The Oasis mobile Champagne bar at The Little Nell (image: Dan Bayer)
Sure, Aspen, Colo., is all about the skiing, but as every snow bunny knows, after a good run nothing is better than relaxing with a drink. Luckily, this lavish ski town has many places perfect for après-ski where you can curl up in with a craft cocktail, superb goblet of wine, pint of local beer or energizing glass of bubbly. And in the summer, most of the places still rock out terrific tipples as they cater to the hiking, art and festival-going crowd. Just about every spot serves food along with its drinks, so there's no chance in imbibing on an empty stomach. The only issue is where you should start the bar crawl.
Another great place to stay is the historic Hotel Jerome, housed in a magnificent building erected in the 1880s. The eclectic décor mixed with modern amenities makes it not only a nice place to hole up in but an interesting one too. Plus, within this boutique hotel you have J-Bar, a cozy chair-to-chair drinking den filled with locals, celebrities, ski bunnies and service people alike. It's a place the late Hunter S.Thompson is known to have frequented, and back when it opened, you can bet the 10th Mountain Division was drinking in there as well. Warm up with a mug of glogg or glass of the Grand Marnier- and amaretto-laced Earl Gray tea, and nibble on a plate of meatballs with Sunday gravy and polenta with a dish of spiced beignets with burnt honey-coffee sauce for dessert.
One of the newest bars in Aspen is called Hooch, and it's owned by Wendy Mitchell, who also runs the popular lunch spot Meat & Cheese and the Avalanche Cheese Company. This late-night, speakeasy-style bar specializes in craft cocktails. Settle under the glittery chandeliers and nestle into one of the leather lounge chairs to try the Final Thought, a drink made with Redemption rye, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and kaffir lime. It's just one of the many rotating drinks one might find here. Another thing guests can look forward to is the food. Like the sister shop, this subterranean bar (right below Meat & Cheese) offers lovely charcuterie boards on the snacks menu, the popular house-made boule bread with butter, lemongrass meatballs and warm nuts seasoned with butter, salt, pepper and fresh herbs.
Any beer lover will want to stop into this laid-back bar. After all, it features 16 beers on tap, and most of them are local. If nothing on that menu strikes your fancy, don't worry—the bar also carries more than 50 bottles and cans from breweries all over the world. As you sip your suds, soak up the booze with an array of American-style bar bites, from wings to nachos to macaroni and cheese. This spot also serves comforting bowls of chili and hand-cut fries with hearty sandwiches, burgers and pizza.
Since 1997, Jimmy Yeager's homey bar has long been a favorite of locals and visitors alike, and for a good reason. First of all, there's no pretension to the elevated, dark and comfortable eatery. It serves solid drinks and tasty food by chef Manuel Diaz and is well known for its tequila and mezcal list (the most found in Aspen), and the Mexican Negroni, made with Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, Aperol and orange bitters, proves a fine way to start the night. Jimmy's is a great place to linger in the alpenglow as the sun sets in the west and then let the time drift away as you spend the rest of the evening basking in a glass of wine, bowl of seven-onion soup with melted Gruyere and cache of good company. You can also stop by the smaller sister bar, Jimmy's Bodega, which is a block away.
There are so many reasons to book your Aspen vacation in The Little Nell hotel, and the luxury accommodations are just one of them. For starters, no where in this small ski town will you find so many quality options for imbibing under one roof. And in the case of The Oasis mobile Champagne bar, one sky. Inside the hotel, you’ll find the wine-centric program at Element 47 a lovely way to spend an evening, especially when you pair it with chef Patrick Dunn's menu of elevated new American fare. Chair 9 is the property's après-ski lounge, and between November and April, you can luxuriate here after the slopes with a glass of sparkling rosé and plate of truffle fries. You can also take advantage of The Little Nell's new “a la cart” program, a special service where you can order a bartender along with a mobile bar cart to prepare classic cocktails right in your room. Now, back to that outdoor Champagne bar. This seasonal pop-up hits the slopes from President’s Day to early spring and features bottles upon orange bottles of ice-cold Veuve Clicquot. Drink a glass in the snow, and then ski down to the hotel.
Wine flows like water in Aspen, and at Ellina, you can sample a thorough and thoughtful list of the stuff thanks to sommelier Jill Carnevale. The concept centers around northern Italy, which means dishes such as meaty lasagna, mushroom ravioli in truffle cream sauce and, because it is Colorado, local lamb chops with a dried-cherry port sauce and roasted squash. Ask the wine expert her favorite vino to pair with your dinner, or take a seat at the bar and simply order a glass to help warm you up.
When Michele Kiley opened her Victorian-style bar in the historic Wheeler Opera House building, she brought a fun, funky and low-key vibe to the ritzy mountain town. Many of the liquors reflected behind the mirrored bar come from Colorado, and you can pick and choose your poison from the thickly bound menu of drinks the staff lovingly calls The Bible. One beautiful drink comes under the moniker the Riviera Rose and consists of Golden Moon gin, pamplemousse rose, orchard apricot, lime and egg white. Also try the Sand County Almana, a drink featuring Leopold Bros. Rocky Mountain peach whiskey, Rittenhouse rye, raspberry cordial, honey, lemon and two types of bitters. Co-owner Jonathan Leichliter helms Justice Snow's kitchen and whips up one of the best brunches in town, a meal made complete by the grand Bloody Mary bar.
Technically, this distillery isn't in Aspen—it's in Basalt, a 30-minute drive or lovely two-hour bike ride along the Rio Grande Trail away. Owned by Mary and Pat Scanlan and Mark Kleckner, this distillery opened in March 2013 and churns out some of the best potato vodka around. As a bonus, it utilizes the same type of Stobrawa spuds that used to grow in the area. Woody Creek also serves an awesome gin that's made with the same vodka, as well as a lauded rye whiskey. Go for a tour and stay for a dram of any of these liquors or a craft cocktail at the friendly bar. Of course, if you can't make it to the distillery, most watering holes and eateries in Aspen stock Woody Creek products since it's the main local spirit.
For the closest après-ski bar you can possibly find, Ajax Tavern is a convenient stone's throw from the Silver Queen Gondola. The happening spot is not only great for watching people go on and off the slopes, but it has a great spread of casual eats, a Colorado-focused beer list, an excellent wine list and craft cocktails such as the Bite the Bulleit, which comprises Bulleit bourbon, grapefruit juice, lime, fresh ginger and maple syrup. This lively establishment is also run by The Little Nell hotel, but it's off property and worth the short jaunt down the street.
Mixing your cocktail