The thin air, the howling wind, the fact that you haven’t felt your fingertips in hours—something about a day spent on the slopes makes a person want to scream, “Give me a drink! And make it strong!” In Colorado, where the only thing more glorious than the majesty of the mountains is the bars that service them, a person can, and should, drink well. These are six great excuses to cop a buzz above 8,000 feet.
There isn’t much to Silver Plume. But the dusty old mining town off I-70, with a population just this side of 200, is home to one of the Mile High’s boozy gems, Bread Bar. Housed in a rustic, converted 1800s-era bakery, it’s a quaint joint with killer cocktails inspired by characters from the town’s history. Try the G.A. Jackson (gin, honey, lavender and lemon) and a slice of fruit pie from The Long I Pie Shop in Denver. Bread Bar is only open on weekends (with live music Saturday nights), so plan accordingly. Consider it the perfect respite from the relentless ski traffic along I-70.
The owners of The Dogwood took an old miner’s shack just off the main drag in Crested Butte and turned it into something of a cocktail lounge. The place is rather intimate; pass through the front doors, and you’ll feel like you’ve entered someone’s home, except here there’s an extensive and creative cocktail menu. Two good options: the Bee Sting, a tequila number made with habañero, honey, mint and lemon, or Thor’s Hammer, a whiskey concoction that includes ginger and Peach Street Distillers amaro liqueur.
Right smack in the heart of Vail Village, the bar at Mountain Standard is frequently buzzing with a mix of locals and out-of-towners fresh off the slopes. If you’re looking for a quiet spot, this isn’t it. But if want to take in the energy of the town while sipping a well-crafted Old Fashioned, Mountain Standard is for you. Bonus: The draft beer list rotates regularly and usually contains a nice surprise or two (like Rogue Dead Guy ale), and the food is excellent. Try the whiskey-braised pork belly or a tray of oysters on the half shell from the raw bar.
Not only is Breckenridge Distillery billed as the world’s highest distiller, it’s also one of Colorado’s most decorated producers of artisan spirits. Tour the production facility just outside town every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., starting every half hour, and get a complimentary taste of Breck’s classic vodka, gin and bourbon. (For $10, you can upgrade to the distillery’s more exclusive product line of reserve blends and spiced whiskeys.) Or skip the tour altogether and visit the downtown tasting room on main street for your winter warmer bourbon fix.
Coming up with a cocktail menu that can match the grandeur of Telluride is no small feat, but the folks at There Bar have pulled it off. The drinks are off-the-charts creative, such as the fried Brussels sprout and Grapefruit Martini or the Diablo, made with mezcal, orange liqueur, blood orange purée, fresh lime and chili pepper. It’s a small, kinetic place with a rustic feel and an ornate wood backbar. And if you happen to be in Denver, the owners recently opened a second location in the Mile High City’s popular Highland neighborhood.
Located in the historic Hotel Jerome in downtown Aspen, J-Bar is one of the most popular après-ski spots in one of the most iconic ski towns in the country. In other words, it’s a must-visit. Late gonzo journalist, booze fanatic and Aspen local Hunter S. Thompson used to frequent the place, so you know it has been properly vetted. Relax in one of the bar’s bulky leather chairs and enjoy a Colorado Toddy, made with Stranahan’s whiskey and local honey. Or check out the hotel’s seasonal vodka ice house, which is encased in nine-foot-high ice walls, can accommodate six guests and has a selection of 50 vodkas from around the world.