The Red Onion | AspenTimes.com

The Red Onion

story by Jeanne McGovern photos by Anna Stonehouse

In a town where the dining landscape seemingly changes overnight, the historic Red Onion is the place you can count on — for lunch, happy hour, 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 there more to 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 long-time locals; we employ high school and returning college students in summer — and we think that's what keeps our customers coming back night after night, year after year," says Smith. "Just look around at the history on the walls here."

But The Red Onion's legacy hasn't fully developed yet. Today, Smith, along with chef Ricardo Madrigal, are reintroducing Aspen and its visitors to a local eatery with a thoughtful menu of elevated American fare that goes far beyond typical bar food.

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"I am inspired to serve food that goes beyond wings and fries," says chef Ricardo Madrigal. "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."

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 Kaiser bun with cheese and all the trimmings; choose from more than six side dishes, and it's truly a classic.

Also classic at The 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. And, new this summer, the Onion has opened a large outdoor patio in the middle of the Cooper Avenue Mall.

"This is a game-changer," Smith says. "It's spacious and right in the heart of things. It speaks to the kind of restaurant and bar we want to be."

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 genuine Coors still has a place at the Red O).

"We're old-school Aspen," says Smith. "A cowboy mentality in an upscale town — it's a mix that seems to work well."

The details: 420 E. Cooper Ave., 970-925-9955, redonionaspen.com

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; any of the taco offerings; green chili and cheese grits; Mexican chocolate cake

Not to Miss: The newly expanded outdoor patio, perfect for summertime dining; A tour of the historic
bar inside and surrounding memorabilia; The sliders, as a late-afternoon snack

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