Dinner and music: a visit to the Lynn Britt Cabin at Snowmass
March 5, 2009
SNOWMASS ” A certain kind of visitor to Aspen ” the one who wants a side of entertainment with their dinner, who wants a uniquely Aspen experience ” might notice a hole in the local offerings this year. For more than a half-century, that niche was filled by Mead Metcalf’s Crystal Palace, a dinner-theater that served up original musical satire along with good food in a singular setting of stained glass and Victorian ambiance.
The Crystal Palace is still there. Only visitors there will now find modern steakhouse fare and atmosphere rather than a dinner theater. And while the Palace, now the Crystal Palace Grill, still has entertainment ” a popular Open Mic Night on Mondays, occasional Comedy Nights ” it isn’t the dinner-and-a-show experience that, for some, has been a tradition since the Eisenhower administration.
The Lynn Britt Cabin isn’t the obvious choice for those looking for a replacement tradition. Instead of a splendid theater it is, as the name promises, a cabin. It’s not in downtown Aspen, but mid-mountain on the Snowmass ski area. Entertainment isn’t a pack of singer/dancers/actors, but one guy with an acoustic guitar.
Here’s a full comparison:
Altitude: The Lynn Britt Cabin, built in 1998, kicks butt in this category: 9,200 feet above sea level to a puny 7,809.
Mode of transportation: True, with the Crystal Palace, you had options: walking, the Hunter Creek bus, auto. You could even arrive in style, via the Ultimate Taxi or a horse-drawn carriage. But you couldn’t take a snowcat ” or better yet, a snowcat-drawn carriage ” that is included in the Lynn Britt dinner package.
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Entertainment: Rich Ganson is at an unfair disadvantage here ” a lone guitar-picker up against a full cast of entertainers with costumes, script, director, piano accompaniment. But Ganson, new to the Lynn Britt this winter, is determined to pack the most entertainment bang into his one-man show. He isn’t content to sit off in a corner strumming background music, hoping diners will pay him some attention between courses. Playing well-chosen American favorites (“Mr. Bojangles,” Bob Dylan, plenty of John Denver, plus a touch of the Beatles), Ganson works his way into the audience’s experience ” and occasionally, their tables, less frequently, their laps. By evening’s end, the separation between entertainment and audience has been withered down to nothing, and the event feels more like a party than dinner at a restaurant. (Bonus entertainment at the Cabin: a birds-eye view of the Friday night fireworks in Snowmass Village.)
Atmosphere: No matter how many times I walked into the Crystal Palace, it always came as a surprise, like entering another time and world. The Lynn Britt Cabin, too, came as a surprise, at least on my first visit. I expected communal benches, sitting around a fire, burning your own s’mores. I didn’t expect that elegance, mountain-style ” good wine, full bar, an emphasis on service ” would be part of the experience.
Cuisine: The Crystal Palace’s food was good ” or, by dinner-theater standards, brilliant. The meals chef George Sigeti serves at Lynn Britt are measured on a different scale, competing at the upper level of Aspen area dining experiences. The choices rotate night to night, but are narrow on a given evening: Dinner is one soup, one salad, choice of three entrees. But the Duck Two Ways is a must-try, and the salad, served family-style to each table, made me wonder why my efforts at combining lettuce, veggies and dressing never tasted like that. Dessert is a heaping plate of kitchen-baked cookies, brownies and lemon squares.
Kid friendliness: There were moments of the Crystal Palace show ” say, “The Neighborhood Porno Lady” number ” where it was better to cover the ears of the little kinder, or send them to the bathroom, than having to explain the humor afterwards. No such problem at Lynn Britt, where Ganson’s folksy act is naturally geared towards families, there is a kids’ menu, and if the young ‘uns get restless, you can send them outside to run around the mountainside ” not onto Hyman Ave.
Audience participation: The Crystal Palace understandably frowned on people jumping onstage, mid-act, to belt out “All I Want Is a Room Somewhere” in a bad English accent. At Lynn Britt, singing along is almost mandatory, and Ganson is happy to lend his guitar and microphone to a talented diner. (Even semi-talented ones: I got to break out my version of “The Mighty Quinn.”)
“Peanut Butter on the Chin”: Crystal Palace: Yep. Lynn Britt: Nope. Chalk that one up in favor of the Cabin.
The Lynn Britt Cabin serves dinner between four and seven days a week, depending on demand. It is also open seven days a week for lunch.