Rachael Oakes-Ash goes skiing (and partying) in Aspen and tries four Lemon Drop Martinis and four fluffy mountains…

You can’t blame America for everything but you can blame them for the Lemon Drop Martini.

Photo: cc./Fliker RLHyde

It’s life in a glass, a mix of the bitter and tart with fresh lemon, the sweet joy with sugar and the straight up punch of vodka. This minx of a drink was designed by Henry Africa’s singles bar in San Francisco in the 1970s.  I don’t know what it did for the single scene in California but it’s done its fair share of work for me.  After one of these I’m radiant, after two I consider myself ravishing, after three I’m a supermodel with front cover good looks.  Four? Well that’s just plain crazy talk.

I blame Aspen, Colorado where dancing on the bar is child’s play in a town dedicated to the art of partying. My first lemon drop was downed within this town’s square mile and let’s just say it should have stopped there. For some Aspen is a ski resort with four mountains serving up metres of the fluffy stuff, for others it’s a festival of frivolity with over a hundred bars and restaurants. Hollywood loves Aspen and with a celebrity to bar ratio as high as here it’s a training ground for the next round of famous folk waiting for rehab.

If ski instructors are considered gods by their client who pay hundreds of dollars to be in their presence then The Sky Hotel’s 39 Degrees bar must be heaven. 39 Degrees is the place for après in Aspen, it would simply be rude to come to Aspen and not drink here.  You’ll find those same clients paying hundreds of dollars just to drink with them as come last lifts this swanky designer lounge bar with it’s porn star pool and hot tub fills up with anyone who considers themselves anyone in Aspen.

This is the home of the Ice Princess, and we’re not talking the botoxed babes that line the walls spending sugar daddy’s moolah on anything with bubbles.  The Ice Princess is a Lemon Drop wannabe, where citrus, cranberry, pineapple and champagne mingle with vodka in a glass rimmed with sugar. It’s a girly drink that has far more personality than it’s name suggests, though personally I’d leave the sugar to daddy and order Sex By The Pool.

Before The Sky Hotel opened there was the Little Nell.  Favoured by Elle, Ivana, Tiger and others who need only one name, this luxe boutique hotel has a slope side position and a bar with a mountain view, perfect to ski right into at the end of the day.  The bar still fills with those looking for complimentary canapés served during après hour and in this town you should take free stuff when you can get it.

Eating’s cheating in Aspen.  Well, that’s a lie, but eating at the bar is cheaper. With the current exchange rate, and America’s obsession with tipping, bar menus will be your new best friend. Be warned though, when drinking or dining in Aspen it’s best to get your American friends to do the ordering.  Some barmen, when hearing an Australian accent, immediately put a twenty percent gratuity on the bill.  We’re not known for our generous tipping in these parts.

If you must eat then take your pearls and charge it to the company at La Montagna in The Little Nell for full on fine dining or try Ryan Hardy’s chicken liver pate at the better priced Ajax Tavern, still in the Little Nell.  He has a hundred dollar guarantee you won’t send it back.

Trying to impress?  Head straight to Nobu.  Yes it’s the same Nobu with months long wait lists in New York, London, Dubai and beyond but you simply will not get better fare or better service in Aspen.  If you plan to eat Japanese more than once in this town then ensure you dine at Kenichi and Takah Sushi before you go to Nobu otherwise there grub will pale by comparison.

Campo de Fiori brings Italy to Aspen and is a lively bistro complete with eye candy waiters and a lip smacking menu.  Dish serves up New England style fare with lobster mash and meatloaf with a side order of local funk bands.  Pacifica Seafood and Raw Bar is what it says and you can’t go past the scallops with foie gras and truffles from ‘chef Bryan’.

Then there’s the Popcorn Wagon which is what it says, a street cart serving up booze food of fries, waffles and the like to a barely standing line of lushes who have no doubt been floored by kiwi barman, Scotty Gibson’s martinis at Italian joint L’Hostaria.  Scotty is a legend in this square mile and floored this writer with two dirty martinis that should have been served with a sledgehammer.  Apparently alcohol plus altitude equals oxygen and a drip.

But back to the bar, you can tell a lot about a bar by the people inside it.  Expect arty laid back types at Hotel Jerome’s J Bar, a saloon style haunt favoured by the late Hunter S Thompson.  The bling and surgery set head to the private Caribou Club to show off fake tans and trout pouts – it’s worth it for the people watching but you’ll need to know someone who knows someone to get your name on the list.

Thirty somethings head to Bentley’s at the Wheeler for a slice of old England, old generation ski instructors prop up the bar at Jimmy’s with eighty types of tequila, urban types love Cache Cache, wine lovers sup sauvignon at Victoria’s Wine Bar and music lovers end up at Belly Up for live tunes or Lava and Chelsea for djs and dance floors and we’ll all end up together at Eric’s because that’s what you do late in the night when you want to chew the fat, shoot some stick and catch up with friends made at other bars earlier in the night.

Chances are you’ll ski off the hangover by mid morning and be ordering sauvignon blanc at lunchtime at Cloud Nine mid mountain on Aspen Highlands and start dreaming of Lemon Drops. You’ll swear you won’t go to 39 Degrees again but you know you will for ‘just the one’ but it won’t stop there, it never does.


Where: Aspen, Colorado  http://www.aspensnowmass.com

Where to stay:

The Sky Hotel for designer chic with tongue in cheek http://www.theskyhotel.com

The Little Nell for the seriously cashed up http://www.thelittlenell.com

The Gant for full service self contained apartments a stumble from the gondola http:// www.gantaspen.com

Getting there:

United Airlines fly direct to Aspen via Los Angeles and Denver. The airline has launched a refurbished business class cabin on most trans Pacific flights from January.  Seats fully recline to flatbeds for a good night’s sleep and the in-flight menu has been designed by US celebrity chef, Charlie Trotter. At http://www.unitedairlines.com or 13 1777


Photo: cc./Flickr: RLHyde

Rachael Oakes-Ash

About Rachael Oakes-Ash

Rachael Oakes-Ash is a journalist, travel writer, documentary maker, author of two books and ski writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.