Sean Beckwith: Feeling low about Gwyn’s High Alpine
I’m not the most sentimental guy. Let me rephrase that, I’m not a sentimental guy. If you want someone to laugh at a sob story, I’m that person. My jobs dictate that I spend most holidays at the office with new, adopted holiday traditions; watching New Year’s Eve fireworks through The Aspen Times’ windows, Christmas morning snowboarding turns over opening gifts, and so on.
For transplants not as emotionally aloof as myself, reckoning with the office while everyone else is celebrating can be difficult. Whether they’re homesick, sick of work or physically sick, resort town living — and the obligations of seasonal jobs — doesn’t really come into context until you’re eating a frozen pizza on Thanksgiving at your Club Commons apartment.
The delicious French onion soup from the Ajax Tavern isn’t a proper substitute for Campbell’s tomato soup and grilled cheese made and served to you by your mom. However, there are certain places in Aspen and Snowmass that can eventually feel like an extension of home.
Zane’s is an obvious spot for happy hour drinks and sporting events among locals. I have dropped into the Artisan enough times for an apres drink or two to know that it’s popular with the OG ski instructor crowd. The one place that really stands out, though, is Gwyn’s on Snowmass.
After living here long enough, if you stop in for a bite or just to warm up, the chances of seeing someone you recognize at or behind the bar are as good as the chances of getting frustrated trying to find a barstool at Elk Camp.
It may be the drink specials or the fact that you’re not directly giving your Aspen Skiing Co.-earned wages back to Skico for an overpriced Stella Artois, but there is something about Gwyn’s that feels authentic and homey. Being elevated to “regular” status is a worthy recognition.
With Skico’s announcement that it’s going to take over operations at the on-mountain restaurant in 2020, longtime locals — and quite a bit of second-home owners — are more than a little worried that familial feeling and staff is going to be ushered out for a rotating staff clad in Helly Hansen.
I know, am friends with and fully trust the culinary direction of Skico’s on-mountain chefs (Shout out to Jim, Andrew and the crew) but McDonald’s can make the best lobster roll in America and people are still going to see it as a McLobster roll. Skico has the ability to improve Gwyn’s product. The question Skico isn’t considering is, are we sure people want that?
As I mentioned above, there’s something about your mom’s Wonder Bread and Kraft singles grilled cheese that a classically trained chef can’t re-create. It’s not so much about the product as it is about the people putting out the product.
During my time living and working in Snowmass, Gwyn’s is by far the place preferred by Snowmass brats. (If you’re not privy to that term, it refers to people who live in the village who refuse to ski anywhere but Snowmass.) It’s also the go-to breakfast spot for a ton of vacation-home owners and their families over the holidays. I know quite a few of them just from my work at a front desk in Snowmass.
Skico has said they want to keep Gwyn’s staff in place. Kudos to them for the thought; we’ll see if it happens. There is no “we’ll see” if the family that started and has overseen Gwyn’s for 40 years is allowed to remain in place. They’ve clearly exhibited the kind of leadership and care necessary to curate a culture that keeps employees, locals and visitors returning winter after winter after winter.
Mike Kaplan, Skico’s president, recently spoke at a Snowmass Town Council meeting, saying moves by community leaders to keep the restaurant as-is are “sad and disheartening.” What’s sad and disheartening is how out of touch that sounds. Being disappointed that you can’t steamroll a community staple into another on-mountain cash grab is — what’s the word Kaplan also used? Oh yeah, ludicrous.
It’s worth noting that the company that lobbied for a family-friendly/pot-shop free Snowmass also isn’t being very friendly to a family that has done nothing but give back to Snowmass. I’m not sure how it’s possible to come across as that hypocritical. Did I miss part of The Aspen Way? Does Expansion come after Unity or Respect? Apparently, The Aspen Way expires the same year as Donald Trump’s first term — and Gwyn’s lease.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times and a front-desk attendant in Snowmass. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.