The 2020 Aspen Aprés-ski Guide | AspenTimes.com
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The 2020 Aspen Aprés-ski Guide

IF YOU GO …

What: Aprés-Ski Cocktail Classic

Where: Various locations, Aspen

When: Thursday, March 12-Sunday, March 15

How much: Most events are free, registration required; the Great Après Ski Pub Crawl & Cocktail Competition is $50

Tickets & more info: apreskicocktailclassic.com

APRÉS-SKI COCKTAIL CLASSIC EVENT HIGHLIGHTS

FRIDAY, MARCH 13

3-6 p.m. Taste of Aprés Experience, St. Regis Courtyard

4-6 Seminars, Marble Bar

9-11 Aprés After Dark, Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar

9:30 Fireside Chat, St. Regis Courtyard

SATURDAY, MARCH 14

3-6 p.m. Taste of Aprés Experience, St. Regis Courtyard

6:30-8:30 Seminars, Marble Bar

8-10 Aprés After Dark, Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar

9:30 Fireside Chat, St. Regis Courtyard

SUNDAY, MARCH 15

11 a.m. Après Temperance Society Ski Race Invitational, Aspen Mountain

2-6 p.m. Great Après Ski Pub Crawl & Cocktail Competition, downtown Aspen

Aspen’s après-ski scene for the 2019-20 season has gone to another level — literally — with the W Hotel’s debut of its top-floor WET Deck, which offers spectacular views of Aspen Mountain and the valley.

The 8,000-square-foot rooftop area is a bit of a spectacle itself, with a mix of tourists and locals alike partying as a DJ blares loud music through the sound system.

A wall of soundproof glass surrounds the deck, which on a recent sunny spring day was filled with people mingling at the pool and hot tub, and at the cabanas, couches, fire pits and the U-shaped bar where a professional hockey game was being aired on the outdoor TV.

Just a few hundred feet away, three different DJs were spinning music at other après venues: Chair 9, the Ajax Tavern and gondola plaza’s newest addition, the Snow Lodge.

The après scene doesn’t take a break from opening day to closing day, but springtime is prime time — when the afternoon sun stays up and the temps don’t go quite so far down.

The unofficial launch for spring après, since 2013, has been the Aprés-Ski Cocktail Classic, the locally run festival of mixology and off-mountain boozing.

Its three days of tastings, talks and parties culminates in the Great Après Ski Pub Crawl and Cocktail Competition, a ticketed event that sends revelers from bartender to bartender for Sunday après as local establishments square off to crown the best drink of the year.

Aspen après has taken on its famed status thanks to the resort’s penchant for decadence but also due to the town’s 19th-century layout and its barroom variety. The downtown core has just the right amount of ski town and European hospitality, with places for those who want the in-your-face, see-and-be-seen crowds (Ajax Tavern and the W) to the hyper-local hangouts where happy hour still means inexpensive items offered during a brief period of time (the Red Onion and Mezzaluna).

After crushing the slopes all day, it’s a short ski-boots walk to that well-deserved cocktail and social hour with friends.

“Après ski,” of course, is French for “after ski,” and generally describes the social activities that take place after a day on the hill, though it’s come to take on fashion and socio-economic connotations.

A few tips to remember first, before directions on where and how to après in Aspen successfully:

• Be sure to drink water

We are at 7,908 feet in altitude and the air is thin, we have to stay hydrated for skiing and boozing.

• Pace yourself

Chances are you’ll be out later than you think and you’ll need to keep yourself in line so you don’t become baggage, or miss the fun.

• Don’t find yourself being an Aprés Jerry

Walking home in ski boots after the sun sets is a gaper move. It’s perfectly fine to make an Irish exit in order save yourself. Go home, take a nap and primp for the evening.

Though taking a break might be hard to do. Along with the W’s fresh-this-season scene beckoning, there are other options galore at the base of the mountain.

