Tipple Town

28 Essential Bars in Aspen and Snowmass

From day-drinking to last call, chill lounge or fist-pumping party place, on mountain or off, find just the right hang among our local watering holes.

Edited by Cindy Hirschfeld By Todd Hartley, Laurel Miller, and Barbara Platts November 18, 2017 Published in the Holiday 2017 issue of Aspen Sojourner

No surprise: Aspen has a long history of drinking, beginning with the miners in the late 1800s who frequented the town’s many saloons after a hard day of wielding pickaxes underground. Today’s daily routines—whether it’s working a job or racking up gondola laps on Aspen Mountain—may be more genteel (and above ground), but a stiff drink or a cold one, preferably in the company of friends, is still just as welcome.

To guide your pursuit of the perfect cocktail, locally brewed beer, space to kick back after a day on the slopes, or a hot spot for late-night revelry, we’ve compiled our favorites here. Prefer your drink with a side of magic? We tell you where to find that, too. Ever think about what goes on at a bar from opening to close? One of our intrepid writers set out to find out, in Aspen’s oldest bar, to boot. As for that legacy of drinking? Join the Aspen Historical Society’s weekly pub tour for a spirited account of those liquid assets.

Craft cocktails: Four faves and where to find them

1. The Monarch
This refined, London-style steak house boasts the best manhattans in town along with variations on the classic. Paired with a rib eye, any one of them is glorious. 411 S. Monarch St., monarchaspen.com

Try: Burning Man

  • Cherrywood smoke
  • Sweet vermouth
  • Barrel-aged bitters
  • High West Campfire (a blend of Scotch, bourbon, and rye)

2. Element 47
The swank bar at The Little Nell’s flagship restaurant also draws from a 20,000-bottle wine cellar and is ground zero for New Year’s Eve partying. 675 E. Durant Ave., thelittlenell.com 
Try: Xavier’s White Cosmo

  • Woody Creek vodka
  • St-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • White cranberry juice
  • Lime juice
  • The final touch: edible flower petals frozen in a sphere of ice

3. Hooch
This glam, lower-level hideout emphasizes seasonal, local, and house-made ingredients mixed with boutique spirits. 301 E. Hopkins Ave., hooch.avalancheaspen.com
Try: The Last Rose of Oaxaca

  • Vida mezcal
  • Yellow Chartreuse
  • Habanero honey compound
  • Strawberry preserve

4. Chefs Club
The innovative restaurant in the St. Regis Aspen Resort is known for equally inventive cocktails, often made with esoteric ingredients or syrups poached from the pastry department. 315 E. Dean St., chefsclub.com
Try: Raindrops on Roses

  • Hendrick’s gin
  • Blackberry-sage syrup
  • Lemon juice
  • Garnish: rose petal, powdered sugar, and rosewater
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Take a flight at Hops Culture. 

Like craftwork: Top spots for craft brews

5. Hops Culture
Besides boasting Aspen’s only beer garden in summer, this buzzy bar and restaurant on the pedestrian mall has 30 rotating craft brews on tap and 200 in the bottle, including hard-to-find domestics and imports. 414 E. Hyman Ave., hopsculture.com 
Try: Anything from Denver’s Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, which specializes in seasonal sours made with Colorado fruit and botanicals.

6. Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop
The thoughtfully curated beer selection at this locals’ favorite includes drafts from 12 taps. 319 E. Hopkins Ave., meatcheese.avalancheaspen.com
Try: Split a 750-milliliter bottle of barrel-aged beer from Glenwood Springs’s exquisite Casey Brewing and Blending (made almost entirely from local ingredients, including Western Slope fruit), or try a nano-batched hoppy ale from Carbondale’s Idylwilde Brewing.

7. New Belgium Ranger Station
This tiny Snowmass outpost, located slopeside at the end of the Mall, does great bar food and carries year-round and seasonal selections from the Fort Collins brewery it’s named for. 100 Elbert Lane, #115, rangerstation.org
Try: Refreshing, wood-aged brews from the Lips of Faith series, like Transatlantique Kriek, a lambic made with sour cherries.

8. Limelight Hotel Aspen
Reserve a spot at one of the bimonthly winter beer dinners in the popular lounge, featuring three courses paired with celebrated regional and domestic breweries; at $45 per person, it’s one of the best dining deals in town. 355 S. Monarch St.,  limelighthotels.com
Try: Breweries slated for this winter include Poncha Springs’s Elevation Beer and Boulder’s Avery Brewing.

