Aspen’s Locals’ Choice 2011
June 9, 2011
ASPEN – Every year, The Aspen Times polls it readers to find out their favorite people, places and things to do in Aspen. For years, we called this poll “Aspen’s Best,” but starting in 2010 we changed the name to Locals’ Choice, to reflect the fact our readers call the shots.So, here is the 2011 edition of Locals’ Choice. Several hundred people participated in this year’s survey, and we’re happy to report that very few attempted to skew the results with batches of identical ballots. We do wish, however, that respondents would work harder to answer most of the questions; it’s hard to take a ballot seriously when just 10 of 50 questions have been answered.Nonetheless, we had fun finding out how Aspenites felt, and we hope you’ll have fun reading through their choices.Long live Aspen!
• Favorite cheap eats: In a town known for glamour and excess, an affordable lunch or dinner is actually a premium commodity. Aspenites love their cheap eats, and their very favorite this year was Big Wrap, with a whopping 66 votes. In second place was last year’s winner, Grateful Deli, with 36 votes. And snatching third place with 34 votes was newcomer (and winner for Best Burger) CP Burger.• Favorite pricey eats: It may seem odd, but this unusual town in the central Rocky Mountains really loves raw seafood, and that was reflected in this year’s choice in this category. Readers chose Matsuhisa as their favorite place for a spendy meal, with 52 votes. Of course, Aspenites like other types of cuisine as well, and French-American bistro Cache Cache came in second with 36 votes. The Italian-inspired Montagna at the Little Nell hotel came in third with 32.• Favorite breakfast: A lot of restaurants won votes in this category, but the friendly standby Poppycock’s beat out the competition with 49 votes. Despite being down at the far end of Main Street, the Hickory House came in second with 39 votes, and Main Street Bakery, a little closer to the commercial core, drew 29 votes to come in third.• Favorite burger: CP Burger didn’t even exist when readers took our 2010 survey, but the little place by the Silver Circle Ice Rink has clearly made an impression, winning first in this category with 60 votes. Last year’s winner, Bad Billy’s is no longer in business, and last year’s runner-up, The Ajax Tavern’s ever-popular double burger, took a distant second this time with 38 votes (Was this a statement about the $17 price?) The 520 Grill, also fairly new on the scene, won third with 36 votes. • Favorite on-mountain restaurant: Yet again, Bonnie’s on Aspen Mountain was the hands-down winner in this category, with more than twice as many votes as the nearest competitor. On-mountain dining continues to change and move further upscale, but something about Bonnie’s – the old-school feel, the cafeteria line, the strudel – continues to bring them back. In second place was Gwyn’s High Alpine at Snowmass, and Cloud 9 Bistro at Aspen Highlands was third. Perhaps this one just depends on where you ski.• Favorite bar: Votes in this category were spread across numerous watering holes in the upper valley, which isn’t surprising given that two of last year’s top vote-getters have vanished from Aspen (Bad Billy’s, Double Dog Pub). Whatever the case, Jimmy’s came out on top this year with 23 votes, followed closely by Eric’s/Cigar Bar and Little Annie’s, which both earned 18.• Favorite margarita: The Cantina is the perennial favorite in this category, and the tradition continues this year as the restaurant/bar on Mill and Main drew 48 votes. Su Casa, always a contender, took second place with a more-than-respectable 39 votes and Jimmy’s, the go-to place for top-shelf tequilas, was third with 33.• Favorite coffee shop: A little bit of shuffling in the market makes all the difference. Last year, Parallel 15 and Ink! finished one-two in this category. This year both still landed in the top three, but newcomer Peach’s, which replaced Zele in perhaps Aspen’s single most popular corner location, vaulted into this year’s top spot with 74 votes. Parallel 15 drew 57, and Ink! 43 votes.• Favorite outdoor dining: The food is tasty and the location simply optimal, especially in ski season, so it’s no surprise that Ajax Tavern won this category again with 52 votes. Nobody else was really close, although Pacifica, in its signature spot on the Mill Street Mall, drew 28 votes. Mezzaluna and Peach’s tied for third place with 18 votes each.• Favorite sandwich shop: Last year the Grateful Deli won both this category and Best Cheap Eats in a command performance. The little store on Main Street didn’t win a doubleheader this year – Big Wrap staged a comeback in the Cheap Eats category – but when it comes to sandwiches specifically, there was no contest. The Deadheads’ favorite sandwich shop drew a whopping 82 votes in this category, and even the ever-popular Johnny McGuire’s was far behind with 50 votes. The Cheese Shop was next with 40 votes.
