Libations: Drink in Aspen’s history
Aspen Times Weekly
IF YOU GO ...
What; Historic Pub Crawl
Where: Meet at the Red Onion then visit, Aspen Public House, Aspen Tap and J-Bar
When: Thursdays at 3:30, through April 9
Cost: $20, includes a short drink at each stop
More Info: https://aspenhistory.org/tours-sites/tours/ - must be 21 or older to participate
I arrived at a packed Red Onion at 3:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday and squeezed my way past the crowded bar to find my tour guide, Mike Monroney, dapperly dressed in a vest, overcoat and cowboy-ish hat.
He enthusiastically greeted me with a handshake, led me to a table and we quickly sat down to get to business: drinking and learning about Aspen’s history and some of its most famous drinking establishments.
Offered every Thursday in the winter from January 16 through April 9 (and in the summer from June through October, exact dates to be announced), the Aspen Historical Society offers a Historic Pub Crawl.
While originally offered as a one-time-only tour by the historical society, the idea of learning while indulging in libations proved to be a popular one and allowed the historical nonprofit to reach a new audience, so the society expanded the tour to be a more consistent option in its historic tour arsenal.
The Historic Pub Crawl starts at the Red Onion and then makes its way to Aspen Public House, Aspen Tap and concludes at the J-Bar in the Hotel Jerome, making this not just a tour of legendary Aspen establishments, but also of the downtown core and pedestrian malls. (When it started it included Little Annie’s, but after shuttering of this local favorite, the tour added Aspen Tap to the crawl.)
At each stop you are served up local lore, historic truths and, of course, a drink.
1. Red Onion
Kicking things off at The Red Onion seems appropriate, since the bar is a favorite with locals and tourists and boasts that it is “Aspen’s oldest historic restaurant and bar, established in 1892.”
We are served a bourbon-based drink called Last Dollar, named after one of Aspen Mountain’s famous ski runs in The Dumps — which I learn on this tour are named The Dumps as a remnant from Aspen’s mining days when mines would dump wasted rock onto steep hills – and dive in to the history of the building, the bar and when it became what Aspenites know and love today.
According to Monroney, the Last Dollar is one of the most popular drinks on the tour and one that we at the ATW have actually featured in a past libations column (“Libations: The Last Dollar,” Feb. 28).
2. Aspen Public House
After a discussion about Aspen’s pedestrian malls as we make our way from the Red Onion to Aspen Public House, we are greeted at the bar with a traditional and very tasty Moscow mule served in a faux copper mug.
The history lesson here runs the gamut from the significant role potatoes have had in the past and present Roaring Fork Valley (think Woody Creek Distillery vodka, that presumably our Moscow mule was made with) to Jerome B. Wheeler’s impact on Aspen. But I won’t give away all the fun facts, you’ll have to take the tour to learn them yourselves!
3. Aspen Tap
Aspen Tap is the only part of the tour where you put aside the cocktails for a beer, and you also have the choice of picking your beer from their long list of offerings.
Monroney and I both chose Aspen Brewing Co.’s Excess in Moderation IPA, which is a very drinkable and not overwhelmingly hoppy IPA and discussed why “without beer, it’s possible mining towns (like Aspen) wouldn’t have survived.”
The final stop is the J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome where we got to have one of Aspen’s most classic drinks and, perhaps, my favorite libation of the tour, Aspen Crud.
Aspen Crud is a spiked vanilla milkshake garnished with a soaked cherry and, according to Monroney, it was a favorite of the 10th Mountain Division.
The story goes that Aspen Crud was created during prohibition when the J-Bar was turned into a soda fountain (another fun fact I learned on the Pub Crawl). Adults would come in and order milkshakes for their kids and then with a wink or nod to the person serving, the adults’ milkshake would have a little something extra.
The slogan of the Aspen Historical Society tours is “Learn something new or we’ll give your money back to you!” And in his seven years of leading the Historic Pub Crawl tour, Monroney said nobody has asked for their money back.
Whether you’re a first time visitor to Aspen or a longtime local, if you like to have a drink or two and want to learn more about a little place called Aspen, then this tour is perfect for you.
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