Next door is the Little Nell Hotel, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this season with specials and events like a March 30 après wine-tasting inside the Nell’s legendary wine cellar.

The hotel recently remodeled two of its drinking venues — Ajax Tavern and Chair 9, which gave the interior spaces a facelift and better functionality.

The Tavern is an indoor and outdoor restaurant and bar next to the Silver Queen Gondola, which is beachfront property at the base of Ajax.

Springtime is the right time for the tavern. It is the place to be from 2 to 6 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in March when Clicquot in the Snow makes the party scene a destination event.

It’s the perfect place to watch skiers and boarders make their final descents on the Little Nell run while soaking in the sunshine, drinking Champagne and dancing to a DJ.

A rival scene unfolds across gondola plaza at the Snow Lodge, which also has a DJ and attracts a young, out-of-town crowd on most days.

A pop-up in the former Shlomo’s space on gondola plaza, the Snow Lodge is the brainchild of the promoters behind the Surf Lodge in the Hamptons.

For a good chunk of the ski season, the Snow Lodge has been booking top international DJs for après but bouncers behind its velvet rope have aggressively turned walk-up customers away (more on the Snow Lodge in Food Matters, page 6).

Chair 9 in the Little Nell Hotel is a more chill option. There is a DJ until 7:30 p.m., three TVs to watch sports on the weekends and an approachable après menu with plenty of bar food.

“We want the locals to feel at home and not pretentious,” says the Nell’s Janelle Patrick.

Of course, Chair 9 does have four private elevated seating areas that have bottle service.

For a quieter, luxurious experience, folks can walk down the hallway of the Little Nell Hotel and have a glass of wine or cocktail in the Living Room, where there is a wood burning fireplace and Gray Malin photos on the wall.

“It’s nice to have all three places with different energies,” Patrick says.

So what about the other haunts around town that show the many facets of Aspen après in 2020?

Red Onion is the classic. Established in 1892, Aspenites have been bellying up at the bar since the mining days at this brick-walled, American tavern. For après, the Onion hosts live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons with drink specials that include $1 off draft beers and wine.

The Hotel Jerome’s J-Bar and the Wheeler Opera House’s Aspen Public House, both also dating to the mining era, are the other history buffs’ must-stop for après (more on historic Aspen bards in Libations, page 10).

The Limelight Hotel lounge boasts the longest happy hour in town (3 to 7 p.m.) and live music Thursday through Monday, in the winter from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. along with après specials and the lounge’s signature menu of oven-fired pizzas.

Ryno’s Pub & Pizzeria has a kid-friendly arcade and some of the best pizza in town.

Mezzaluna, a block and a half from the gondola, runs an après happy hour from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at the table and 3 to 6:30 p.m. at the bar.

Clark’s Oyster Bar took the place of the beloved Little Annie’s bar and restaurant a few years ago, but has tried to hold onto the Annie’s après tradition with a daily happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. that includes $8 martinis and oyster specials.

Other walkable downtown hotspots: Hops Culture has 30 beers on tap and 200 more in bottles and cans; French Alpine Bistro has the most romantic setting in town and along with fondue, Swiss racelette, French onion soup and savory crepes; Aspen Tap is the spot to sample microbrews from Aspen Brewing Co.; Zane’s Tavern is the unpretentious locals’ go-to.

But clearly the après action is at the base of the mountain with the addition of a couple of new chic spots this year.

It’s been a slow start for the W in gaining the traction it was hoping for in the après scene. But with some adjustments, like offering less-expensive drinks, management at the Marriott-owned property hopes to draw in more locals.

Still, the friendly music war between DJs at the base of Aspen Mountain can be heard throughout town, whether you’re walking the pedestrian malls, skiing down the Little Nell ski run or hiking Smuggler Mountain across the valley.

“It’s great energy,” said May Selby, director of public relations and social media for the Aspen Skiing Co., “and really cool to hear it when you are in town.”


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