is a $55 masterpiece. Another option is Steakhouse No. 316. It’s Mad Men–friendly, but no turnoff for ladies, either. And the steaks, grilled to crusty, peppery perfection (try the twenty-ounce Prime Cowboy Rib Eye, $54), are tops in town.
That’s a pretty refined repast, but when it comes to an unforgettable throw-down, we’re headed for Matsuhisa, one of just a handful of Nobu restaurants personally owned and run by Nobu Matsuhisa and his family. Tucked into an innocent-looking Victorian, Matsu is Aspen’s high-roller central, jammed with rock stars and peacocks of all stripes, folks known to redline the fun meter. Executive chef Phil Tanaka, revered by his local competitors, is waiting for us downstairs at the sushi bar, which he’s reserved exclusively for our party. Flights of Nobu’s own sakes are soon washing down bluefin toro, other special sashimi, and, if we’re very lucky and nice to Phil (who is presiding over our meal), Japanese uni from Hokkaido, very small and much sweeter than any we’ve ever tasted. For the ten to twenty kinds of sushi, there’ll be fresh wasabi from Shizaoka, the world’s finest. There’s more, of course. Much more. At some point we’ll blow past the $500 mark and probably not care. In the end, after a piece of perfect fruit or perhaps yuzu granite, we’ll stagger home, poorer in wallet but richer for the experience. —Tom Passavant
What you’ve heard is true: intoxication comes more quickly at altitude, and thanks to the dry air and dearth of oxygen at 8,000 feet, hangovers can be you’re-not-skiing-today brutal. Knowing that, you will of course drink a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage and call it quits after two drinks, right? We didn’t think so—and neither does the ever-expanding cottage industry of hangover preventions and cures. On the proactive side, try the zaca patch ($9 at Carl’s Pharmacy). You simply stick it on and party away while its prickly pear, milk thistle, and B vitamins duke it out against team Stoli. Slipping a few bottles of Resqwater ($5 at the Grog Shop and Aspen Wine & Spirits) into your jacket or purse—and drinking them at strategic points in the evening—isn’t a bad idea, either, as it contains most of the same ingredients as Zaca, plus electrolytes and water. If, despite your best efforts, you still wake up in the land of pickled brains, go for coconut water. Locals swear by it. — Michael Miracle
Games People Play
Friendly Competition Abounds After Dark
Round up some playmates and rehearse your cleverest taunts: friendly competition abounds after dark. The mainstay, of course, is Aspen Billiards at Eric’s Bar, home to five pool and two shuffleboard tables rented by the quarter-hour. Cocktail service ensures you can keep an eye on your ball-moving friends. The kaleidoscopic twinkling inside Ryno’s comes from a miniature arcade of pinball, foosball, and video games, and there are plans to add more multiplayer consoles to the nostalgic ranks of four-way Pac-Man and Big Buck Hunter soon. On Wednesdays, up to thirty-two beer pong teams battle for tournament prizes at The Red Onion. Wanna play real ping-pong? Hit the members-only Eagle’s Club (925-9912)? A smile and a handshake might be just the token. —Amanda Rae
(and drinking, and eating, and skiing again) Skiing après-ski sounds like a contradiction. That, or a bad idea that guarantees you’ll miss the tastiest beer of the day. But sign up for an Aspen Expeditions Nachtspektakel—that’s “night spectacle” in German—and you won’t regret strapping on skis after the lifts shut down. Using alpine-touring gear, you skin up a ski slope under a full (or nearly full) moon; it’s no grueling slog, just a moderate hike on snow. You arrive, slightly winded and hungry, at an on-mountain restaurant—either Aspen Mountain’s Bonnie’s, Cloud Nine at Highlands, or the Lynn Britt Cabin in Snowmass (see aspenexpeditions.com for locations and dates)—where a Euro-style raclette feast awaits. You eat, you drink, you start to ponder the ski down, you drink a little more. When you spill back outside, Aspen Expeditions’ conscientious guides implore you to ski carefully, or if you have imbibed too heartily, to climb into the snowcat for a ride down. Hopefully, you can opt for the skis, turn on your headlamp, and begin one of the more whooping, hollering, exhilaratingly memorable runs you’ve ever experienced. It makes a beer at the base seem mundane. —M.M.
