2004 Aspen’s Best
January 5, 2005
Well, here it is – the first edition of the new Aspen Times Weekly, and we decided to kick things off with Aspen’s Best. We hope readers enjoy the issue and the new design by our production staff, led by Production Manager Jenna Fredrickson.To be quite honest, we didn’t intend to launch the new Times Weekly with this special Aspen’s Best edition. In fact, we usually publish the “Best” issue during summer, but this summer was one of the busiest, craziest and most successful summers we’ve ever had, and we just plain forgot.Oops.Sometime in September, when we realized summer had passed, we moved Aspen’s Best to our inaugural issue of the new Weekly, a January 2005 look back at the best of 2004. We think it looks great in the redesigned Weekly.Welcome to the new Times! And read on.
BEST DJ: Dylan Regan. When we asked this question, we were actually thinking radio DJs, but this guy seems to have made a strong impression on listeners at weddings, parties and other events. Dylan is a bartender at Jimmy’s, and can put together a killer mix of just about anything from techno tunes to ’70s retro. He’s also a friendly, outgoing fellow. The DJs from KDNK in Carbondale also garnered a number of votes on this one.BEST LANDLORD: BIL DUNAWAY. Looks like a few Aspen Times staffers may have cast votes on this one. Bil Dunaway, former owner and publisher of the paper, has helped many a Times employee (and others, for that matter) gain a foothold in this pricey town by offering affordable long-term lodging. Bil’s also just a mighty nice guy. Thanks, Bil!BEST COLUMNIST: Alison Berkley. She makes some readers laugh, others cry, and some scream with frustration. But regardless of your reaction to The Princess’s Palate (Thursdays in the Aspen Times daily), Alison Berkley’s apparently got what it takes to make this list. So, congrats to the Princess! And to those of you who disagree, we dare you to speak up. For the record, The Aspen Times’ Su Lum also won quite a few votes, and at least one respondent said local columnists are “all too left for me.”BEST PLUMBER: Bishop Plumbing. Many respondents left this space blank, which we assume means that they haven’t had to call a plumber – lucky bums. Among those who have had a clogged drain, frozen pipes or something worse, the winner is Bishop Plumbing. People say they’re quick to respond, service-oriented, family-run and just plain nice. Bishop has been in the valley since 1965.BEST MECHANIC: Binnie Holloway. Forget all your images of the grumpy, greasy auto mechanic who’s just trying to rip you off. Binnie is as all-American as apple pie – and he can fix your car. You can find him at Aspen Auto (in the garage at Main Street Gas, across from Carl’s Pharmacy); he’s the guy with a little grease on his hands and a big smile on his face – always.
BEST DOCTOR:David Borchers. For a small community, Aspen is blessed with many capable doctors, but this young internist got the most votes from our respondents. Patients say the good doctor is soft-spoken, friendly and knowledgeable, and his nurses will answer questions on the phone when they can, so not every issue requires an office visit. They also say he’s an avid cyclist. Keep at it, Doc!BEST LAWYER: Lenny Oates. This attorney has been practicing in Aspen since the mid-1960s, so it goes without saying that he’s knowledgeable. He’s a principal in one of Aspen’s foremost law firms, and he once served as a municipal judge. He’s straightforward, has a sense of humor (how ’bout that for a lawyer!), and he happens to be an avid cyclist with numerous century rides under his belt. He’s also the husband of one of the valley’s most hardworking charitable volunteers, Cherie Oates. Also rising above the fray with a number of votes in this category was local tax attorney Preston Fox.BEST BARTENDER: Dennis at the J-Bar. There are a lot of things you can depend on at the J-Bar in the Hotel Jerome. Thick, juicy hamburgers, large croutons and cute waitresses, for example. Luckily you can also depend on Dennis, this year’s best bartender, for a smile, a speedy drink and maybe a joke or two. But we have noticed that Dennis is almost always at the J-Bar – if not behind it, then spending his free evenings with friends on the front side. Maybe this contributes to his expertise. Whatever the case, Dennis – cheers!BEST GROCERY CHECKER: Peter at Clark’s Market. This longtime local always makes Clark’s customers feel right at home. Customers say he’s unfailingly cheerful and personable, and he has an impressive ability to remember many of their names. Peter and his ilk help keep the small-town flavor in a town that seems to get bigger and bigger.BEST VETERINARIAN: Scott Dolginow. For dog-loving Aspenites, picking the right vet is almost as important as deciding who will deliver your firstborn. The readers of The Aspen Times say Scott at the Aspen Animal Hospital is the go-to guy, and we agree. Mild-mannered but well-spoken, he’s got what it takes to care for animals and the humans that own them (which, to be honest, is half the battle).
