Aspen: the name itself is enough to conjure an apres scene of cash-soaked decadence where celebs and high rollers dripping jewels flirt with one another in cigar smoke-filled rooms fuelled by endless bottles of vintage French champagne and dirty martinis. The reality is Aspen is all this ... but then again, Aspen is none of these things at all.
It's as down-home and dirty as you want it to be; it's where "Deadheads" (Grateful Dead fans) congregate.
It's where you can order a pint of beer with a shooter of whiskey for $US3.50 ($NZ4.15). In Aspen, it just comes down to what bar you happen to walk into - find the right one and you'll never leave town.
Best celebrity haunt bar
It'll cost you $US20,000 for life (or $US3000 for the first year, or $US500 for a week) just to be a member of Aspen's most exclusive private club - the Caribou Club - but at least it gets you inside this secret celeb world; and that's something Jennifer Aniston couldn't do last December (although Paris Hilton had no trouble). Come Christmas time when celebs cruise into town, everyone wants to be in here. The Caribou Club, 411 East Hopkins Avenue, caribouclub.com.
Also consider: The Little Nell.
Best on-mountain bar
Cloud Nine is, in my view, the greatest bar on any ski slope on this planet. It's where you come for an artery-choking cheesy lunch but stay for an afternoon of schnapps-fuelled high jinks.
Positioned on the upper slopes of Aspen Highlands, Cloud Nine is a simple Austrian-style alpine hut where raclette sizzles, the fondue boils and the gluhwein flows, and the stink of it all stays on your clothes for years. Although new drinking laws have simmered the mood somewhat, it's not unusual to see patrons dancing on tables to ear-splitting Eurotrash. Cloud Nine, Aspen Highlands, aspensnowmass.com/en/events-and-activities/in-town-fun/dining.
Also consider: Lynn Britt Cabin, Snowmass.
Best cowboy bar
"We used to drive past the Woody Creek Tavern and see Johnny Depp passed out in the back of Hunter S. Thompson's pick-up," local Gordon Branson says. Forget opulence, Aspen's best watering hole is a place where they won't take bookings, the food's simple and there's more character than the whole of Colorado put together. This was the favourite watering hole of Aspen's most infamous resident, the late Hunter S. Thompson. It's worth taking the 20-minute drive out of town just to toast his ghost - everyone knows he's still whooping it up in there. Woody Creek Tavern, 2858 Upper River Road, Woody Creek, woodycreektavern.com.
Also consider: Hotel Jerome.
Best bar on a budget
There's plenty to choose from: Aspen might be where Demi Moore goes to sip $1000 bottles of Cristal Champagne, but there's a whole lot of cheap bars in this town, too.
The cheapest drinks, though, can be found at Little Annie's (517 East Hyman Avenue, littleannies.com). Order a pint of beer and you'll get a shot of whiskey to wash it down with, all for $US3.50; though the bartender won't get you another beer if you don't down the shot. But there's a stack of contenders.
Try a $US2 beer at Aspen Highlands Pizza (with US45¢ buffalo wings), $US3 Samuel Adams beers at Out of Bounds in Aspen Highlands, or order the delicious $US2.50 US chicken tacos with your $US3 beer at local favourite Zane's Tavern.
Craig Tansley travelled courtesy of Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort and Qantas.
- The Age