Romance In The Air
Amorously Inclined? Here’s How To Turn Down The Lights And Turn On The Charm.
Ahhh, Aspen, that great seductress: the crisp air, the constant sunshine, the snow falling on your nose at night. You’re already in the mood for love—or will it be some low-rent rendezvous?—so what you need is the perfect plan. Allow us. You will begin in the gloriously refurbished Living Room at the Hotel Jerome. Your partner will oooh and ahhh at the Old Aspen memorabilia as you settle into deep wingback chairs, then sink into Cherry Tree cocktails, with local CapRock Gin, plus a jar of house-smoked trout.
It’s hard to tear yourself away from the fireplace, but onward! Strolling up Mill Street, there’s the Crêperie du Village, funkily, warmly French. Walk downstairs and wrap yourself around plates of “magic mushroom” crêpes and a bottle of Beaujolais amid flickering candlelight. For dessert, baked apple crêpes, spiked with calvados, should seal the deal. Prefer to hold hands in low-light luxury instead? Right turn at Hopkins and into the cozy White House Tavern, to share a sandwich on the same side of the booth.
Keep going up Mill, however, and turn left on the Hyman Mall. Your ultimate destination is Casa Tua, the most seductive dinner spot in town this winter. You’ll see and be seen here; the crowd is well-dressed in an urban way, so make sure your best jeans are pressed and your cashmere sweater draped just so. You’ve booked a table in the front dining room, with its view out onto the snow-slicked streets. The walls are dotted with superb photographs from the owner’s collection (yes, that’s a real Ansel Adams), the tables are set with ivory linen, and the lighting makes everyone look at least twenty years younger. Truffles, the most aromatic of aphrodisiacs, are frequently deployed here, so start with the beef tartare, oozing with poached egg and black truffle, and follow with the tagliolini with wild mushrooms, truffles, and pancetta. Then sink into the whole Dover sole or the lamb chops, and finish things off with just-creamy-enough tiramisu, sex appeal on a plate. There’s a great wine list, too, deep with Italian gems.
Care for a nightcap? Just outside the door is the horse and buggy you reserved from Aspen Carriage and Sleigh (970-925-3394). The hourlong private tour ends at, well … do we have to tell you everything? —T.P.
Shots in the Dark
The times, they are a-changin’—so mutters the guy in muddy boots, belly-up at one of the few elbow-worn bar tops left in this town. He’s mostly right, but tradition isn’t all gone: At The Red Onion, slam Jack Daniel’s boilermakers ($7), $4 well shots plus $2 PBR pints during happy hour (3–6 and 10–midnight), and even ’80s-throwback Jell-O shooters ($2). Football on TV at Zane’s Tavern (544-9263)? Score with Session lager and a Jägermeister ($7.50); the legendary wings are fifty cents apiece at happy hour. Wherever you go, demand the shot-ski: it’s how Aspen barflies get their wings. —Amanda Rae
Girls Just Wanna
It’s Always Ladies’ Night In Aspen.
The audacious Ms. Lauper’s words still ring true: after a playful day on the slopes or at a soothing spa, snow bunnies of all stripes seek more, more, more. So slip into your finest wedge boots—the better to confront Ute City’s spotty cobblestones—swig that last bit of bubbly, and let’s hit it. First we breeze into the ultimate happy hour spot: 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel. The après-ski crowd has thinned by early evening—save for a few stragglers bobbing in the hot tub out in the dark, shades still on, natch—so we nab sleek leather couches by the swank stone fireplace and call for frosty concoctions. The lounge swells with off-duty finance mongers, real-estate dealers, and athletes—thanks for the drinks, fellas!—but our itinerary doesn’t include dead ends, no matter how big the attached expense account. Besides, we’re craving bar-menu flank steak and local buzz at Ellina, plus decadent, crushed-espresso-bean martinis for dessert.
