The Red Onion
In a town where the dining landscape seemingly changes overnight, the historic Red Onion is the place you can count on — for lunch, apres-ski, dinner or late night.
“We might be one of the last places in town that’s truly local,” says co-owner Brad Smith. “And we like that; we aren’t changing our philosophy of serving good food at reasonable prices in a fun atmosphere.”
And while you might think you already know The Onion from its nearly 125-year reputation alone, think again. Yes, it is one of Aspen’s oldest establishments, famous for its historic red-brick building and original back bar, but did you know that as far back as the mining era The Red Onion was one of the town’s three fine-dining restaurants? People came to The Red Onion for a genuine Aspen dining experience, not just a beer at the bar.
Of course, a beer at the beer is part of what’s kept people — locals and visitors alike — coming back as Aspen transformed from a sleepy mining town to a world-class ski destination.
“We’re real people here — our bartenders are local ski celebs, our servers are longtime locals — and we think that’s what keeps our customers coming back night after night, year after year,” says co owner Mike Tierney. “Just look around at the history on the walls here.”
But The Red Onion’s legacy hasn’t fully developed yet. Today, Tierney and Smith, along with chef Ricardo Madrigal, formerly of the Roaring Fork Club, want to reintroduce Aspen and its visitors to local eatery with a thoughtful menu of elevated American fare that goes far beyond typical bar food.
“I am inspired to serve food that goes beyond wings and fries,” Madrigal says. “So I will be taking some of our big plates and making them stand out a bit more; refining our traditional dishes to make them a little better.”
For example, Madrigal has reinvented two mainstay main dishes: the trout and the schnitzel; this season’s version of the trout has it served stuffed with crab, while the panko-crusted schnitzel is now a chicken dish.
Of course you can’t stray too far from tradition at this iconic Aspen eatery. The Red Onion burger — one of the best in town — is still a hearty half-pound of Angus beef, served on a Kaiser bun with cheese and all the trimmings; choose from more than six side dishes, and it’s truly a classic.
Also classic Red Onion (and a rarity in Aspen): the entire menu is served throughout the day in both the dining room and bar, with a total of 100 seats.
Plus, the bar at The Onion boasts one of Aspen’s most extensive selection of whiskeys, as well as a full cocktail menu, wine list and beers both on tap and in the bottle (yes, even PBR still has a place at the Red O.)
“We’re old-school Aspen,” Smith says. “A cowboy mentality in an upscale town — it’s a mix that seems to work well.”
Price: Appetizers $3.50 to $12.95; soups and salads $5 to $16.95; burgers and sandwiches $14.95 to $19; entrées $23.95 to $30.95. Weekday $9.95 lunch specials. Ambience: Casual, family-friendly, an Aspen classic. Signature dishes: Baked spinach and artichoke dip; the Red Onion cheeseburger; crab-stuffed Rocky Mountain trout; green chili and cheese grits; Mexican chocolate cake.