• Favorite hike: This category is always an interesting one. How does any hiker, let alone an entire town, choose a favorite hike in a place with dozens if not hundreds of options, from a short walk up Hunter Creek to marathon backpacking tours through the Elk Mountains? Well, choose our readers did, and their favorite this year was the Ute Trail on Aspen Mountain, with 29 votes. Close behind was the Hunter Creek Loop, with 25 votes. Seems the preference this year was for hikes close to town. Third was American Lake, the perennially popular high-country jaunt up the Castle Creek Valley. • Favorite bike ride: This is another one with a virtually limitless number of choices and combinations, complicated by the divide between road bikes and mountain bikes. Nevertheless, Maroon Creek Road came out on top, unseating the valleywide Rio Grande Trail. Thirty-three votes was enough to seal this particular deal for ride to the Bells, but the Rio Grande wasn’t far behind with 28 votes. Coming in a distant third was the local fat-tire favorite, the Government Trail.• Favorite view of Aspen: The winners in this category change every year, but it’s usually a matter of the same three or four choices in different sequences. In 2011, for whatever reason (probably because the same people voted in this category and the Favorite Hikes category), the Ute Trail took top honors with 29 votes. Next was Gondola/Aspen Mountain with 25 votes, and third was the ever-popular platform on Smuggler Mountain.
• Favorite place to people watch: Just about anyplace with a critical mass of people can be a good spot to people-watch, but perhaps there are certain places where it’s more comfortable to sit, or where you can buy a drink while you gawk. Aspen’s pedestrian malls won this race with 51 votes – and who can argue with the idea of sitting in the sun and watching the tourists while listening to music students play? Second, with 39 votes, was the Ajax Tavern, where it’s especially fun to critique everyone’s ski wear. Third, and mighty close in location to the second-place winner, was the Gondola Plaza. (Don’t ask us, we just come up with the questions.)• Favorite place to walk a dog: Any Aspenite, dog-owner or not, can guess at least a couple of the leading candidates in this race. And the dog-owners with secret dog-walking spots aren’t disclosing their favorite places. So, the Rio Grande Trail was again the paws-down favorite in this category, with Smuggler Mountain a distant second. Wagner Park also registered a dozen-or-so votes. Remember, dog-walkers, that leash laws apply on the Rio Grande; not so on Smuggler, but a recent coyote attack on a dog should remind everyone that leashes are a smart idea.• Favorite place to shag: The winner in this category just never seems to change: the Silver Queen Gondola wins again. But is a semi-comfortable, plastic cabin truly people’s favorite locale for love? Are do they just like to say so?Whatever – the runner-up in this category was somewhere at home (anything from the bed to the floor to the shower). Tying for third, interestingly, were nightspots Escobar and The Regal.• Favorite place to aprs ski: Most of us like a refreshing drink and a little camaraderie after a day of skiing, so where to “aprs” is almost as important a decision as where to make turns. Again, 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel, conveniently located near the base of Ajax, won again this year with 75 votes. Second was the nearby and even more convenient Ajax Tavern. Third was the not-as-fancy but always-friendly Highlands Pizza Company.• Favorite bank: Few things are more important than the place where they keep our money. Well, OK, the places where we ski, eat and drink are pretty key. But we need to trust our banks, and in Aspen it appears Alpine Bank is the hands-down favorite, with 121 votes. Wells Fargo took second place with 69 and US Bank was third with 45.• Favorite nightspot: Aspen has long been known as the ski town with the best nightlife, so there’s always competition in this category. And the competition is always enhanced by Aspen’s ever-changing roster of bars and nightclubs. This year the live-music standout Belly Up took the honors, with the pop-up Escobar in second place and the veteran Eric’s Cigar Bar third.• Favorite real estate company: Aspen real estate had a tough time of it for a couple of years there, so you know the companies still standing are the best and brightest. The top three vote-getters in 2011 were BJ Adams & Company with 40 votes, Mason Morse with 29 and Morris and Fyrwald with 18.• Favorite rafting company: Who doesn’t like their rafting company? Is there ever a bad rafting trip? Not so often, we surmise. And once you enjoy a float down the Fork with a friendly guide, you’re going to go back for more, and likely vote for that outfit in the local newspaper poll. Blazing Paddles was the clear winner in this category with 78 votes. Aspen Whitewater Rafting drew 16 votes and Kiwi Adventures Kompany garnered 6.
