The party never ends
The street that launched a million hangovers still reigns supreme when it comes to offering the very best of good times in the mountains. Admittedly, Vail’s Bridge Street is a bit like the trophy wives trailing their millionaire husbands through the Lodge at Vail; both are in their early 40s and are starting to show their age, but give them a bit of cosmetic surgery, get them all jacked up on Jager and Red Bull and you’ll have trouble getting them to call it a night.Last week’s busy holiday crowds were among the biggest that many in the ski booze biz say they’ve experienced in a long time, a happy sign that Vail Village may be getting back on its feet after a few tough years.Scott Stoughton, local musician and architect of State Bridge Lodge’s successful summer season, has been enjoying a packed house virtually every night at Samana Lounge, a revamped and urban-styled chill-out joint housed in the former Nick’s/The Bridge/Hypnotik location. Creating a joint that appeals both to an older crowd the folks who’ve been left wandering the streets since Club Chelsea closed its Austrian-bordello-themed space in the Vail Village Inn and providing a groovy spot for village hipsters, Samana’s success says good things about Vail’s current party mood.”You can really feel that vibe there’s definitely some good energy coming back, and I think we add to that,” Stoughton says. “I think the secret is that things have become really diversified, and nobody’s trying to undercut each other with 75 cent drinks or things like that. Fubar, the Club and the Tap Room are all doing their own thing, so it’s not like it used to be. I’ve been trying to work closely with everyone, especially Sanctuary, and it’s great it’s giving people a whole new reason to come out to the Village.”Chris Chester, bar manager at 8150, says things are looking up for his club it’s been given yet another year-long reprieve from the wrecking ball but despite some busy holiday season traffic, he’s decided to only open the doors four nights a week or on evenings when he’s able to book live bands like the Rev. Horton Heat or Coolio.”Overall, we’re doing pretty well and I’m happy to see the trend that more people are finally coming back out here and spending money,” Chester says. “But the town’s changing and I think it needs to. A lot of places are getting pretty old and decrepit, so it will be interesting to see how all of the redevelopment goes.”It’s been a challenging era for those in the bar biz the days when a liquor license in Vail was a virtual license for printing money began to dissipate as the resort rode out the post-Sept. 11 slump. The period has also been opportunity for a new, localized downvalley focus as Edwards yes, Edwards suddenly became a cool boozing alternative to making the long drive or bus ride to the Village. Jeff Sandoval, manager of Ray’s Restaurant and Lounge, Edwards’ biggest recent success story, says he’s enjoyed the attention (not to mention the steady crowds), but says word of Edwards replacing Vail Village as party central seems a little premature.”Night life in Edwards is definitely a funny thing,” he says. “People don’t really go out like they do when they’re in the Village. If they do go out here, they’re done pretty early, except for the weekends. We are doing very well and we’d like to create a more active scene down here it just seems like this is part of the evolution of the whole downvalley hangout scene.”Jim Glendening, manager of the George, says his contact with beer retailers and those serving his Bridge Street neighbors suggests that the turnaround may not be entirely complete if it’s slow in town, it can be painfully slow, he says. That said, the Village still remains the valley’s primary party destination.”I don’t buy into the notion that everybody’s staying down in Edwards,” he says. “Everybody who really wants to go out for the evening still comes up here. But I’ve heard that a few of the other bars aren’t doing quite as well as they’d like to be doing.”The big pictureHow does Vail’s action compare to similar resorts in ski country?Whistler’s equally notorious Village bar scene has made it a tough contender to beat, although it’s kind of an unfair comparison you can drink at 19, use your still-powerful Yankee dollar to purchase Cuban cigars and enjoy an atmosphere where high-potency B.C. weed is practically decriminalized (not to mention the fact that the place is almost a brick-for-brick copy of Vail Village’s ’70s and ’80s heyday).Other Colorado ski towns come action-packed but don’t offer quite the same intensity. Breck may have a million bars along Main Street but the appeal of aprs at restaurants such as Bubba Gump’s or the Whale’s Tail seems a little lost on anyone but Denver daytrippers and Oklahoma bus-tourers with Breck’s setup, mountain life and in-town carousing are two different animals.The same can be said for communities like Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs: base-area party opportunities abound but you’ve gotta catch a shuttle bus and head into each burgh’s authentic downtown core to sample the wild times (hippies in the ‘Butte, belligerent cowboys in the ‘Boat).Aspen comes pretty darn close to grabbing the nightlife crown, but you won’t catch a single person in ski boots getting busy on the dance floor there. With limited aprs opportunities (there’s still no Phil Long or Rod Powell of Glitter Gulch) Aspen party people tend to hit the sauna and then re-emerge for the evening and absolutely go for broke at some of the classiest (and dive-iest bars) in the West.Vail’s happy marriage of slopeside proximity and a pack of bars spaced with stumbling distance in mind not to mention those ubiquitous guitar slingers still makes for a decidedly unique carousing experience. VT By Andy Stonehouse
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