BEST PLACE TO WORK OUT: The Aspen Club & Spa. In a town as obsessed with its looks as Aspen, working out is as much a part of the culture as, say, culture. People ski, bike and hike with gusto. But for many Aspenites, that’s just not enough; they need more (and we’re not talking about surgical procedures, although there’s plenty of those to go around). Enter the gym. And while there are a lot of them out there, the king of ’em all is once again The Aspen Club & Spa – and for good reason. Not only can you work out on state-of-the-art equipment or join in a killer spinning or Pilates class, but you’ll be pampered all the way. Who can complain about a little “tribathalon” after running on the treadmill, or a post-yoga massage? Not us. Runners-up in this category included “the great outdoors” and “the mountains.”BEST WEEKEND ESCAPE: Moab, Utah. Did you really think anyplace else could compete? Sure, it’s grown too big and it’s too popular to be charming anymore, but Moab remains the hub of most canyon country excursions; it’s practically a second home for Aspenites during offseason. Whatever your desert pastime, you can do it in Moab. Runners-up included Fruita, Colo., backcountry hut trips and Wal-Mart.
BEST PLACE TO PEOPLE-WATCH: Paradise Bakery benches. Ski bums, working-class stiffs, ridiculously rich people, hipsters and even perchance a homeless person – Aspen has no better place to watch people. Hang out on the benches outside Paradise Bakery, especially on a sunny day, and you’re bound to catch a glimpse of it all. Readers voted the Paradise Bakery the best people-watching spot in town, but we must mention another favorite: Late night at the Popcorn Wagon – trust us.BEST PLACE TO WALK A DOG: Rio Grande Trail. Winding through town right along the Roaring Fork River (and we know how dogs love water), the Rio Grande Trail is an easy place to take your pooch on a stroll – and apparently our readers agree. The drawback, though, is the Rio Grande often becomes a pedestrian/biker/Rollerblader superhighway, so grab your leash and a poop bag – and don’t forget to use them. A popular runner-up in this category was “everywhere.”BEST BUS STOP: Rubey Park. Bus stops tend to be a lot alike, which is maybe why a lot of people didn’t answer this question. In a sea of sameness, however, Rubey Park is a shining beacon of mass transit. It’s got restrooms, drinking fountains, phones, newspaper racks, and the people at the window can always answer your questions or sell you a bus pass. There’s a big clock on the building that tells you whether you’ve missed your bus or not. Rubey Park has a million-dollar Aspen Mountain view, and you can warm up inside while you wait. This is one fine bus stop.BEST PLACE TO FIND A ONE-NIGHT STAND: Eric’s. All the ingredients are here. A resort town full of active, attractive locals. Visitors in for a weekend of powder and partying, determined to go home with a good story to tell. Add a splash (or more) of alcohol and sparks are destined to fly. The best place to stir this perfect concoction for commingling? Eric’s bar. Centrally located, connected to three other bars, it’s always crowded. The music is loud enough to fill awkward pauses, but not to drown out the suave pickup artist. The lighting is bright enough to check out the hotties, but dark enough to cover up their inevitable flaws. In short, perfect for scoring a one-night stand.
