High Points: In need of a local watering hole | AspenTimes.com

High Points: In need of a local watering hole

Paul E. Anna
High Points
Bentley's at the Wheeler was once a local dive-bar favorite, but no more.
File photo

I need a drink.

Actually, what I really need, is a place to drink. A place where I can go and sit with friends, or friends to be, at a long bar and sip a shot and a beer for a reasonable price in a casual setting where I feel like I belong. A place that always has a seat for me, where I can mingle and meet folks both local and from afar and talk about things that don’t really matter much but seem, in the course of the conversations, like the most important things in the world.

In Tony Vagneur’s Saddle Sore column this past Saturday, on “the new reality,” he had a line that kind of said it all: “It’s too expensive to go out for dinner, and is there a local watering hole anymore?” How many times have I asked that same exact question to friends as we lament the places that used to be and complain about the prices at the places that are. The demise of the affable and affordable public houses, bars, and breweries that provided the social networks that tied us all together is a real loss.

The Red Onion, Little Annie’s, the J-Bar, the Woody Creek Tavern, Justice Snow’s, The Flying Dog Brew Pub, The Tippler, The Slope. Those are just some of the places (There have been over a hundred in this town) that at one time or another offered that kind of cheap, happy-hour shot and a beer environment where a ski patroller could school a tourist on where the best snow was on the mountain, or a recent arrival could meet a millionaire with a guest house, or a local journalist could down a drink with the town mayor.

Today, all of those spaces either still host restaurants or bars, and there are plenty of places — perhaps even more than in the past — to get a drink, but there are no more actual “watering holes” in town. At least, none that I can find. In fact, the closest thing may well be the Elks Club, and you’ve got to be a member, or know one, to get in. Maybe that’s the secret of maintaining a place where everybody knows your name (to use a line from the old Cheers! theme).

It’s not just about the cost of a drink or the aforementioned shot and a beer. I get it — running a bar in Aspen is a seriously expensive proposition, what with the high rents and the cost of hiring staff these days. High prices barely pay the bills. But, anyplace that includes a 22% service charge on their draft beers is pretty much eliminating the riff-raff from settling in for a couple of brews post powder. (You know who you are, J-Bar).

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe riff-raff, or the working man, or the ski instructor or the liftie, or the local journalist is no longer needed or wanted in these new-age bars with the big ice cubes. Maybe the plan is to eliminate the social aspects of providing a place to gather together and take the time for a daily drink and cut straight to the business aspects of the bar business. It is about making money, after all.

Every once a while, I still find a fellow bar fly in one of these places who wants to talk about the hockey game or shares a dog story or kibbitzes with the bartender. But those moments are fewer and further between.

Excuse me bartender, but can you get me a drink?