9. Aspen Tap
The much-speculated location of the Aspen Brewing Company’s downtown taproom finally was revealed, taking over the beloved Peach's Corner Café space where its barrel-aged local brews will taste even better in a brand-new home this winter. 121 S. Galena St., aspenbrewingcompany.com
Try: Our favorite of the brewery’s five year-round offerings: Pyramid Peak Porter tastes like a malty chocolate milkshake with a supremely smooth finish.

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Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro is where the on-mountain party's at

Elevated drinking: Get a head start on après-ski at one of these on-mountain spots

10. The bar at the mountaintop Sundeck, adjacent to the cafeteria seating area, is where young locals can be found imbibing Bud Lights or stiff cocktails like the James Bond Martini–two parts vodka and one part gin, topped off with Lillet and shaken, not stirred, of course. Bring your beverage over to the circular fireplace or, on warmer days, soak up the sun on the outside patio and admire the views of Highland Bowl. And if you overindulge, the gondola is just steps away. Aspen Mountain, aspensnowmass.com 

11. True, Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro is a restaurant, but come the 2 p.m. lunch seating, the party scene infamously explodes, with tabletop dancing and flying Champagne corks that rival any bar scene in town. The least expensive bottle of bubbly is Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Reserve at $130—keep that in mind before you start spraying it. Seatings fill up fast at this small cabin, so reserve early in the season. Aspen Highlands, aspensnowmass.com 

12. Elk Camp’s bar sits apart from the cafeteria in a bright, cozy lounge space with a large stone fireplace and an expansive deck outside, next to the gondola. Try the Pirate Booty, made with dark and coconut rums, blue Curaçao, pineapple, and coconut milk, topped off with an edible gold flake. Snowmass, aspensnowmass.com 

13. An extensive remodel in summer 2016 to family-owned Gwyn’s High Alpine added a contemporary bar area right inside the entrance. Stake your spot by the wood-burning fireplace or in view of one of the flat-screen TVs and sip on locals’ favorite the Fancy Ryan, a refreshing blend of Grey Goose Vodka, Champagne, and blood-orange San Pellegrino. Snowmass, gwynshighalpine.com

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Partiers at the J-Bar in December 1985.

Cheers Through the Years

14. Ever paused to consider where, not just what, you’re tippling? Thursday afternoons, the Aspen Historical Society’s pub tour encourages just that, highlighting the backstories of town’s legendary haunts while providing a nip at each. Starting at the Red Onion, affable guide Mike Monroney recounts how the venue, which opened as T. Latta’s New Brick Saloon in 1892, dovetailed with Aspen’s mining history, Prohibition, and the town’s rebirth as a ski resort. The account goes down easy, as does the proffered whiskey-based cocktail, made with one of 200-plus varieties behind the bar. A couple of stops later, the tour finishes in the Hotel Jerome’s J-Bar, where locals have imbibed for decades and bartenders have etched their names into a wooden cash drawer for more than 100 years. Raise a toast and claim your own spot in Aspen history. $20 (includes drinks), aspenhistory.org 

Spots to Day Drink

15. The historic J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome ranks high among Aspen’s day-drinking pantheon. Here, in the 1970s, diurnal drinking’s patron saint, Hunter S. Thompson, would settle in at noon each day after picking up his mail. Honor tradition and pick a comfortably high-backed leather stool, belly up to the ornate maple bar, and order an Aspen Crud, the legendary vanilla milkshake spiked with Jim Beam. 330 E. Main St., hoteljerome.aubergeresorts.com

16. The spirits flow freely all day at Jimmy’s Bodega. Along with oysters, crab legs, and other ocean fare, this joint boasts a huge collection of mezcal. If that packs too much of a punch, opt for a low-alcohol cocktail from the Easy Drinkers menu. Sit by one of the large windows for quality people-watching on the pedestrian mall outside. 307 S. Mill St., jimmysbodega.com

17. From lunchtime on, Snowmass’s slopeside Venga Venga Cantina and Tequila Bar gets livelier by the hour. The five kinds of margaritas at this modern Mexican spot are a must-try, but don’t pass up the sangria, paloma, or mezcal and tequila flights. On warmer days, nab a seat by a firepit on the large patio and watch beginner skiers brave their way down Fanny Hill. 105 Daly Lane, richardsandoval.com 

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The beat goes on ... and on ... and on at Escobar. 