Was it a boyfriend or just a friend who mentioned that Playboy magazine recently named Justice Snow’s the country’s coolest high-altitude bar? We step into the Prohibition-era speakeasy, fingers crossed to find enough seats at the long, lean copper bar for all of us. (If not, the tufted corner banquette will do fine.) Push aside the ninety-five-page, leather-bound cocktail manifesto and describe your mood to our vest-clad host: he’ll whip together a custom concoction beyond imagination. Next up, a stop at Cache Cache’s foxy marble bar for pink bubbles and French mood music; we’ll float across the plaza to Campo de Fiori afterward. By now our cheeks are dangerously flushed, but only because we feel faaaantastic; we’re able to shake off wily suitors with ease. (Our charming bartenders see all, and wine flows.) Footloose wolves run rampant after midnight, but any girl pack worth its Prada has a well-timed eye-roll ready. Ready to dance, we spill into Whiskey Rush or the semi-exclusive Caribou Club, if we bump into a few lucky lads, and boogie down until last call. No drama, just a damn good time. —A.R.
Just You And A Few Friends
Are private dining rooms the new chef’s tables? A few of our favorites include the crisply elegant Table 47, at the far end of The Little Nell’s Element 47 dining room. It’s peekaboo-private, letting other diners catch mere glimpses of you spooning up white sturgeon caviar and Colorado lamb with eggplant. At The Library at the Hotel Jerome, you can pull the blinds or let the whole town envy you, because yes, that cozy, windowed corner at Main and Mill can be yours for dinner. Larger groups should also consider the vaulted underground wine room at Rustique, where the truffled mac ’n’ cheese goes great with aged Bordeaux.
For sheer glam, though, nothing can beat the options at Kenichi. The two Rock Star Booths have sets of veiled and blackout curtains to cover up any hanky-panky. (We love the one in the corner by the window, with its low purple lights.) Then there’s the Tatami Room, with elegant paneling, pillows for seats, and—hooray—a deep well under the table for playing footsie while nibbling negamaki. Tatami Room Tip: you can bring your iPod, for custom musical mood-setting. —T.P.
Rules To Drink By
Simple Advice For Consuming With Gentility.
The line between being a merry drinker and an annoying drunk is a blurry one, and not just because you’re halfway through your third martini. To drill down on how to keep things fun and dignified, we sought the counsel of Jimmy Yeager, the owner and namesake of Jimmy’s: an American Bar and Restaurant and a twenty-three-year fixture on Aspen’s restaurant scene. And Jimmy says …
1. Be polite; it pays in the long run. The obnoxious lout may get a bartender’s attention, but a well-mannered patron will always be taken care of. Patron or asshole, whom would you prefer to serve?
2. Be generous. (Forget percentages.) Reward prompt, competent, and friendly service. The extra couple of bucks makes a big difference and will pay off in the long run, especially if you are a frequent guest. Advice: in a busy bar, pay for your first round in cash and send a message. It’s not rocket science.
3. Be considerate of other patrons. Swearing, howling belly laughter, and other “life of the party” antics need to be calibrated to the style of the bar. Restaurant and hotel bars play different than shot-and-a-beer joints. And keep your hands to yourself unless invited elsewhere.
4. Be interested in what you drink. The more you actually enjoy what you are drinking, the less apt you will be to head down the dreaded path of drinking to get drunk. A good bartender loves to share knowledge about his craft and industry. But if it’s busy-busy, eschew the fun class and order your favorite usual.
5. That said, be most interested in the people with whom you are drinking. The bar is a great place to socialize with your friends, go on a date, and meet others. Life is short—we connect with it through the people in our lives.
Think that getting drunk is attractive—to anyone, at anytime, or anywhere. Period.
