Keeping the lights on during the off-season
Sure — those with the coin or the presence of mind to plan ahead are still far, far from the valley, enjoying some much-needed rest and relaxation after a season of watching vacationers get their own R&R. But if you’ve already blown your travel bankroll and are simply riding out the blissfully aimless days of the off-season here at home, no reason to mope: the valley’s pre-Memorial Day quietude means a chance to enjoy empty streets and trails, some great local specials and … an agenda packed full with absolutely nothing. Take advantage of the downtime and be sure to get out and about in a no-strings-attached Off-season 2004.PS: While Vail Village is still in the midst of reconstruction purgatory, it doesn’t mean Bridge Street and environs are off limits — take a stroll or check out the Vail Chamber and Business Association’s Website (www.vailchamber.org) to see what’s open, especially in Vail and Lionshead.Food and DrinkThe Tap Room (479-0500)Construction in the village may have you thinking you’ve wandered into a war zone, but don’t let the work keep you out of Vail’s dining and drinking epicenter. The Tap Room has remained open since the hill closed and continues to offer 20 percent off all lunch and dinner menu items. Upstairs, the swanky Sanctuary is also gearing up for tourist time and will be open for dancing on Fridays on Saturdays; come Memorial Day weekend, the Tap Room will re-earn its title as the village’s top Friday Afternoon Club destination.La Tour (476-4403)Admit it — during the height of the season, it’s unlikely you had the opportunity to enjoy the traditional French cuisine and intimate appeal of La Tour. Relish the moment, my friends, and suck up a boatload of joie de vivre (not to mention an enticing 50 percent off all entrees) with great food, great wine and great service. Reservations are recommended.The George (476-2656)Appropriate any time of the year, Vail Village’s truest locals hangout may grow a bit sparse crowd-wise during off-season — but it’s still one damned fine watering hole, serving up British-styled spirits and food, a relaxed atmosphere and good times. Consider it a bit of a litmus test to see who’s actually still in town; daily happy hour prices and that ever-enticing late-night emergency “I forgot to eat tonight” hot dog and chips special will help you rally for the long haul.Bull Crabs (477-CRAB (2722)We’re not sure what to make of a business line that’s out of service one minute and not taking calls the next; ring up West Vail’s Bull Crabs and it’s anyone’s guess. Staff at the West Vail Lodge assure us the Louisiana-meets-the-Lone-Star-State-style bar and restaurant is still rolling, with a limited off-season menu and that ubiquitous, Gilleys-inspired mechanical bull. Drop by and see what’s up.The Sandbar Sports Grill (476-4314)The bar formerly known as the Half Moon Saloon (or, formerly known as the Jackalope, depending on how far back your memory stretches) has been re-dubbed the Sandbar by its new owners; head into the venerable West Vail institution and you’ll end up scratching your noggin to see if anything’s really changed from the last two name roll-overs. Admittedly, the menu’s been slightly tweaked; if you’ve been missing your Halfalope drinking buddies, stop in and check out the daily happy hour.Bagali’s Italian Kitchen (479-9242)It is just that a kitchen-sized restaurant. But as the finest dining option in the entire West Vail Mall, the 10-topped Bagali’s keeps drawing in the faithful for some very good food and friendly faces. Enjoy Italian cuisine with soul: be prepared to share a table if things are busy.Gore Range Brewery (926-BREW (2739)Friday Afternoon Club rolls in earnest at Edwards’ bustling hometown brewpub. Sample a pint or two of Gore Range’s regular and seasonal micro brews and enjoy great Happy Hour drink and appetizer specials from 4-7 p.m. Friday afternoons also bring local entertainers to the back deck; if you can maintain your imbibing rhythm, you might even last straight through to the late-night happy hour, with drink specials from 10 p.m. to midnight.Main Street Grill (926-2729)If you haven’t had your fill of Friday night music, this Edwards locale is a comfortable stumble from the Brewery and has its own home-grown talent playing both Fridays and Saturdays. You can also enjoy their 4-6 p.m. Happy Hour and 2-for-1 dinner specials during the rest of the week, too; dust off your guitar and head over for Tuesday night’s Open