The lost art of the sports bar in Aspen
Special to the Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a sports bar is as follows: a bar catering especially to sports fans and typically containing several televisions and sports memorabilia.
By definition, the components of a sports bar sound pretty straightforward, and, after counting the millions posted up throughout the country, one can concur that not only are these particular establishments straightforward, they are recognizable beyond a doubt: big screens, cheap beer, greasy food, hot waitresses and serious fans, to name a few.
It’s a place like Hooters – which is not coming to Aspen, despite recent rumors following news that the company’s CEO bought a home here – or Buffalo Wild Wings, where guys and girls alike are permitted to chomp down on 20-some hot wings, throwback five or six mega-drafts, use outside voices and belch without excuse; a place where 10-plus people wearing matching jerseys can enter without reservation and pull three tables together. It’s loud, comfortable and obnoxious-the ideal package when it comes to watching a favorite team. It’s an American sports bar, a tradition and practice across all the states. But what if … you live in Aspen?
Let’s be realistic: The Aspen name doesn’t quite adhere to the idea of cheap beer and greasy food. In fact, it adheres to the exact opposite of these things: exclusive dining, upscale shopping and affluent living. From here to Alaska, the Aspen name rings of nothing but excessiveness in its classiest form. Buffalo Wild Wings doesn’t exist, and Hooters is, well, out of the question (for now). So where does this wing-slingin’, beer-slammin’ and high-fivin’ idea of a sports bar fit in?
“Zane’s is probably the only true sports bar left in town,” local Bryan Strieker said of the popular Zane’s Tavern on Hunter Street. “You can watch multiple games at one time, the wings are great and everyone wears jerseys.”
In its fifth year of business, Zane’s draws a big local crowd with six televisions offering the NFL ticket, daily happy hour specials with $7.25 pitchers of Bud and Bud Light, 40-cent wings and a Sunday football brunch offering items like a steak and egg Philly with home fries for $12.95.
“We are always crankin’ on Sundays,” said bartender Zack Naiditz who came all the way to Aspen from his home state of Florida. “We have a good atmosphere, good food and good screens.”
In regard to the clientele who frequent the tavern, Naiditz believes Aspen to be a lot mellower than your average city.
“There are 5,000 who live in Aspen compared to the 500,000 in my home town in Florida,” he said. “We don’t have a college football team here, but we still have a good diversity of fans who come out to watch the pro games.”
But Zane’s wasn’t the only place buzzing during game time.
A couple blocks away on the corner of Main Street, a crowd gathered at Cantina, a Mexican restaurant and bar.
“Our bar is cheap, fun and bright,” said owner Aidan Wynn, a longtime Aspen local of 34 years.
With six televisions and a large projector offering the Sunday ticket, Wynn touched on the spaciousness of his restaurant, which allows for good visibility and prevents people from feeling cramped.
“It’s my choice when it comes to watching the Broncos,” said Amber DeLuca, who finds the $3 Coronas and $6 quesadillas hard to beat. “The staff is very personable and the atmosphere is comfortable.”
On the other hand, pizza and sports have been known to go together too.
This past spring Aspen’s popular pizza shop, Brunelleschi’s, remodeled their bar area to include extra seating inside and out, and installed a 92-inch projector on the wall with the NFL ticket for viewing games.
“We’ve gotten some pretty nice crowds on Sundays,” said employee Anthony Todaro. “We were a pizza place, now we’ve kind of turned into a sports bar.”
Sunday specials include $11 pizzas, $8 meatball sliders and $9 Coors Light pitchers.
“I just started coming here to watch games and it’s great,” said Tampa Bay and Florida State fan Cameron Williams.
But when it comes to the lack of volume in the bars, Williams attests not only to the offseason, but to an overall lack of interest in organized sports.
“A lot of people are into their own individual sports here,” he said. “I have friends who will sit down and watch the Tour de France from start to finish, but when it comes to the NFL, they could give two shits.”
Still, Williams has found comfort in the sports scene Bruno’s offers. “Aspen doesn’t have fried chicken like the South, but it does have versatility,” he said.
Other places in town save all the hype for Mondays.
For Monday night football, Aspen’s most beloved sushi restaurant, Matsuhisa, offers $5 rolls and $1 Bud Lights – perhaps the cheapest deals you will ever find on the menu.
“Specials are everything,” said Broncos fan Nevill Wilder. “I usually come out with a group of friends so it depends on the majority, but more than likely you will find us at Matsu for the rolls or The Red Onion for $4 all-you-can-eat wings for Monday night football.”
Music takes a backseat for Monday nights at Belly Up Aspen, where football hits the custom made 16-foot widescreen complete with a full HD projector.
To make the game a little more complete, a football menu includes $8 meatball sliders, $7 hot wings, $9 Coors Light pitchers and $3 shots of Wild Turkey.
“The best part about coming out to Belly Up for Monday night football are the free concerts afterward, said bartender Alan Oster. “They are always really good.”
“Aspen is still lacking an old-fashioned hole in the wall,” Jimmy’s Wine Sommelier Perrin Wolfe said of the Aspen sports bar scene.
With the recent loss of the locals’ favorites – Cooper Street and Bentley’s – Aspen has adopted what’s been dubbed as an “ebbing bar scene.”
In attempt to fill the void, Kelly Wyly O’Donovan, daughter of successful Sam Wyly, along with husband Denis O’Donovan, plan to bring a spark to town with Finbarr’s Irish Pub and kitchen, set to open this Thanksgiving in the old Mustang space on the Hyman Avenue Mall.
With 30 t 40 menu items priced at an average between $17 and $20, Finbarr’s will strive to win the hearts of not only the sports fans, but those who are looking for an elegant dining experience with good food.
“We call it an elevated gastro pub,” said general manager Chris Munday. “We want to cater to a diversity of markets, with the obvious one being the sports crowd.”
And a sports venue it will be. Different from Zane’s, Munday describes Finbarr’s to be more “user-friendly.”
Seven satellite receivers with DVR capability will surround a horseshoe bar, allowing patrons to watch up to six games at one time, whether it be football, rugby or the World Cup.
“But sports won’t be the only focus,” added executive chef Joe Flamer, who created an apres bar menu served late – night and a separate dining menu with items like braised lamb shanks and build-your-own burgers.
“We really want to fill the niche for a menu offering all-around good food,” said Munday, who is no stranger to the business.
And when it comes to atmosphere, patrons can expect a full Irish tradition, from nine beers on tap to blown up photos of Dublin on the walls.
Yet the question remains: will the luck of the Irish succeed to fill the gap in what’s known as an “ebbing bar scene?”
Fortunately for Aspen, the future looks optimistic.
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