Spirits In The Night
On the spectrum of spirituous adventure, Aspen has something for everyone. For the purist, look no further than Jimmy’s, where the cocktails are built around such bespoke ingredients as special barrel-strength bottlings of Four Roses bourbon (try them in a Manhattan), single-malt Macallan Scotch (the Jimmy Mac), and owner Jimmy Yeager’s world-class selection of Mezcal. And of course there are the enormous ice cubes, nicknamed BFICs. (You can decode the acronym.) Over at Chefs Club by Food & Wine, recently arrived Anthony Bohlinger, whose winter-drink wizardry will involve searing and muddling plums and garnishing drinks with black pepper, brings the same boundary-pushing élan to his cocktails as the restaurant’s celebrity chefs do to the menu. And for a meeting with Aspen’s mixological mad scientists, head to Justice Snow’s. In a historic former bank next to the Wheeler Opera House, chief “cocktail mechanic” Joshua-Peter Smith and his crew focus on obscure spirits (Amer Picon, yellow chartreuse), historic recipes (the Blood and Sand, the Pegu Club), and a wanton love of experimentation. If you come, they will build it. —J.P.
Flights of Fancy
Upscale wines by the glass are a local trend we heartily endorse; they let you sample famous bottlings without breaking the bank or create your own grape-centric dine-around. Although the offerings change constantly, it was recently possible to start at Prospect at the Hotel Jerome with a glass of Quintessa ($55) or Flowers chardonnay ($26). At The Little Nell’s Element 47, a superb red Burgundy, Henri Delagrange Volnay, was $34 per glass. A great selection—including Silver Oak cabernet this winter at around $35 per glass—is also offered at the Westin Snowmass, which uses an Italian-made WineEmotion dispenser to preserve open bottles. “There is definitely a market for these great wines by the glass,” says Cache Cache’s wine director, Alex Harvier. He’s been know to uncork Chateau LaTour, a Grand Cru white Burgundy, or even Chateau D’Yquem, the legendary dessert wine. —T.P.
One theory of morning-after recovery counsels tiptoeing into the dawn, and in Aspen that might mean a gentle eye-opener for breakfast. In this category, consider a chewy homemade bagel at Annette’s Mountain Bake Shop (544-1806) or, upping the ante, a French toast waffle and a custom juice blend at Peach’s Corner Café. At Spring Café, we’d opt for the avocado toast, with cherry tomatoes and olive oil—hold the red pepper flakes, please—and a Green Light juice, made with kale, romaine, cucumber, pineapple, and celery.
The other strategy involves serious quantities of protein and carbs; you’ll have to get out of your jammies, though, since the best examples are offered at full-service hotels. At the Nell’s Element 47, the unbeatable classic is the lemon soufflé pancakes, light as air, with raspberry syrup and toasted pine nuts. Upping the calorie count is the Toad in the Hole at the Jerome’s Prospect dining room: a fried organic egg nestled in country toast, with spinach, avocado, ruby trout, and dill hollandaise. But if you’re feeling especially ambulatory, nothing beats the lavish (and in fact, Aspen’s only) breakfast buffet at the St. Regis Aspen, which includes smoked salmon with cream cheese, eggs and pancakes, and enough pastries to overcome even the worst crapulence. —T.P.
The Bewitching Hour
It’s late. Technically, it’s morning. Maybe you’ve been spit out of Belly Up or overstayed your welcome wherever else you went. But you soldier on … and now it gets weird. The heart of Aspen’s late-night scene beats underground, where bottle service—and bad decisions—flow. Not to worry, it’ll all be mostly mind-erased come morning. The most classic option is Eric’s, a sleek cave of exposed brick, faux candles, and beer on tap (the Cigar Bar upstairs channels your cool, chain-smoking uncle’s cherry-paneled den). Prefer to wear the darkness like a cloak, slamming saccharine shots and generally losing your morals? Whiskey Rush has a dance floor with room to groove; show-offs will climb into the shadow box behind the DJ booth. For a trip down the rabbit hole, melt into the mob at Escobar, a whitewashed wonderland of big beats, booze in plastic cups, a stripper pole, and, often, utter shamelessness. Just beware: what happens at Escobar stays at Escobar—until it’s posted on the Internet. Hopefully you’ve changed out of ski gear by now, but if not, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. —A.R.
Take it from a local: not all the nighttime fun is adults-only.
Nothing beats being a kid in Aspen. Trust me: I’m 16, and I live here—I know. When I used to come to Aspen as a visitor, it seemed like a foreign place with foreign people. Now that I’m a local, my friends and I are happy to meet new faces and share our town. It’s always fun to hear what Aspen is like for someone who doesn’t live here.
