Meet Your Merchant: Craig Witthoeft, Ullrhof Bartender and Assistant Manager
Bloody marys gain a loyal following at Ullrhof
“There’s definitely a right way” to make a bloody mary, according Craig Witthoeft.
And for the bartender and assistant manager at Ullrhof, the “right way” also is the maximalist way. His bloody mary base forms a liquid foundation for dill pickle spears, a pimento-stuffed olive, bell pepper, cherry tomato, pepperoni slices and the showstopper topper: candied bacon covered in a sweet-and-spicy combo of brown sugar plus cayenne and red pepper.
“People spend a premium to come here,” he said. “I’m not going to make something that’s half-good.”
So far, the combo has proven to be a recipe for success at the on-mountain restaurant near the base of the Big Burn lift at Snowmass. The piled-high drinks and an extensive menu have garnered Witthoeft a cult-like following who returns week after week and regularly recruits new members. On busy days, Witthoeft might make as many as 70 Bloody Marys; hot toddies, another popular offering, sometimes total 30 or 40 orders in a day.
“A lot of people tell me I’ve got the nicest Bloody Mary in town,” he said. “It’s almost like a Bloody Mary club.”
Witthoeft emphasizes fresh ingredients and attention to detail in all of his drinks, but the bacon seems to be the not-so-secret secret to Witthoeft’s Bloody Mary fame.
“People like bacon — people go crazy over bacon,” he said.
The exact recipe that keeps folks coming back for more has evolved during Witthoeft’s half-decade tenure at Ullrhof, he said. But he’s been honing his craft behind the bar for decades.
The 56-year-old has been in the restaurant business since he was 13, where he started as a barback at a TGI Friday’s in Chicago.
Watching the bartenders work their magic there, “something grabbed me,” Witthoeft said. Bartending, he saw, was a way to share joy with others.
“I like to make people happy,” he said.
It shows in his work: Witthoeft learns guests’ habits by heart, places a huge emphasis on customer service and doles out candy like it’s, well, candy.
“That’s what I would want,” he said. “I’m always trying to do whatever extra I can.”
For all the personal touches Witthoeft incorporates into his mixology, he’s hardly one to take all the credit for the faithful customers who return to Ullrhof year after year.
“None of this could happen without everybody here,” he said. “It takes a village.”
It’s a village Witthoeft knows well after nearly 23 years in the Roaring Fork Valley; he moved here in 1998, sight unseen and with no skiing experience.
“I had a brief stint in a teepee up on Smuggler Mountain,” Witthoeft recalled. (He has since upgraded his digs and is now “living the dream” in Carbondale, he said.)
More than two decades on, Witthoeft has plenty of anecdotes at the ready: countless tales of repeat customers hooked on his signature service with a smile and mouth-watering drinks, memories of “out of control” Bacon Appreciation Day parties at Bumps, and (of course) a tie to Ullrhof’s history. He hung out at the restaurant when he first moved to the area in the late ‘90s.
“Ironically, many years later, here I am,” Wiffhoeft said.
Though his official title is that of assistant manager and bartender at Ullrhof, he’s also an ambassador of sorts to visitors and like family to many of those who know him. (Some call him “Uncle Craig,” he said.)
“Over the years, it’s become lifelong friendships,” he said. “I can’t believe 23 years have gone by that fast.”
It helps, perhaps, that Witthoeft enjoys his job as much as he does.
“There’s never a day when I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t want to come to work,’” Witthoeft said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Want to see your business featured in our monthly Meet Your Merchant series? Email Kaya Williams at email@example.com.
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