Eat This Week: Cozy up with alpine ambiance in Alpenrose’s new Fondue Gondolas
Some gondolas arrive at the mountain directly from the manufacturer; others take a more circuitous route. Alpenrose Restaurant & Bar recently opened three Fondue Gondolas behind the main dining room in Vail Village. And though the charming dining cars already seem to be an intuitive and essential part of the diningscape, it took a Herculean effort to get them there.
The gondolas’ journey began in Italy, and were then sent to Austria for the interior build-out: custom tables and benches, wooden ceilings and alpine-style lighting. From there, they traveled to Germany, where they received an exterior makeover: cloud-blue for Alpenrose’s cars and black and gold for another three that went to Almresi Aspen. Finally, they were loaded into a container to journey across the ocean.
“It was really tight, there was one centimeter to spare,” said Alyssa Thoma, laughing. The Thoma family owns and operates a handful of restaurants, with locations in Vail, Aspen and Germany.
For the final leg, Rocky Mountain Construction Group brought in a crane to lift the gondolas from the street and install them in their new locale, where they’ll stay.
“Gondolas are associated with the mountains,” said Thoma. “I think they go very well with our themes.”
Little touches like sheepskins, heaters and even wireless speakers add to the cozy effect. For the winter season, Alpenrose is offering three dinner seatings for the gondolas, which can hold up to six people comfortably — though Thoma admits to squeezing a dozen family and friends into a car for a night of revelry.
The fixed three-course menu starts strong with a shared appetizer spread including a traditional German pretzel, Obazda cheese — a Bavarian specialty — beef tartare with truffle mayonnaise, smoked salmon with horseradish cream and Black Forest ham with rustic farmer’s bread and mustard. The fondue entrée has all the traditional accouterments, and is followed by a German log cake and macarons.
“It has to be special,” explained Thoma. “On the other hand, we know it’s not indoor dining. It’s more about the experience, as though you’ve gone up the mountain in a gondola and you have your picnic right there.”
The menu, which even includes beverages served family-style, allows guests to be fairly self-sufficient and pace themselves. As for guests’ responses:
“It’s very, very unique,” Thoma said. “Most of the time people want to come back in a couple of weeks, or make another reservation right then.”
Thoma does advise guests to bring an extra layer for added comfort.
The Fondue Gondolas were the Thoma family’s response to COVID restrictions. After a surprisingly busy summer, thanks in part to the Alpenrose’s front patio on Meadow Drive, they knew they wanted to provide outdoor seating in the winter.
The plan is to offer brunch and lunch in them in the summer months, but for the ski season it’s dinner only. The restaurant’s dining room is open for regular service, too, and its sister restaurant up the street, Almresi Vail, is open six nights a week. Both restaurants are closed on Mondays, in part because travel restrictions prevented them from bringing in a fair bit of European staff as has been their custom.
“We could bring gondolas over, but we couldn’t bring staff,” Thoma quipped.
Many of the servers work at both Almresi Vail and Alpenrose, and customers sometimes do a double take when they have the same server at both restaurants.
“Alpenrose is more laid back, an easy spot to go,” Thoma described. “It’s like a European chalet on top of the mountain, not too fine dining. And I would not say Almresi is fine dining, but it is perhaps a little more elegant. A place you make a dinner reservation for and you spend the day looking forward to it.”
Both restaurants offer carry-out as well, which has been almost puzzling to Thoma.
“The service, the food and the ambiance are all so important to us, and is why our restaurants are successful,” she explained. “So I’m always surprised when someone only wants one part of that.”
For more information, visit alpenrose-vail.com.