Remembering the Onion
The food- and beer-stained pages of the two composition books tucked behind the Red Onion’s historic bar tell the stories of Aspen’s many visitors and locals in scrawling black and blue ink. Owner Dave “Wabs” Walbert began handing the books to patrons in 1993; here’s just a small sampling of what’s inside:Several entries mention how much the town has changed.”First return since 1984, thank god you’re still here! The new Aspen ain’t nothin’ like the old. Here you’ll be gone soon too – keep the faith. Somewhere the old spirit will always survive.””When I came to Aspen in 1936, the Red Onion was sitting in this place all by itself.” “Aspen has changed so much but the Red Onion will always stay the same in my mind, even though it too has changed. I hope the local Aspenites keep in spirit and practice the mountain town I remember.”Love is a big theme in the books – romantic trysts within the Red Onion are recorded, as are new loves. One recently engaged couple traced their engagement ring on the page. A photo tucked into one of the books shows an older couple with their kids and grandkids – a note on the back of the picture indicates the couple met at the Red Onion in 1954.Former employees also have plenty to remember:”I was a 15-year-old dishwasher at the Red Onion in 1952. It hasn’t changed much – the hospitality is still the best! We served 70 dinners on 50 sets of china. Talk about pressure!” “I bartended here 50 years ago when John Seiler owned it. Kuster was a cook, and Bill [illegible] was a full time bartender. Billie Holiday was here for a week and lived on green creme de menthe and cocaine.”Plenty of former underage patrons remember their first “illegal pitchers” consumed in the bar. And people are always fond of pointing out the old prices in Aspen, like staying in a lodge for $1, hamburgers for 50 cents and lift tickets for Western Slope residents that ran $2.75.But the notes that remember the spirit of old Aspen, celebrated in the Red Onion, also stand out. “I remember the dirt roads, the free-spirited ski bums that loved the laid back, un-commercial lifestyle. I miss the good old days, but happy to know the Onion is still the place to go in Aspen.”- Naomi HavlenThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.
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In the 1960s The Red Onion as the Aspen Ski Club would host an annual ski fashion preview, which in addition to clothing also included live music and a strip auction.