Mic experience.Brush Creek Saloon (328-5279)We are reminded that the upvalley notion of off-season doesn’t necessarily fly in the year-’round small-town experience of Eagle. If you can fight off the hordes of reporters from Los Angeles and avoid all and any mention of the “K” word, you’ll find a welcome reception at Brush Creek. There’s a 4-6 p.m. happy hour on weekdays, plus events ranging from the Monday night ladies’ pool tourney to Karaoke Thursdays. Great bar food and live music on the weekends; stop in and say hi.The Great OutdoorsHit the links: Dust off the clubs and see if you can pull a few favors with your buddies to get some affordably priced early season access at Eagle County’s increasingly green gamut of golf courses. The full 18 are now open at Cotton Ranch Golf Course, Eagle Ranch Golf Course and Eagle-Vail Golf Course — with Red Sky Ranch, Eagle Springs, Beaver Creek, Vail, and all Cordillera courses are set to open soon. Off-season prices also make an afternoon on the links a slightly more pleasant prospect; inquire about local’s promotions and get your game on before the Front Rangers get the lock-down on our High Country hackers’ heaven.Rafting and kayaking: Nothing says off-season excitement like your first day in the water, be it braving head injuries, drowning and hypothermia in your own kayak — ‘yakkin’ still ain’t for everyone — or letting the talented and safety-minded legions of whitewater raft guides do the paddling and planning for you. Flows are starting to pick up in both the Eagle and Colorado Rivers; with the river rat-friendly Teva Mountain Games just around the corner, now’s the time to get pumped for watersports by enlisting the talents of local outfitters such as Timberline Tours, (970) 476-1414; Nova Guides, Inc., (970) 827-4232; and Lakota Guides, (970) 845-RAFT.Mountain biking: Mud season offers a mixed bounty for local gearheads, with more than a few trails still a bit too mired in the muck to offer clear mountain biking excitement and elk calving closures meaning restrictions in much of the traditional territory. There’s still plenty of the good stuff around and it’s starting to open up, even upvalley; warm temps downvalley mean some superb riding conditions. Minturn and Eagle’s Mountain Pedaler shops (827-5522 or 328-3478) are a good resource to see what’s open. You can also check in with the Holy Cross Ranger District office in Minturn (827-5715) to check the status of closures — as a rule of thumb, remember that many trails north of I-70 are offline until June 15. If all else fails, dig out the road bike and cruise out to Wolcott on U.S. Highway 6; the tourist traffic is still pretty sparse and you’ll have some safe rides.Guided hikes: The Vail Nature Center is offering guided hikes for all levels starting May 25. Participants are asked to pre-register for the hikes that will take you through the Holy Cross and Eagles Nest wilderness areas led by one or two experienced naturalist guides from the Nature Center. The hikes are for adults (16 and older) and cost $30. For more information, call 479-2291.Blues and Brews: This year the Beaver Creek Resort and the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa are kicking off the summer season with the Blues, Brews and Barbecue Festival, May 29-30.This two-day event will include live blues music, kids’ activities, food and beer pairings, barbecue cooking demonstrations and the largest exclusively Colorado micro brew beer tasting in the state. Guest chefs will compete for a $1,000 prize purse in a barbecue cook-off contest. The price is $20 a person at the door. For more information, call 845-9090.Road-tripping: And when all else fails, get the heck out of Dodge. Mud season’s a great time to make a day-trip to laid-back locales such as Glenwood Springs, home of the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. Ride the Iron Mountain Tramway to the top of the Glenwood Springs Adventure Park and tour the caves or simply check out the sights. Cap the day with a pilgrimage to Doc Holiday’s grave or a pint or two at the Glenwood Canyon Brew Pub; you may not be out of the mountains, per se, but it feels like you’re a million miles away from Happy Valley.Conversely, if you really do want to be with everyone else from Vail, pack up your bikes, tent and a supply of full-strength brewskies and motor down to Moab. There’s slickrock aplenty and agreeably sub-scorching temperatures.By Andy Stonehouse
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