BEST PLACE TO FIND A LONG-TERM ROMANCE: The chairlift. But of course. What better place to meet the love of your life than the Rocky Mountains, pursuing your outdoor passion, in the privacy of a two-person chair? (Let’s face it – high-speed quads don’t even compare on this one.) We should all be so lucky. Other answers included “out of state” and “let me know.”BEST PLACE TO RELAX AND CHILL OUT: Home. Let’s admit it. On some level, every one of us is a homebody. Who hasn’t breathed a sigh of relief upon walking in the front door and flopping on that musty old couch? Despite the delights of home, however, other popular answers included the John Denver Sanctuary on the Roaring Fork River and 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel.BEST CHILDREN’S PLAYGROUND: Yellow Brick Park. All playgrounds are not created equal. Some have slides, others swings. Some have sandboxes, others climbing walls. Very few have it all. But the city’s Yellow Brick Park, located in the yard of the Yellow Brick School, is a winner. With plenty of equipment for kids to climb on, grass for them to run through and toys for them to play with, it got the nod as best playground. Our kids agree.
BEST CHEAP EATS: The Big Wrap. Yeah, baby. This below-grade, short-order style eatery on South Hunter Street near the gondola has it all, at a price that every Aspenite can afford. These wraps and salads span the globe, from the Asian “To Thai For” to the Mediterranean “What’s Up Doc” to the old “Mexican” standby. Hearty grub at a fair price. Hallelujah. Other popular choices included the bar menus at Jimmy’s, Piñons and Elevation.BEST PRICEY EATS: Cache Cache. In a town renowned for it’s world-class dining, choosing the “best” restaurant isn’t easy. But our savvy (and apparently well-fed) readers rose to the challenge, naming Cache Cache the best place to lay down the big bucks for dinner. With its French-inspired menu, outstanding wine list and gregarious staff, Cache Cache does seem to have it all. And for those of you who can’t swing “pricey eats” prices, check out the bar menu, which is equally excellent (but get there early, because the tables are always full).BEST BREAKFAST: Wienerstube. Never mind the menu, for now. Breakfast (or lunch) at the ‘Stube is oftentimes a veritable collection of who’s who in Aspen. A longtime local favorite, it’s where politicians, business people, ski bums (for the early-bird special) and old-timers go for their morning fix. Eggs Benedict remains one of the Wienerstube’s most popular and delectable items. It comes as no surprise that Times readers chose the Wienerstube for their No. 1.BEST BURGER: J-Bar. There’s nothing like a really good burger. And there’s no better place to find one than the J-Bar. These huge burgersare served up hot and juicy; melt a little cheese on top and add a few sautéed mushrooms, and they really can’t be beat. Actually, wash it down with a tall, cool one and then you’re really talking.
BEST ON-MOUNTAIN RESTAURANT: Bonnie’s. Our readers chose this venerable Aspen Mountain eatery as the place to get their nosh during a long day skiing, and we heartily agree. Bonnie’s attributes include daily homemade French bread to go with their fresh soups, pizza by the slice made with the same bread recipe and, for on-mountain food purists, dependable cheeseburgers and chili. And nothing compares to the apple strudel at Bonnie’s, made with Gretl Uhl’s original recipe, and apples from Paonia. The restaurant’s homey, unpretentious atmosphere also includes a large, sunny deck with views of the action all around you. You couldn’t do any better if your mom packed your lunch for you.BEST BAR: J-Bar. Apparently, our readers have a thing for the J-Bar. And, true confessions, so do we. The reasons are simple (Best Burger and Best Bartender aside): It’s steeped in history; it’s located in one of the fanciest hotels in town, though the bar seems to operate in a parallel universe; the people are friendly, the service is great and there are plenty of TVs. And, at least for the staff of The Aspen Times, it’s right next door. (The J-Bar is probably where you’ll find us after we finish tallying all these votes.) Also winning a number of votes in this category was the Ship of Fools in Carbondale.
