“Soup kitchens on the streets of Aspen? Come on. What is that?” Bill Clarke asked as he eyed the crowds lining Cooper and Hunter streets on Friday night.
The former Channel 7 news reporter in Denver has been the MC for Aspen’s Soupsköl since it began in 2004. That year, Boogie’s Diner executive chef Reggie Barbour served three soups, and the event was powered by extension cords running out of the diner. On Friday, an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people enjoyed 18 different soups, a DJ booth and generator-powered space heaters.
“Getting the restaurants on board the first few years was really tough. They had no idea what was going on,” Clarke said. “Reggie sold them on it.”
Barbour, who died in 2008, has become the namesake for the Soupsköl trophy, which the Square Grouper claimed Friday for the second year in a row. In second place, behind the Grouper’s smoked alligator sausage soup, was Elk Camp with its elk chili. Cantina Aspen finished third with its chicken chili verde.
The winners are decided by a combined vote, between the Soupsköl judges and text-message votes from attendees. The three judges were Wintersköl king and queen Tom Anderson and Georgia Hanson and Aspen Chamber Resort Association President Debbie Braun.
Anna Shook, who moved to Aspen from Iowa eight months ago, said she was amazed at how many people showed up for Soupsköl. By 5:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the final vote was tallied, lines for all 18 soups were backed up to the opposite sidewalk.
“I think it shows that Aspen is not just a tourist town. It has a big sense of community, as well,” Shook said. “It brings the whole town out, surrounded by food. On a (cold) night like this, when you can draw this many people out here, it’s pretty impressive.”
Shook said the most unusual sample she tried was a mushroom-granola soup. Her favorite, which she admitted was biased because she works for the company, was Aspen Meadows Resort’s elk chili, which was paired with cornbread.
Aspenite Tyler Roos attended Soupsköl with his sister Kaitlin and his friend Max Hacker, who was visiting from Flagstaff, Ariz. All three voted for the Grouper’s gator soup.
“I’ve got to go with spicy, something spicy for me,” Roos said before sending his text-message vote.
Danny Trevisani was visiting Aspen from Sao Paulo, Brazil, with his wife.
“The place is amazing. Nice food, nice beer and nice people, so we definitely enjoy it,” he said.
Clarke noted that it wasn’t until ACRA took the lead at Soupsköl in 2007 that it really took off. Shook compared the event to the Aspen Mac and Cheese Fest, which is a similar text-based competition among local restaurants that takes place in the fall. She said they’re both great events that bring the people together for food while showcasing Aspen’s eateries.
“But this was here first,” Clarke said. “This was the original.”