Powder is just the start: A street-level guide to the patios, piano bars and off-piste party havens of Vail and Beaver Creek
For music fanatics, an après afternoon without live tunes is sacrilege. We couldn’t agree more. Here’s a quick glimpse at where — and how — the best local acts serenade the masses.
THE RED LION
Founded in 1963, this high-energy pub is easily Vail Village’s default après hangout. There’s a little something for everyone: flat screens for football fans, scrumptious burgers for kiddos, and live, rollicking sets by Brendan McKinney (Wednesday through Saturday) and Texas Brandon (Sunday through Tuesday) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Found on Bridge Street.
Who says refined means stodgy? Attached to Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer — a Vail original still owned by ‘60s-era Austrian downhiller Pepi Gramshammer and his wife, Sheika — this laid-back, Old World-style bar is quieter and cozier than its club-like neighbors up Bridge Street. Catch a rotating roster of live musicians (including Dave Tucker) on the heated patio daily from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
King’s Club at Sonnenalp Hotel
Ambiance is part and parcel of the après experience, and the Sonnenalp’s German-born owners know this. Here you’ll find decadent hot chocolate (a family recipe), plush fireside seating and a live piano bar — the three cornerstones of a “traditional” après lounge. The only tradition missing: huge, rowdy crowds. Found at Vail Road and Meadow Drive.
POWDER 8 KITCHEN AND TAP
This ain’t your everyday McCoy’s. Following a $1-million facelift, the slopeside hangout at the base of Centennial and Hay Meadow reopens as Powder 8 Kitchen and Tap, featuring a pizza oven, 16 rotating draughts and a revamped patio with fire pit. Après veteran Shannon Tanner returns for afternoon tunes after taking last season off — his first breather in 23 years.
BROKEN ARROW IN ARROWHEAD
Come springtime, this is the après scene’s diamond in the rough. Saturdays and Sundays in March and April bring local artists like Dave Perron (he of The Laughing Bones fame) to the sprawling, sun-drenched deck for $3 Bud Lights beginning at 3 p.m. Don’t forget the kids: It’s a go-to hangout for parents. Nestled at the base of Arrow Bahn Express.
Beyond the hill
Two words: Free beer. On Friday afternoons, Magustos taps a free keg from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., then invites locals like Terry McCune and Johnny Schleper (brother of Olympian Sarah) to rock the house with live music. Stop by after finishing the Minturn Mile with a marg at the Minturn Saloon. Both bars are on the north end of Main Street.
THE WESTIN RIVERFRONT RESORT, AVON
Jazz and big-band faithful, this is the place to be. Tony Gulizia mans the piano with drummer Brian Loftus from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday. The duo’s take on Glen Miller pairs perfectly with finger foods and custom cocktails by Maya, the hotel’s in-house Mexican kitchen. Found at the base of Riverfront Express Gondola.
The Mexican joint’s popular “Taco Tuesdays” night is a mid-winter must for locals. And why not? It’s hard to go wrong when the day-long special ($1.50 beef or chicken hard tacos) is paired with free live music at 10 p.m. Found across U.S. Highway 6 from the Beaver Creek Bear Lot.
APRÈS FOR ALL AGES
The après scene draws two distinct cultures: one comes for the party, the other just wants a laid-back place to relax with kids, and a beer or two. Maybe even complimentary slippers.
In a nod to this tradition, The Lodge at Vail — one of the oldest hotels in Vail Village — shows love for families at Cucina, the in-house restaurant known for a breakfast buffet and stellar après specials. It’s found just steps from the base of Gondola One, and the patio features a must for any kid-friendly hangout: a fire pit. From 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily, swing by for free (yep, free) apple cider and hot cocoa, along with live music Wednesday through Sunday beginning at 3 p.m. Stick around for dinner on Thursdays and kids eat free (yep, free again) with an adult entrée.
Over in Beaver Creek, the Park Hyatt’s slope-side restaurant 8100 treats kids much the same. There’s an outdoor fire pit with complimentary s’mores throughout the winter beginning at 3 p.m., along with occasional Korbel champagne tastings for big kids. The best part? The sprawling patio is found next door to the ski school — mom and dad can snag a table while the kiddos finish up.
Now, back to those slippers. At The 10th, Vail’s newest on-mountain hotspot, après doesn’t even leave Mid Vail. Guests are greeted with slippers at the door — your boots are left under a dryer — then led into a striking, thoroughly modern dining hall with chandeliers and wall windows overlooking the legendary Look Ma bumps. Après service begins Dec. 16, with a $12 menu and drink specials from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Kids are invited, but the atmosphere is more fitting for couples and small groups of friends.
THE DAY WAS NEARLY PERFECT.
It began moments after you swished through Vail Village to Gondola One, where you and a small cadre of friends managed to catch the first cabin on a bluebird powder day. It only got better from there: fresh tracks in China Bowl, followed by a dozen laps through Blue Sky before long, leisurely turns down Riva Run.
Once you reached the base, though, it was hardly time to call it a day. The key to absolute perfection? A sundrenched patio to sit back, loosen your boots and enjoy a cold, frothy pint.