• Favorite live music venue: Belly Up has made Aspen a destination for concertgoers, from Western and Eastern slopes alike. Even in a region blessed with several excellent concert venues, Belly Up garnered an astounding 186 votes for favorite music venue. Credit not only goes to the big-name acts, but the fact that Belly Up offers music night-in, night-out, and caters to fans of hip-hop, techno, classic rock, bluegrass and more. It’s also a smooth, fan-friendly operation.The distant runners-up are hardly second-rate venues. The Victorian-era Wheeler Opera House (21 votes) provides a memorable setting for acoustic-leaning shows,. The Benedict Music Tent (13 votes) is part of what makes the Aspen Music Festival a unique, world-acclaimed classical music institution.• Favorite art gallery: The Baldwin Gallery has frequently been called the most significant gallery for contemporary art between Chicago and Santa Fe – which says something about the overall strength of Aspen’s fine art scene. Baldwin represents such blue-chip artists as Eric Fischl, Doug + Mike Starn, Donald Baechler and David Salle, but only took the title by a slim three votes over the Peter Lik Gallery. Galerie Maximillian was just one more vote behind.Even six years after the death of its namesake founder, Harley Baldwin, the Baldwin Gallery remains not only a powerhouse in contemporary art, but also an ideal spot for viewing art, with a two-story space more akin to a museum than a gallery.• Favorite ski shop: Being the top ski shop in one of the world’s preeminent ski towns is quite an honor. It might just be the biggest honor on this list. This year, that distinction goes to Pomeroy Sports, whose outstanding reputation and prime location across from the Gondola Plaza helped it amass a category-best 41 votes.Aspen Sports finished second with 27 votes, one ahead of Hamilton Sports, which captured the top spot last year, much like it had multiple times in past seasons.• Favorite bike shop: The Roaring Fork Valley has developed quite a reputation as a road biking and fat-tire mecca, and it’s no surprise that bike shops abound here. While the race for second and third in this category was almost too close to call, a clear front-runner emerged early. For a second consecutive year, Ajax Bike & Sports, which has shops both in Aspen and Carbondale, captured the top spot. This time around, it lapped the field with 62 votes.Aspen Velo came in a distant second with 22 votes, and Ute City Cycles garnered 21.• Favorite liquor store: In our estimation, any liquor store is a good place to be. Our readers seem to agree, logging close to 200 votes for the top three places to buy your booze. But one shop has to be on top, and once again that honor goes to Of Grape & Grain (75). Just behind, with 69 votes, was another repeat favorite, the Grog Shop. Creeping along in third place, with 33 votes, was Local’s Corner. And while we’re not exactly sure what makes these shops better than the others, we are more than happy to do a little shopping and let you know.• Favorite hotel: We’re not sure if locals voted for their favorite hotel because they’ve actually stayed there, had family and friends stay there, or just frequent their restaurants and bars, but they spoke loud and clear in this category. So if you want to go where the locals go, hit The Little Nell (85), Hotel Jerome (67) and Limelight Lodge (29). If you ask us, here’s why these are tops: Montagna at The Little Nell, the J-Bar, and the newness factor of the Limelight. But who’s asking us?• Favorite florist: Nothing’s sweeter than a good florist, and Aspen has a few. Taking top honors in this category with 68 votes is Mountain Flowers, where owner Wendy Blakeslee creates magic in a vase. Following behind with 48 votes was Sashae, where you can get flowers and whole lot more, and in third place was a longtime Aspen staple, The Aspen Branch, with 25 votes.• Favorite women’s clothing store: Choosing a favorite clothing store is a tough category, as fashion really is an individual thing – and Aspen has a lot of individuals. But Pitkin County Dry Goods, one of Aspen’s long-standing retail shops, stood out from rest with 35 votes. Next in line were two newcomers to the local fashion scene in Valley Girl Boutique (19) and Two Old Hippies (17). Three choices with three distinct clienteles … that’s fashion for you!