Bonnie’s Restaurant on Aspen Mountain: A “nourishing, legendary” experience
December 26, 2015
Bonnie's Restaurant is one of those iconic Aspen staples, where ski bums and supermodels alike can enjoy a homemade meal in a cozy, mom-and-pop-style restaurant rich with history.
The restaurant's roots trace back to the 1960s, when German ski racer Gretl Uhl moved to Aspen with her husband, Sepp.
The two moved to Aspen together to open a restaurant, current owner Brigitte Birrfelder said, and in 1966, they did just that.
The Uhls built Gretl's Restaurant from the ground up and ran the place for 14 years until Uhl passed the torch onto her friend and fellow Aspen local, Bonnie Rayburn, in 1980.
Aside from changing the name to Bonnie's Restaurant and adding her famous white bean chili soup to the menu, little has changed since the 1960s, Birrfelder said.
When Rayburn decided she would retire, she asked Birrfelder, who went to school with her children and grew up on Aspen Mountain, to manage the establishment.
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Birrfelder's father, Peter, a chef from Basel, Switzerland, ran the Sundeck restaurant at the top of the mountain for 28 years.
Birrfelder grew up skiing to school and considered the ski patrollers her big brothers.
In 1998, Birrfelder accepted Rayburn's offer and took over Bonnie's Restaurant, though plans for a Brigitte's Restaurant were never in the works.
"I like it being Bonnie's because everyone knows it as Bonnie's," Birrfelder said.
Bonnie's Restaurant staff is comprised of 40 employees, many of whom have worked at Bonnie's for decades, Birrfelder said.
Like Bonnie's assistant manager, Marlene Mickey, who also served under Rayburn's direction.
Or Mickey's mother, Bryce Maple, who worked at Bonnie's Restaurant under all three owners — Uhl, Rayburn and Birrfelder.
Throughout her three-decade tenure, Maple skied nearly 5 million vertical feet commuting to Bonnie's Restaurant.
A marble plaque honoring Maple and her 4.9 million vertical feet skied hangs inside the restaurant.
"Bonnie's is, in many ways, the soul of Aspen Mountain," said Aspen Skiing Co. ski school videographer Burnie Arndt, who has been a regular at the restaurant since moving to Aspen in 1982.
"It's family, it's local and all the food is handmade with love," Arndt said. "Bonnie's epitomizes the Aspen Mountain experience.
"People don't consider the ski season really starting until Bonnie's opens. Opening day is when Bonnie's opens."
Aspen local Yale Lewis echoed Arndt's sentiment.
"I come up to ski to eat at Bonnie's," Lewis said, adding that the restaurant is a second home to him.
Lewis' friend and fellow local Danny Brown agreed.
"There's no better place to get lunch in town," Brown said, adding that Bonnie's pizza and white bean chili are "legendary."
Other local favorites include Bonnie's oatmeal pancakes, homemade bread, soup, German bratwurst served with sauerkraut and potato salad, and a variety of desserts — "Like Gretl's famous apple strudel," Birrfelder said.
Along with using Uhl's original recipe, Birrfelder picks up 90 cases of Rome apples from Paonia in the fall to ensure this dish remains as delicious as it was in 1966.
"Bonnie's serves the best food on all four mountains," said former ski racer Christian Messner. "We eat here every day."
"Sometimes for breakfast, sometimes for lunch," added supermodel Elle Macpherson, who was dining at Bonnie's on Christmas Eve.
Macpherson said her Bonnie's menu favorites are the oatmeal pancakes for breakfast and the salad bar for lunch.
"But most of all, we love the apple strudel," Macpherson said. "It's a very nourishing place."
"The owners and all employees are extremely friendly, and it reflects in the food," Messner said. "You can taste their love of cooking and being here."