Ajax Tavern, located at the base of Aspen Mountain, is known as a place to après in the winter and relax on the patio in the summer to see or be seen.
It’s a restaurant that has a reputation that precedes it, largely thanks to its location and patio. One of my favorite reviews on Yelp of Ajax Tavern reads, “Who cares what the food tastes like when the apres-ski is amazing! It is worth the wait for a table. Sit on the sun-soaked deck in March with good friends and order truffle fries along with your beverage of choice. This is Aspen.” The restaurant also garners a fair amount of rave reviews about the Ajax truffle fries, Ajax Wagyu Double Cheeseburger and the onion soup gratinée (French onion soup).
The idea of truffle fries and an afternoon spent sipping rosé on the patio on a recent Saturday led a friend to get a table on the Ajax Tavern patio for lunch, and I was all too happy to help fill a seat at the table.
While the promise of enjoying a glass of rosé outside on a perfect summer day in Aspen – mid-80s, not a threat of rain in sight – was enticing, I hadn’t been to the tavern in a few years, and I decided that it would behoove me as the Aspen Times Weekly drink columnist to give the cocktail list a chance first.
The summer cocktail program features nine drinks highlighting a variety of spirits, from a spicy mango mezcalrita to a bourbon watermelon cooler.
The drink that initially caught my eye was the Cool As A Cucumber.
Made with cucumber, mint, basil and Empress Gin, one of my favorite spirits, which is a highly drinkable gin that also happens to be an aesthetically pleasing purple color, this cocktail was crafted to be an easy summer sipper that combines the classic pairing (thanks to Hendrick’s) of gin and cucumber with the summer flavors of mint and basil.
The Cool As A Cucumber was as expected: a pretty, light purple color accessorized with a small garden’s worth of mint and basil, some muddled at the bottom of the glass with the cucumber while other sprigs of herbs sprouted from the top of the drink. It was light, herby and refreshing — a nice cocktail to accompany a warm, sunny day.
Another drink that caught my attention, this time due to its interesting ingredient list, was the Summertime.
The spirit in charge in this drink is Bacardi white rum, but it’s accompanied by “fresh summer juices,” which I learned were grapefruit and cranberry (not sure how cranberry counts as a summer juice as it’s typically a winter flavor), Cointreau and cotton candy.
Served in a martini glass, the Summertime is definitely a showstopping drink; it’s a drink to be seen, if that’s your Ajax Tavern goal. Many of the other patio patrons turned to look and commented on the drink when it arrived at the table, as its cranberry color and cloud of blue cotton candy on top is hard to miss.
The server also commented on the drink as it arrived, but more in the form of a PSA that this circus of a cocktail is difficult to make, I assume due to the balance and infrastructure needed to allow the cotton candy to float on top and not immediately disintegrate in the drink, so it takes a bit longer than other cocktails on the menu.
It’s important to note that as soon as the Summertime is placed on the table, it’s go time in terms of snapping whatever pictures you want for the ’gram and getting a taste of the sweet treat topper before it either melts in the summer heat or falls into the drink below.
Once the blue cotton candy dissolves into the liquid, the drink transforms into a deep purple, and it’s ready to enjoy.
It’s a spirit-forward drink and well-crafted to balance the sugar content that comes from the cotton candy as it diffuses, making it appropriately sweet. The rum is more present in the smell; it doesn’t overpower in taste, as in it’s hard to put a finger on what the spirit is, and the tart flavor of the juices is present in each sip. One of my fellow lunch companions said it was reminiscent of a blue Jolly Rancher, which is not a bad comparison.
Overall, would I say it was my drink of choice? No. I preferred the Cool As A Cucumber, and in the end, after a few sips of the Summertime, I pushed it aside and instead got a glass to help my friend finish her bottle of rosé.
Will I be back to Ajax Tavern? Of course. There was at least one other drink on the menu that caught my eye, and as the previously mentioned review stated, the promise of the “sun-soaked deck … truffle fries … and beverage of choice” will always lure me back in.
What: Ajax Tavern
Where: 685 Durant Ave., Aspen
Price: Cocktails are $18 each