Drinking with the working dogs
With the Red Onion in limbo and Cooper Street on the way out, many locals are moaning yet again about the Aspenization of … Aspen.Despite the proliferation of jewelry stores and overpriced boutiques, it has still been possible in recent years to find reasonably priced beer and baskets of wings. But lately Aspen’s remaining watering holes seem to be disappearing or outpricing hardworking locals at a rapid pace.
Some longtime Aspenites see the Cheers or Moe’s of their younger days transforming into high-end retail stores. Or maybe the traditional bars have simply raised their prices one too many times. Meanwhile, other Aspen classics such as the Isis Theatre and Explore Booksellers are in jeopardy.All is not lost, however. Just ask those who have visited the latest upstarts – the Double Dog Pub, Zane’s Tavern and Texas Red’s (also known as Shenanigans). Some longtime local bars may have gone upscale, or gone away entirely, but going to the Double Dog on a Tuesday night makes it clear that the local bar scene is anything but dead.As prices have driven many Aspenites from old-school pubs like the J-Bar, it seems the town was craving a dark hole with bluegrass music. And just as the Double Dog fills up each night – especially on Tuesdays, when live acoustic music fills the room – so too has Texas Red’s taken a top spot as one of the only places to play bar games like pool, darts, foosball and Golden Tee.All is not easy, say the owners, who pay expensive rents or mortgages and must struggle through the quiet offseason. Vying for the Aspen patron is no simple feat, and since many of the people in Aspen are bar-hoppers, most watering holes only see people come through for 30 minutes to an hour before moving on.Even so, three bars have opened up in the last year with favorable reports and something new to offer. Cheers!
The stairwell going down to the Double Dog pub is already covered with framed photos of Aspen dogs, and the packed house on Tuesday nights crowns the watering hole as Aspen’s latest greatest blue-collar bar.The pub has been open only a year, but already the burgers evoke hushed tones of awe, and the cozy atmosphere has people hanging out seven nights a week. Owners Robert and Cindy Glowacki, who also own the Steak Pit next door, confirmed that they use the trimmings from the steaks to grind their own beef for the burgers.”No wonder some are really fatty and some are really lean,” said local Tim Clement. “The last one I had was dripping with grease; it was delicious.”For many, however, Tuesday night’s music by the Crowlin Ferlies is one of the main draws. Running from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., the band plays all-acoustic sets made up of Celtic, bluegrass and old-time music. The band numbers anywhere from four to 15 people, depending on the night and who shows up with an instrument.The tunes are quiet enough for talking, but loud enough to listen. Every 15 or 20 minutes, the band takes a short break. They talk, let the crowd bubble, then fire it up again.
Walk in on an average Tuesday night and every seat will be taken by 7 p.m., even though the band doesn’t start for another half-hour.”When [the owner] started the music on Tuesday nights, it went gangbusters,” said Bob Leatherman, an Aspen local who regularly hits up the Double Dog. “To be able to come in without a cover is amazing.”Though it’s dark, the bar is airy and open. The crowd is well-dispersed but cozy all the same. One guy typified the feel when he wouldn’t give his name and said it was his goal never to be officially recognized, never to be pictured in a Mary Hayes column. The Double Dog is the place for that – locals strike back. It’s a taste of 1970s Aspen.”This is a throwback to the good old days,” said Leatherman. “They really filled a niche with this, it’s a really good place.”
Where the name Shenanigans came from, no one knows. But when an Aspen bar with less than a year under the belt earns a nickname, then you know it’s doing all right.But all right is about as good as could be expected, said owner Dave Edgar, commenting that it’s tough paying the mortgage on a $2 million space with four months of offseason.”Aspen’s business fluctuates more than any other city we’ve been in,” Edgar said. “When there’s nothing going on in town, it’s dead.”Texas Red’s came into town with an influx of new barbecue places, all of which contend with the longstanding Hickory House. Even so, Shenanigans offers a large space with pool tables, darts, foosball and the open feel of a beer hall. Such enhancements have helped the bar get into the Friday- and Saturday-night rotations, said Edgar.At this point, it is unclear if Texas Red’s will survive in Aspen. Edgar said they will decide in May whether to stay in town.During the Christmas rush, Edgar said, the place was constantly busy. But there are only a few weekends a year when town gets that full.”We want to run a business, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year, and it’s definitely not there for that,” Edgar said. “People are coming here on the busy nights. We were just trying to find a formula where we could survive.”
The buzz around Zane’s is all about the wings. In a town where few bars or restaurants keep the kitchen open late, Zane’s buffalo wings are served until midnight.Let it be known that Eddie Zane, the owner, came into the marketplace printing “Aspen’s best wings” on the menu. So far, they seem to be living up to the challenge – even to the point where the wings are 25 cents apiece from 3 to 5 p.m.Still, like Shenanigans, Zane’s is in the “trying to make it work” category. Zane, who also owns Zane’s Tavern in Snowmass Village, feels he has the right elements in place, but it may be a long process to establish the bar.”We’ve been doing really well with food,” Zane said. “Being new in town is always a growing process. I’m pleased we’re selling food and people are coming back. We’re working our way into becoming the hangout.”
On a weekend like X Games, every watering hole in Aspen will be packed. Two years ago during X Games, the Cantina ran out of chips, limes, beans and four of its six draft beers. The Hickory House served more than 2,000 pounds of meat. It’s the biggest weekend of the year for most Aspen bars, and everyone stocks up.”X Games should be huge,” Edgar said. “It should be crazy for a place like us.”In order to swing it in a place like Aspen, however, every weekend should be huge. As Edgar put it, Texas Red’s needs X Games crowds every weekend to make ends meet, not just four or five weekends a year.”When we’re busy, we’re packed, and that’s the only way we can make money,” Edgar said.
So why does the Double Dog seem to have things down so well? When asking some of the locals, many stated it was the triumvirate of good food, cheap prices and solid atmosphere. The association with the Steak Pit doesn’t hurt, as customers often drink at the Double Dog while waiting for tables. Of course, live local music makes a big difference too.”Sit in the corner, drink a beer and play music with friends,” said Steve Johnson, who plays banjo and button accordion for the Ferlies. “What more could you want?”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Next Monday, Feb. 13, the council will host a work session on the results of the city’s outreach on the aging New Castle Creek Bridge. Next-step recommendations are expected to be announced at the meeting.