Howl at the Moon

18. A longtime favorite, especially among younger partiers, Eric’s Bar offers three types of fun in one conveniently interconnected venue: a cigar lounge, a billiards room (with five pool tables and two shuffleboard), and a dark-lit lounge with lots of seating nooks and crannies for canoodling. 315 E. Hyman Ave., sucasaaspen.com

19. Another classic, Escobar inherited its airplane-themed interior—including glossy white, curved ceilings and strips of neon lighting—from a previous club. Whether you feel transported to another world is up to you. The subgrade spot is the place to get down on the dance floor, with a thumping sound system and DJs playing sets on the regular. 426 E. Hyman Ave., escobaraspen.com

20. For revelry that you may regret the next morning (but no one’s judging tonight), head to Bootsy Bellows in the historic Crystal Palace building, which retains its ornate stained glass windows behind the bar. More recently installed plush seating, angular mirrors, and fabric-covered walls lend a modern bordello feel. Dance, order bottle service, and see and be seen. 300 E. Hyman Ave. hwoodgroup.com

21. Belly Up, town’s premier live music venue, attracts touring acts of all stripes (recent shows have included Spoon, the Revivalists, and Deadmau5) with its kicking sound system and intimate vibe. 450 S. Galena St., bellyupaspen.com

22. Sip on exclusive whiskeys from Breckenridge Distillery, along with four kinds of absinthe and premium cocktails, at Rickhouse Social, a below-ground bar designed to resemble a barrel house. The menu of elevated bar bites comes from Aspen Kitchen, two stories up. Kick back with friends during weekly trivia nights and live music on weekends. 515 E. Hopkins Ave., rickhousesocial.com

23. The newest kid on the block, Silver City Mountain Saloon plans to open mid-December as a casual watering hole with whiskey and tequila drinks, draft beer, and a late-night food menu, plus a stage for live music. It holds all the promise of a great place in which to swap stories of mountain derring-do. 210 S. Galena St., silvercityaspen.com

Après Ski

Last summer’s razing of the Sky Hotel, including notorious après-ski spot 39 Degrees, has left a giant hole not only in the ground but also in the hearts of many partiers. Here’s where to try to fill the void.

24. & 25. Loved 39 Degrees’s proximity to Aspen Mountain? Hit up Ajax Tavern, the prime people-watching spot within a snowball’s throw of the gondola, Chair Nine inside The Little Nell (675 E. Durant Ave.), where a DJ spins daily and VIP bottle service is on the menu. 685 E. Durant Ave., thelittlenell.com

26. Or head the other direction to Shlomo’s Deli and Grill; the patio provides a front-row seat to the slopes. 501 E. Dean St., shlomosaspen.com

27. Loved the Skys pool? Try the Limelight Hotel, which serves wood-fired pizzas and drink specials poolside in addition to inside the lively lounge, where bands play Monday to Thursday. 355 S. Monarch St., limelighthotels.com

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Doc Eason at work at the Artisan in Snowmass. 

Snowmass Live

28. With Snowmass Village turning 50 this year, magician Doc Eason has now been wowing viewers with his signature close-up illusions and witty interplay for 80 percent of the town’s life span. That 40-year run is quite a trick.

“I used to run a health food store [in Cupertino, California]. That’s how I got the name ‘Doc,’” says Eason, who headed to Snowmass to ski in hopes of changing up his routine. “I was 30 years old. I didn’t know any magic at all.” 

But after watching a show at the Tower Bar on the Snowmass Mall, Eason fell under the sway of Bob Sheets, the Tower’s original illusionist, and started dabbling in sleight of hand himself. He worked up his Doc persona and started slinging drinks and spinning magic at the Tower, and before long his show had become a must-see local attraction. When the bar closed in 2004, Eason moved down the road to the Stonebridge Inn, where he has become magician-in-residence at the Artisan bar. He also performs at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles and does the occasional corporate gig, and he’s currently seeking a venue to perform his new one-man show, Secret Destinations, about his path to prestidigitation.

In the meantime, catch his routine (note: it’s definitely not G rated) at the Artisan Tuesday and Thursday nights, January through March. And if you figure out just how he gets that autographed dollar bill inside the lemon, let us know. 300 Carriage Way, destinationhotels.com

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