• Favorite men’s clothing store: Apparently, Pitkin County Dry Goods isn’t just for chicks, earning top honors in our men’s clothing category with 49 votes. From there, men go back to basics with The Gap (21) and get outdoorsy with the Ute Mountaineer (14).• Favorite second-hand store: Here’s a locals’ secret: second-hand stores in Aspen are chock full of first-rate hand-me-downs (just think of the people who are handing down!). And of those second-hand stores, the best place to shop – for everything from clothes to shoes to household goods – is Suzie’s Consignment. Next up, the Aspen Thrift Shop, where all sales proceeds are funneled back to local nonprofits. And, trailing in third place, was a newcomer to the second-hand scene, Little Bird.• Favorite jewelry store: Aspen is home to many fine jewelry stores, but our readers think none is finer than Harmony Scott (26), whose handmade creations are both beautiful and functional. Also turning heads, and tied with a dozen votes, were Meridian Jewelers and Aspen Jewelers.
• Favorite bartender: In a town with as many bars – and as much bar business – as Aspen, the job of bartender is an important and valued one, and the competition is keen.Scotty Gibson, part of the crew that mans the bar at L’Hostaria restaurant, won a comfortable victory as Aspen’s favorite bartender. L’Hostaria’s bar scene has earned a relaxed, lively and unpretentious reputation, and Gibson appears to be a big part of mixing up that winning recipe.Jimmy McManus, at Cache Cache, tallied a respectable 11 votes, while Erin Harris, at the ever-popular bar at Jimmy’s, was third with nine votes.• Favorite high school athlete: Aspen track standout Luke Hemming finished in front of the field in this category last year, but there is now a new man at the top.Nicky Ufkes, the popular and productive Skiers tailback who helped the football team make four consecutive postseason appearances and vault to No. 1 in The Denver Post’s 2A poll last fall, gets the nod this year.Had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season’s seventh game, Ufkes and Aspen would’ve made a serious run at a state title. Still, he gave us plenty to cheer about during his four years in black and red.Ufkes’ 18 votes were four more than backfield mate Daniel Ryerson, who also excelled in goal this spring for the Skiers lacrosse team. Hemming still managed to crack the top three with 10 votes.•Favorite fishing guide: Scott Nichols might be best known for his position as race director for the Skico, but he’s developing another distinction: Roaring Fork Valley’s top fishing guide. For a second consecutive year, our voters have singled out Nichols, of Aspen Trout Guides, as the best at navigating the area’s gold-medal trout streams and helping them land that big fish.John Livingston, director of fishing at Basalt’s Roaring Fork Club, finished a close second.• Favorite plastic surgeon: Clearly those who seek out the services of a plastic surgeon don’t want to share their secret. So with just a handful of votes total, we name Jason Martin (10) and Dennis Cirillo (4) the town’s top plastic surgeons. But as we look around the social pages, we can see that many more of you have paid these folks – and likely a few other doctors – a visit!• Favorite therapist: Well, we must admit this category was a bit confusing, and we’re the ones to blame. Were we talking physical therapist? Massage therapist? Family therapist? The list of potential “therapists” goes on and on. And so did the answers we received. But a winner must be named, and that award goes to Annie Denver with a dozen votes for Aspen’s favorite psychologist.• Favorite teacher: Many believe Aspen has the best schools in the Roaring Fork Valley, and by many standards it does. One key factor in that equation is teachers. And while every teacher is probably some students’ favorite, a few educators stand above the crowd, including Aspen Country Day School teacher Summer Pennetta, with eight votes, and a trio of Aspen public school teachers: Travis Moore (Aspen High), Peter Westcott (Aspen Middle School) and Andy Popinchalk (Aspen High).• Favorite all-around citizen: Can there be a better Aspen citizen than Klaus Obermeyer? We don’t think so, and neither do our readers. With 16 votes, the skiwear founder and beloved yodeler takes top honors. Following in his footsteps were a few other notable locals, Benny the Blade (the name says it all) and Keith Goode, proprietor of Parallel 15.