Welcome to the wide world of après, a slightly intimidating French mot that’s on par with equally funky terms like “bluebird,” at least for Vail newcomers. Yet après itself is anything but mystifying or stuffy. Throughout the Rocky Mountains, it has become ski-town shorthand for any slope-side hotspot — a dive bar, a cocktail lounge, a secluded deck — where the snowbound ecstasy is kept alive, even after the lifts stop spinning. It means drink specials, indelible grub and stellar live music from local acts, not to mention the occasional shotski round. (Not sure what it is? Just ask — bartenders will be more than willing to show you the ropes.)
But enticing deals are only half the story. Après is also shorthand for an elusive atmosphere, and from Vail to Beaver Creek, these joints share one thing in common: a sense of effortless cool, the kind that will never, ever exist more than a few blocks from a chairlift. And that’s what après is all about.
TONY G., THE MUSIC MAN
For Tony Gulizia, jazz is much more than a genre. It’s an old friend.
Sure, that sounds trite, but for a musical jack-of-all-trades like Gulizia, it’s the truth. He’s traveled the world as a professional pianist, playing everywhere from Japan to the Caribbean to Lech Zurs, Beaver Creek’s sister resort in Austria. This winter marks his 21st season at Grouse Mountain Grill — his first recurring gig after moving to Vail from Omaha, Neb. in 1992.
But when Gulizia and drummer Brian Loftus settle into the lobby at Avon’s Westin Riverfront Resort, it’s all about “what I consider great, timeless tunes,” the pianist says. Although he can hardly remember his P.O. box number, the two pull from a memorized bank of roughly 500 jazz, big-band and funk classics: Glenn Miller and George Gershwin and Frank Sinatra, plus a few tracks from Al Green and Stevie Wonder for good measure.
And that’s only a taste of the après songbook. On Christmas Eve last year, the duo drew nearly 350 people to the hotel lobby for a complete rendition of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The crowd was filled with local children, many of whom played side-by-side with Gulizia during his Jazz Goes to School program. He already looks forward to an encore this Christmas — not to mention a full season behind the keys — and while he has only been at the Westin for six years, it’s the perfect setting for a cozy afternoon with his oldest, truest friend.
“The après thing is a little bit more relaxed and laid-back,” Gulizia says. “Even though ours is based more in jazz than classic rock, it still has that feeling. It’s not like you’re playing for people who are spending $200 on a night out — people can just enjoy the setting, no strings attached.”
VAIL’S ACOUSTIC TROUBADOUR
Phil Long is a people pleaser.
Over the past 26 years, Long has been a fixture in the Vail après scene. He’s largely responsible for making The Red Lion synonymous with off-piste entertainment, and even after taking his guitar to neighboring Shakedown Bar last season, skiers still return season after season for a taste of his classic rock covers and off-the-cuff humor.
Long doesn’t work with a set list per se — again, he prefers to riff off the crowd’s energy — but he knows at least 200 songs by heart, from stalwarts like “Sweet Home, Alabama” and “Tiny Dancer” to bona fide classics from John Denver and Fleetwood Mac.
Thanks to decades in the scene, Long also has a knack for rounding up guest musicians. He’s good friends with fellow Eagle resident Brendan McKinney, The Red Lion’s current après headliner, and Long’s daughter, Jessica, occasionally hops on stage to sing and play piano.
Through it all, Long’s après philosophy has remained untouched: Show the audience one hell of a good time.
“There are songs people come back for year after year to hear,” Long says. “It just gets really eclectic, you know? As the night progresses, you fit those popular songs into the package, so it’s all about getting the crowd to the spot they want to be.”
A TASTE OF OLD VAIL
Back in the mid-’60s, when Vail was still a fledgling ski town, the streets were hardly lined in gold. They weren’t even paved. Longtime residents have likened it to the Old West with chairlifts, where après meant kegs of beer and on-snow football games between mortal enemies: ski patrollers and ski instructors.
More often than not, the mastermind of this rowdiness was Jon Donovan, the owner/bartender at Donovan’s Copper Bar. Like its namesake, Donovan’s was equal part lively and easy-going, the kind of rough-and-tumble ski town bar where resort employees congregated for Coors pours, eclectic company and the bragging rights to hidden powder stashes.
Today, Donovan’s is known as Vendetta’s and fits twice as many après revelers, but the atmosphere is, well, about the same. And that’s just the way folks like it. Patrollers still get a daily “raise” — one beer, on the house — while visitors and locals alike mingle around the pizza bar for a slice of Snow Pig (pepperoni, sausage and Canadian bacon). You might even catch Donovan at his usual spot on the far end of the bar.
But Vendetta’s isn’t the only modern-day joint with an old-Vail mentality. There’s Bart and Yeti’s in the heart of Lionshead, a local’s favorite known for letting dogs (and their ornery owners) post up at the bar until long after dark.
Down the cobbled sidewalk from Yeti’s are two rambunctious stops for the college-aged crowd: Garfinkel’s — home to one of the largest, most enticing decks in the valley — and Moe’s Original BBQ, where SEC faithful gather on game day for sultry pulled pork, shots of Maker’s Mark and $2 cans of ‘Bama Brew, a session-worthy Golden Ale from Eagle’s Bonfire Brewing.