Is the Snow Lodge too exclusive for its own good?
Weekend afternoons on the Snow Lodge patio this winter have been high-energy throwdowns. See: a sea of VIP tables strewn with sheepskin throws, insulated cocktail cups, and branded Bumble swag in a partnership that has drawn mainstream musical talent including Diplo, The Chainsmokers and Charli XCX here to the base of Aspen Mountain. Recently, crowds packed in to see Shaquille O’Neal hit the stage as DJ Diesel—a novelty act complete with fans waving oversized head cutouts of the basketball legend—and buzz is circulating about upcoming performances by electro duo Phantogram (March 14) and rock-electropop band Arizona (March 21).
A downside to hosting Aspen’s freshest après-ski scene, and main gripe among locals accustomed to bellying up to a bar just as lifts close, however: Tight security at the door. The Snow Lodge Sounds series has been so popular that walk-ins, or folks without table reservations, are frequently turned away due to capacity issues.
“The space is a lot smaller than it looks, so it’s a bummer,” admits Snow Lodge owner and creative director Jayma Cardoso. Once a certain number of individuals are inside the venue, she explains, adequate space must be held to accommodate table parties. That could happen as early as 2 p.m. for a 4 o’clock set.
“We want to take everyone, (yet) we have to abide by the rules of not only the fire marshals, but also the (building) residents, our neighbors.” Hence why music stops short at 6 or 7 p.m. sharp, depending on the night.
Cardoso never intended that the Snow Lodge — an Aspen offshoot of her wildly popular Surf Lodge in Montuak, New York — be branded as a hot spot too exclusive for its own good. So, in an effort to recognize the “amazing” Aspen community that has shown up, literally, to support the Snow Lodge, Cardoso has expanded programming to feature more local artists, with food and beverage specials to match.
Thursdays are for thirsty locals: half-price bottles of wine, $10 shot and beer (Casamigos tequila and Aspen Brewing Co. pilsner), half-price flatbreads, and a $20 wagyu burger and beer combo, along with live music by Aspen blues trio VTG on the outdoor stage from 3:30 to 6 p.m.
“Each week gets busier and busier,” observes Snow Lodge executive chef Robert Sieber last Friday afternoon before the rush. “We have an in-house DJ, James; yesterday he deejayed with Garland (Burton, the G of VTG), which was pretty cool.”
Though Burton — who performs with bassist Steve Vidamore and drummer Tobyn Britt as VTG (also know as Vintage, since they cover classic blues such as Albert King), with Oscar Azevedo filling in on drums at Snow Lodge — says that such impromptu cross-collaboration is rare, playing to the crowd is key. So last Thursday, VTG kept a birthday celebration in full swing.
Similarly, chef Sieber revamped Snow Lodge fare for warmer weather, splitting a formerly all-day menu into dedicated lunch and dinner choices. Due to the entertainment schedule, lunch showcases more sandwiches and sharable apps. There’s a lightened-up arugula and citrus salad with the option to add protein (chicken, shrimp, salmon), based on frequent demand, and soup specials.
What’s more, “We’ve been taking dishes that have been popular in Montuak and changing them to the scenery here,” Sieber says of certain après-ski snacks. Arancini on the Eastern seashore might be stuffed with crab; Aspen’s version is made with heartier braised beef short-ribs and served with horseradish aioli. Truffled mushroom flatbread has made way for a springtime bestseller topped with Old Bay-seasoned lobster meat, smoked cheddar sauce and lemon.
“Flatbreads have been huge — we walked in here to a pizza oven, so that was one of the best surprises that could have happened,” the chef says. “We’re trying to get one back in Montuak now.”
Handheld meals split easily among friends are all the rage, of course. Sieber’s latest is a Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich that requires three days of prep: an overnight buttermilk brine for juiciness, overnight seasoned-flour rest for maximum crust, and a quick toss in spicy cayenne-paprika oil immediately after frying, followed by a shake of house spice blend before layering on a brioche bun with pickles and mayo. The fiery golden creation surpassed the half-pound T-Lazy-7 wagyu burger as MVP Snow Lodge order almost as soon as it hit the new menu.
Another immediate classic: a half head of cauliflower roasted with Aleppo pepper and accompanied by red coconut curry fragrant with lemongrass and kaffir lime, quinoa with tahini dressing, pickled fresno chiles and radishes. The dish happens to be vegan and gluten-free, and draws on Sieber’s three years as executive sous chef of 2-Michelin-starred South Korean restaurant Jungsik in New York City and time spent at its predecessor in Seoul before moving to the Surf Lodge. Sieber’s vegan fondue special, made with cashew cream, plant-based cheese and a touch of miso for dairy-like funk, surprises even him in its challenge to the real thing.
Pushing the Snow Lodge dinner vibe are heartier, more intricately plated dishes of comfort fare, such as Dijon-pistachio-crusted salmon with roasted beets, carrots and Brussels sprouts and Colorado lamb with saffron couscous, eggplant puree and minted cucumber yogurt. As truffle season winds down in France, Sieber refreshed a creamy pasta to a simpler cacio e pepe. Chocolate fondue joins cranberry bread pudding for dessert. Based on the Snow Lodge’s in-house social calendar, a steady stream of semi-private group dinners in the dining room decked with vintage ski ephemera and soaring ceiling speaks to the restaurant’s success.
“We are lucky: we’re good at curating characters, and the characters make or break it,” Cardoso says. “The idea is consistency. We have Garland, who is amazing — to me he’s like Gary Clark. We’re making specials, embracing the community. Come and check us out.” She pauses a beat and smiles wide. “It’s not always a big party.”