Want to see a whole bunch of us? Attend an Aspen High School sports competition. Ice hockey is a fan favorite—both the girls’ and boys’ teams have posted outstanding records in recent years. Our boys’ basketball team went 19-6 last year, and this year’s team is even better, so the upcoming season is going to be awesome. Whatever the event, students, parents, and faculty get very rowdy supporting our AHS Skiers.
If I’m feeling adventurous, there’s nothing better than night skiing or sledding. Aspen, Buttermilk, and Highlands are all perfect candidates. All you need to do is hike up as far as you want, and then enjoy the ride down. Although not endorsed by the Aspen SkiCo, it’s a blast, and you don’t need a lift ticket! Just don’t mention my name when you get caught.
A night in town—dinner, ice-skating at CP Burger, and a movie at the Isis Theater with friends—is always a fun time. You could even throw in one of Belly Up’s all-ages shows, which, believe it or not, actually includes most of them. Seeing Alt-J there was one of the best times I’ve ever had. Music and all of the other kid stuff is great to share—with a friend, a group of friends, a sibling, or a date. It’s just one more thing that makes this town so amazing. —Tess Schaftel
Need a serving of sophistication? You’re in the most arts-stuffed ski town in the world.
Given Aspen’s rich tradition as a culture center, a night out promises to be as stimulating and memorable as any powder day. If your legs remain fresh, hit the dance floor of Belly Up, the ski world’s preeminent music venue. (Don’t take our word for it; Rolling Stone called it a top-twenty club nationwide.) From up-and-comers to members of the rock ’n’ roll pantheon, there’s a hot ticket for every generation and sensibility. For an archetypal Belly Up experience—seeing a band that would normally play a venue twenty times the club’s size—snag a ticket for the offbeat, ambitious Flaming Lips. Go full throttle with the experience: down shots and beers, dance like mad, stay through the encore.
Want something a touch more refined? Among the great sensations of evening-time in Aspen is the unmatchable merging of urban and mountain. Consider Jazz Aspen Snowmass’s JAS Café: a downtown Manhattan vibe; the setting of the Little Nell, nestled against a killer ski hill. Listen to smoking music (try trombonist Wycliffe Gordon’s tribute to Louis Armstrong, Jan. 10–11, jazzaspensnowmass.org), sip cocktails, and walk into the high-altitude night. Another citylike attraction, the Aspen Art Museum’s group exhibition Trapping Lions in the Scottish Highlands (Nov. 15–Feb. 2, aspenartmuseum.org) should cast a distinctive spell on your night.
To feel a sense of privilege, take up residence in Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings (aspenfilm.org), an orgy of Oscar hopefuls. You’ll get cultural bragging rights, as many of the films won’t be in general release for weeks, and you’ll experience cinematic immersion with twenty films over eleven days (Dec. 22–Jan. 1), all in the Wheeler Opera House. Find a table downstairs at Justice Snow’s to gather with your film-buff friends for nightly analysis.
Witnessing homegrown talent on its home turf is a pleasure of its own. Watch the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company and marvel at the phenomenon—an internationally touring, contemporary dance troupe based in a small mountain town. You’ll feel a surge of pride in the local community. Even if you don’t live here. —Stewart Oksenhorn
Night owls with the munchies can forage cheap eats past midnight at a few spots. On weekends—that’s Thursday through Saturday here—Su Casa serves a dozen types of tacos ($2.75–$4), quesadillas, and burritos until 1 a.m. But the late-night king is New York Pizza: its gluten-rich pies reign supreme until crowds cry uncle (3 a.m, tops). Bring cash (slices, beer: $4–$5), and prepare to wait in line upstairs. Authenticity hounds will squeeze against the tiny counter beneath band posters and eat standing up between politicos and ski bums. Door locked? If you haven’t turned into a pumpkin yet, the snack smorgasbord at the 24-hour Shell Station might save you. Build some nachos, grab a bear claw if you dare, and for the love of god go home already. —A.R.