BEST MARGARITA: Su Casa. It’s tall. It’s frothy. Always on ice – never blended. And they never resort to an orangey injection of Grand Marnier where it doesn’t belong – in a classic margarita.Su Casa gets the nod for the best margarita in town and we at The Aspen Times can understand why. We’ve been known to gather in the subterranean restaurant off Cooper Avenue – or in its outdoor courtyard in the summer months – to partake of a pitcher, or two, or three, ourselves. At $3 per generous glass during happy hour, which is actually a happy 90 minutes from 5 to 6:30 p.m., the price of the tequila isn’t meant takillya. And that’s not all – the chips and salsa are free and tasty.BEST DESSERT: Bento Box at Matsuhisa. Rich, gooey and delicious, Matsuhisa’s Bento Box puts all other desserts to shame. This heavenly concoction reminds you of your favorite childhood dessert, and then takes it to new heights. The mix of warmed chocolate souffle cake and vanilla bean ice cream provides the perfect yin and yang of flavor and texture, while the chocolate sauce and berry topping gives it that simple yet oh-so-perfect extra touch. As usual, Matsuhisa’s presentation is part of the package: Served in a beautiful oriental box, this dessert is fun to share.
BEST SKI RUN: Highland Bowl. Nothing about Highland Bowl brings to mind a classic “ski run.” The Bowl is largely as Mother Nature created it, ill-tempered and unpolished. And yet, once again, Times readers have given the nod to the Bowl as Aspen’s best ski run. The mostly hike-to terrain at the top of Aspen Highlands offers 1,400 vertical feet on pitches varying from mid-30s to the upper 40s, pretty much what even the most-seasoned ripper needs to get seriously scared.BEST NORDIC TRAIL: Owl Creek Trail. This trail has everything the real nordic enthusiast could want: Stiff climbs, swift descents, creek crossings, big views and rolling, wooded terrain. Stretching from Tiehack to Snowmass Village, the Owl Creek Trail is the location of the Owl Creek Chase nordic race, and for good reason.BEST SHRINE: Jerry Garcia. The shrine to Jerry Garcia on Aspen Mountain is perhaps Aspen’s most well-known shrine. You might say the Jerry shrine leads all others in skier visits. Located near the top of the FIS chair in the woods off Ruthie’s Run, the Jerry shrine is one of dozens of shrines on the four area mountains dedicated to cult figures and – let’s be honest – the establishment of woodsy nooks in which to get high. That said, toking up at the shrine to the hippie guitar hero from the Grateful Dead is sometimes a sketchy proposition – it’s the shrine where you’re most liable to be visited by a class of ski school kids. “Jerry who?”BEST HIKE: Smuggler Mountain. Aspen and the surrounding backcountry are home to some of the most amazing trails in the state, if not the country, so we were surprised when this dirt road/pedestrian super-highway topped the list of hikes. But the people have spoken, and we have no choice but to bestow this lunchtime favorite with the best hike designation (with hopes, of course, that tourists and pseudo-hikers will converge there rather than the backcountry tracks that we hit for peace and solitude).BEST BIKE RIDE: Government Trail. Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley boast mountain biking up the wazoo, but the lovely forests, technical challenges and the quality of the singletrack make this Snowmass Village-to-Aspen stretch a consistent favorite. Government seems to change personality around each bend, and with the expansion of the trails in Snowmass, there are numerous jumping-off points and combinations to keep things interesting. Other answers included “to the liquor store.”
BEST PEAK: Mt. Sopris. You might expect readers to pick a fourteener on this one, but when it comes to pure majesty, no other local peak can quite match this monarch of the midvalley. Mt. Sopris dominates the Roaring Fork Valley from Glenwood to Basalt, and at 12,953 feet above sea level, Sopris is no slouch. It’s one of locals’ favorite hikes in the summer and a popular backcountry ski destination as well.BEST PLACE TO GET NAKED AND SUNBATHE: Conundrum Hot Springs. High in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, this spot is certainly one of the finest anywhere to shed your clothes and relax. Who would disagree? Apparently a few, including those who voted for “roof of the Rio Grande carport,” “old rope swing,” and “my back yard.”
