Platts: Intoxicatingly nostalgic
If there exist one common thread amongst most young people in this town, besides our love for outdoor adventure, it is probably a shared enthusiasm for our watering holes. We can find rhyme and reason for going out each night of the week…and often, that is exactly what we do.
Our well-attended and lively bars don’t necessarily mean that we are all a bunch of wild and crazy hoodlums, or that we have nothing better to do in this sleepy mountain town then drink our boredom away. In a small town, where it is practically possible to meet everyone, the typical pub or funky bar provides a sense of community. It provides a place for all who wish to congregate over a few cold ones.
Gathering at bars is far from a new concept in this town. From Aspen’s early days, when young people came here in search of fortune, they could be found posted up at one of the town’s bars after a long stint in the mines. When the town first started to establish itself as a silver mining community in the late 1880s, mostly men headed here for work. Entire families rarely made the trek, which meant that men had to find other forms of community. At its peak in the 1800s, Aspen had more than 12,000 residents and 27 saloons, not including restaurants and hotel bars. Without a doubt, the bars were a popular pastime back in the day.
Fast forward 100-plus years and things are a bit different. We have a drug lord-themed dance club on one of the main streets in town, a mobile Champagne bar on Aspen Mountain and don’t even get me started on Bootsy Bellows. But, despite the injection of some modernization, the past still exists all around us. And not only exists, it actually thrives.
That is what Aspen Historical Society’s weekly Historic Pub Tour helps to show. Every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. during the season, the notoriously compelling Mike Monroney, the organization’s history coach and community trainer, takes a group to three of the oldest venues in Aspen, starting at the Red Onion (formerly known as Kelleher’s Saloon), progressing to Justice Snow’s at the Wheeler Opera House and concluding at J Bar at Hotel Jerome.
At each stop, the bartenders mix up a libation for attendees to sample, such as a bourbon and ginger drink from the Red Onion, a Killer Kiley at Justice Snow’s and the famous Aspen Crud at J Bar (at least, those were the drinks served the time I went).
Monroney shares stories from the past while his audience sips on stiff drinks. Stories like how the floor at the Red Onion is the original from 1892 (despite the efforts to uproot it when the restaurant almost became an establishment called Junk in 2008). Or that Justice Snow’s was actually named after a Justice back in the mining days. And that the Aspen Crud (a vanilla milkshake spiked with bourbon) at the J Bar probably originated during Prohibition. Parents would bring their kids in for a pop at the Hotel Jerome soda fountain and nonchalantly order an adult drink.
Monroney doesn’t just share old pub stories. He paints a detailed picture of the entire town of Aspen, providing tales on the town’s growth, development and traditions that still live on today.
Plus, you learn all of these things with a drink in hand. What a perfect way to bring Aspen’s past and present together.
To find out more, visit aspenhistory.org or call 970.925.3721.
Barbara Platts may go on this tour once a week from here on out. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follower her on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.
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