• Favorite attorney: To some, the terms “favorite” and “attorney” do not belong in the same sentences. But when they do, our readers say Ted Gardenswartz is the man to do business with, followed by Chris LaCroix. Third-place honors go to four local lawyers, with five votes apiece: Ben Genshaft, Lauren Maytlin, Lenny Oates and Tom Todd.• Favorite whiner: Nobody likes a whiner, but year after year this category brings in the votes. And, not surprisingly, the same names seem to rise to the top. So without further ado, this year’s favorite whiners, according to readers of The Aspen Times, are: Andrew Kole, a would-be politician; Mayor Mick Ireland, a professional politician; and Elizabeth Milias, a perennial critic of politicians. Hmmm … we see a theme here!• Favorite realtors: So we asked our readers to choose their favorite female and male realtors. We’re not exactly sure why one sex is different than the other when it comes to selling homes, but one thing was clear, people have their favorites. Drum roll, please … in the category of Favorite Female Realtor, BJ Adams, Leah Moriarty and Carrie Wells took the prizes; in the male division, Mark Lewis and Raifie Bass tied for first place, followed by Ed Foran and Steve Shane. • Favorite eye doctor: Apparently people aren’t as gun-shy about sharing their favorite eye doctor as they are about sharing their favorite plastic surgeon, as Dr. Bauer topped the charts with 31 votes in the category. And he wasn’t alone in reaching double-digits, as Dr. Eberhart received 17 votes, followed by Drs. Erlich and Cecil in a tie with eight votes apiece.
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• Favorite place to get a massage: In a town like Aspen, where locals and visitors party hard but play harder, massages are a must-do. So it’s no surprise this category was the top vote-getter in the “luxuries” category. And while we’re sure all those who received votes offer fine massages, our readers say Remede at the St. Regis is the place to be pampered with 59 votes. If you can’t get an appointment there, do not fear; at No. 2 in the poll, with 33 votes, was the Aspen Club & Spa, where you can pick your poison from a whole list of massage options. Ahhhh …• Favorite place to get a manicure/pedicure: If you’ve found your way to the Aspen Club & Spa for a massage, don’t leave just yet. Our readers say the salon here is the best place for a mani-pedi, with 20 votes. Close behind with 17 votes, though, was a newcomer to the local spa scene in Ultimate Nails. The Remede at The St. Regis also tallied 14 ticks as the best place to treat your hands and feet right.• Favorite place to get Botox: Yes, you read that right: We just had to know where those in the know get their Botox fix. But apparently they’re not telling (or at least not publicly). With just a handful of votes total, the winners in this category were All Valley Women’s Care, Aspen Center for Cosmetic Medicine and Dr. Kruise. • Favorite place to get a haircut: Aspen may be tres chic-chic, but when it comes to getting a haircut, our readers like to go old-school. With 31 votes, Sammy’s Barber Shop took top honors. Not far behind, and presumably ahead for those seeking fashion over function, was Salon Tullio, a longtime leader in this category, and Queen B.
• Favorite news story in the last year: Yes, it’s not every day that you dig up a mastodon tusk in your back yard, but that’s exactly what happened in fall 2010 when crews expanding a reservoir near Snowmass Village uncovered a trove of Ice Age treasures. The story of the prehistoric bones at Ziegler Reservoir was the readers’ favorite, followed by the Aspen Daily News’ April Fools edition. Tied for third were George Aldrich, the tragic story of the young man who fell to his death off the Maroon Creek Bridge; actor Charlie Sheen and the well-publicized behavioral meltdown that followed his December 2009 arrest in Aspen; and Aspen High School athletics.• Favorite annual event: Special events are a cornerstone of Aspen’s personality and economy, from long-running festivals like Winterskl to last year’s first-ever Big Aspen Barbecue Block Party. But the list of favorites always includes at least two standbys, and here’s how they finished this year.The Food & Wine Classic was number one with 49 votes, and Jazz Aspen Snowmass was second with 36. In third place was the end-of-winter wildness at locals’ favorite ski hill: Aspen Highlands Closing Day.