BEST SKI TUNE: Pomeroy Sports. In a town like this one, a good ski tune is no joke, and there’s no shortage of competition. So congratulations to Pomeroy on a job well done. Also interesting on this question was the number of people who interpreted “ski tune” to mean a song. For all those skiers with iPods, try out the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” BEST RADIO STATION: KAJX, Aspen Public Radio. With a round-the-clock sampling of news, features and music – plus its fair share of local radio personalities (love ’em or hate ’em, you gotta admire their enthusiasm for the airwaves), KAJX got the nod for best radio station. And, for our part, we think public radio beats that commercial, canned crap any day of the week.BEST PLACE TO BUY UNDERWEAR: Wal-Mart. What, Aspenites don’t buy their undergarments at the town’s lingerie boutiques anymore? Actually, they never really have, at least not since Wal-Mart came to Glenwood Springs. Wally World has long been the No. 1 place to shop for skivvies, according to readers of The Aspen Times. Still, our favorite answer has to be from the person (or persons) who claim they “don’t need ’em.” We say, let it all hang out!BEST MOVIE THEATER: Isis. It’s not quite the beloved relic it was in the days when Dominick Linza offered commentary before each film, while wife Kitty popped the corn in the spacious, single-screen moviehouse. But the Isis remains a cut above the ubiquitous highway-side multiplex. With five screens, and an understanding of local tastes, the Isis is big enough to squeeze in small, smart films alongside the usual parade of blockbusters. And there’s something undeniably appealing about walking to a downtown theater without having to cross a sea of parking-lot asphalt.BEST MUSIC VENUE: Wheeler Opera House. Touring musicians practically drool over the prospect of playing the Wheeler. The Victorian-era beauty, the intimate scale and the superb acoustics make any event there special – and makes the top-shelf acts that regularly perform at the Wheeler extra memorable. This past year saw Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Rickie Lee Jones and the North Mississippi Allstars land on the Wheeler stage; go back some years and you could have seen Phish, Widespread Panic, Wynton Marsalis, Vince Gill and Lyle Lovett at the Wheeler. A couple respondents to this question asked “There is one?”
BEST LOCAL BAND: Flying Dog Bluegrass Band. Roaring Fork Valley music lovers know their bluegrass. And they know they are fortunate to have a quality bluegrass band to call their own. The Flying Dog Bluegrass Band, well into their second decade of picking, are capable of captivating an audience on any regional stage. Banjoist Steve Johnson and fiddler Randy Utterbach are master pickers, and mandolinist Sandy Munro adds character and humor to the Dogs, who have appeared at numerous Colorado festivals. The band currently features a rotating cast of bass players, including Cash Cashman, Tom Paxton and Jeff Reynolds.BEST 2004 NEWS STORY: Bears. Summer 2004 was an odd one in Aspen, as a late-June freeze destroyed this year’s berry crop. That sent hungry bears lumbering into Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt and other towns by the dozen in search of food. All summer long, the local papers were filled with photos and stories about bear encounters. Obviously, the relentless and crafty beasts made an impression. Other vote-getters included the Joe DiSalvo assault case and one out-of-towner: Martha Stewart.BEST THING ABOUT ASPEN: Summer, the people. It appears the local adage “I came for the winters but stayed for the summers” is true. At least the readers of The Aspen Times say so, naming summer the best thing about Aspen. Tied with summer, for the third year running, were the people – and we couldn’t agree more, my friends.BEST DRINK FOR A HANGOVER: Bloody Mary. The gold standard of hangover remedies may have received the most votes, but we at The Aspen Times have to give the nod for most creative concoction to the person – a parent, we’re guessing – who nominated “Pedialyte,” the Gatorade-like drink designed for kids with stomach ailments and dehydration issues. Of course with flavors like fruit, grape, bubble gum, cherry and apple, plus a separate line of ice pops, our readers might just be on to something.BEST EXCUSE TO SKIP WORK ON A POWDER DAY: “It’s a powder day.” OK, we’ll admit we didn’t ask this one to determine a winner so much as we wanted to see what answers came in. Here are a few: “My dog ate my work ethic”; “My dog’s sick”; “Botox appointment”; “Food poisoning”; “Sick – ski conditions, that is”; “Fell sliding a rail”; “I started my period”; “The 6-inch rule”; and the stunningly clever “I got lost.”