A child’s guide to Aspen’s 1950s diners
October 13, 2011
Retro diners that mimic the 1950s are popular with both Baby Boomers and the Millennial crowd. When I hunger for a real burger or crave a frozen custard cone, I head for a place with round red-topped twirling stools. The nostalgia is more enjoyable than the food.
In the 1950s, Aspen had four counter-serve cafes with red stools. Each had its own small, local customer base that kept it solvent. Tourists randomly distributed their patronage, discovering the cafes by accident. Mathew Drugs, on Main Street, located where Carl’s is now, featured fountain drinks and real, scooped, Swift’s ice cream. The bowling alley had a cafe in one corner of the building that occupied the Boogies Diner lot on Cooper. Two downtown sites, a half-block apart, did the most business: The White Kitchen Cafe on Hyman Avenue and Edie’s in the Elks Building on Galena Street.
The White Kitchen, owned by Clarence and Edi Radar, with Angie Caparella behind the counter, was not often visited by Aspen’s children of the time. It was a rare treat for a child to eat a meal anywhere other than at home. Barney Bishop remembers the excitement of going there with his father. The White Kitchen had a large local crowd that filled its small space for all three meals and served fried chicken, fried Salisbury steak, fried eggs, fried bacon, lots of mashed potatoes, and volumes of gravy covering everything. From a child’s perspective, the White Kitchen’s best menu item was lard-infused pie crusts. Pies were baked fresh daily.
Phil Hemann’s favorite burger was served at a bowling alley cafe owned by the Tenneys. Similar to today’s Big Mac, it included two patties of meat within three layers of bun, too thick to fit into a child’s mouth. A meal at the bowling alley had the added bonus of watching bowlers, children were more interested in watching the automatic pin setters.
Walt Matthew’s long counter with movable bar stools was closest to Aspen’s schools and attracted juvenile customers. The odor of antiseptics from the adjacent pharmacy mingled with the soda fountain fragrancies of cherries, phosphates and grilled-cheese sandwiches. Matthew’s served “real” ice cream and it was the best place to get a sundae. Unlike some of the other cafes, the pharmacy kept it open on Sundays. Denice Reich remembers grilled-cheese sandwiches on waffles, and the always-sticky counters. She said that when her sister Dasha worked there, a customer complained, “I didn’t order sugar in my coffee.” Dasha responded, “Oh, that was left in the cup by a previous customer.”
Edie’s, also owned by the Radars with partners John Thorpe and Bob Starodoj, was only a half-block from my home in the Cowenhoven Building. That diner syphoned whatever change I could scrounge. I loved watching the frozen-custard machine as it spewed soft vanilla ice cream into a cone, an even greater marvel for my parents who, as children, had to hand-crank their ice cream at home. Edie’s was not the only place that offered such simple treats. It was not even the only place that served chocolate dipped cones, but Edie’s served a unique specialty called a “green river.” The fountain mixed lime flavoring and carbonated water into a glass of sweet gleaming green fluid with a flavor that tasted somewhere between cough syrup and straight lime juice.
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Edie’s towering plate-glass windows faced west, making it the best-lit of all cafes, and it was always sparkling clean with twisting red seats shining like mirrors, and counters free of spilled ketchup. Not a splotch of grease could be seen on the kitchen appliances and the waitress’s aprons sparkled white as the driven snow.