Restaurants, après bars, and ski shops are one thing, but did you know Aspen is also home to some of the coolest speakeasy’s this side of Colorado? It may come as no surprise to some, with its storied history, wealthy clientele, and already proven foodie reputation, but the little details of some of Aspen’s coolest hidden haunts are what keep locals and visitors coming back for more. For a little bit of mystery, and some “cool kid” brownie points with your friends, check out our list of the below before your next night on the town.
Hotel Jerome—J. Bar
Located on Main Street, there’s no way you can miss Hotel Jerome, one of Aspen’s most famous spots for its rich history and influx of famous guests—from cowboys to miners, celebrities to politicians, remain the heartbeat of all things “Aspen”. Back in the day, cowboys and miners once unabashedly rode their horses through its doors, and Hunter S. Thompson even turned a corner of the bar into his office during his bid for sheriff. What’s more, thanks to it’s happening buzz and Old West vibe, the J-Bar at hotel Jerome continues to be the spot for ski bums and celebrities alike to converse over a beer or a craft cocktail. The bar is so iconic that there’s even still a Chinoiserie Chippendale till, signed by every bartender to work there.
Built in 1889 by Jerome B. Wheeler (1841–1918), the Hotel Jerome was Aspen’s original luxury hotel. After the 1893 silver crash destroyed the town’s economy, the hotel survived as a boardinghouse and slipped into comfortable shabbiness. When Aspen developed into a resort after World War II, the Jerome played host to movie stars and celebrities such as Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1980s the hotel received a full renovation that restored it to its original Victorian elegance. ~ Colorado Encyclopedia
A little history: when prohibition struck in 1920, the Jerome turned into an alcohol-free soda fountain. Of course, this being the Wild West, Aspenites rebelled, and began pouring liquor into J-Bar’s vanilla milkshakes. Enter, the birth of the Aspen Crud. A 131-year-old Aspen go-to that’s been sipped on by everyone from John Wayne to modern day A-list celebrities, it’s one of the most iconic beverages in town, a simple yet satisfying recipe made with Jerome’s freshly churned vanilla ice cream mixed thoroughly with 4 shots of Buffalo Trace bourbon. While Hotel Jerome has seen many changes in its lifetime, the Crud lives on. What began as a refreshingly sneaky way to slip alcohol into a dessert is now a staple in town, but the only way to know to order it is through the local barfly who will tell you what’s what the second you sidle up to the historical bar. Also check out the Living Room bar in the back, a more elegant and sophisticated area to sip on a scotch and people watch.
Bad Harriet—Below the Aspen Times Building on Main Street
While Hotel Jerome is certainly one of the most recognizable buildings in town, right next door, another sultry speakeasy-esque lounge sits ready to be visited in the basement of the Aspen Times building. Although it’s closed for the winter season, come this spring, Bad Harriet will be back in business and ready to quench the thirst of visitors and locals alike. This sexy, elegant, and lesser known cocktail lounge is perfect for anyone looking to impress a date; it’s a chic spot tucked away in a mysterious location that most visitors won’t know exists. It’s scene-y and a little pricey, but the cocktails at Bad Harriet never disappoint. Named after the wife of Hotel Jerome’s original owner Jerome B. Wheeler, the style of Bad Harriet mirrors its name, while staying classy and shiny from your first sip to your last step out. Every detail of the speakeasy oozes mischief; foggy-glass lighting, dark leather chairs, and milk-chocolate-colored fine marble bar.
If you’re looking to truly experience the vibe here, try their signature cocktail: “Bad Harriet”, made with Woody Creek single barrel rye, roasted pineapple, and pomegranate bitters; it’s a smoky fruity explosion of taste that perfectly exemplifies the fine vibe of the lounge. Tequila lovers would be remiss to not try The Dame—made with Tequila Blanco, jalapeño consommé, citric, and honey, or The Duke made with mezcal. The list is eclectic and diverse, and features something for everyone, at every price range, from craft beers to top-shelf whiskey.
Bad Harriet also offers a killer small plate menu, with dishes ranging from the classic Deviled Eggs to Rocky Mountain Blinis with Trout, to Elk Sausage with Cheddar and Jalapeño and Dungeness Crab Tots. If your mouth isn’t watering yet, try out a signature dessert like the Valrhona Chocolate Souffle or the Carrot Cake Madeleines.
Little Nell—The Board Room
Adding to the list of “hotels-that-are-expensive-to-stay-at-but-fun-to-drink-at”, we have the The Little Nell Board Room. This (once) hidden gem is now the talk of the town for both locals and visitors alike, and for good reason. It’s located discretely behind a bookshelf, and even requires a password to enter. Needless to say, if it’s the real lush speakeasy experience you’re in the mood for, look no further than this sneaky fun lounge inside the famous Little Nell hotel. It’s a space that also doubles as a high-end private meeting spot for lunches, apres-ski drinks, dinner, or maybe just a fancy meeting. If you’re lucky enough to get invited to one, you’ll also gain access to everything from drinks to bites and all the fixings that come with it’s world-class service. The Board Room’s interior is chic and warm, featuring a contemporary den with an 88″ flat screen TV, plush leather couches, and of course, a bar area and pool table that also doubles as a dining table if you so desire. If you come for the speakeasy experience, allow the hotel’s resident sommelier to talk you through The Little Nell’s award-winning wine list overseen by Wine Director Chris Dunaway, as well as their full bar and chef’s menu. Fun fact: The Board Room has one of two custom Tanqueray Imperial Shakers in all of Colorado, curated to make high-end cocktails even more fancy. That being said, we’d say if you’re looking to truly experience this spot, go on and get yourself a Gin Fizze.
To make your visit even more special and fantastical, if you book the space online, you’ll receive a confirmation email with a password to present at The Wine Bar host stand, then you’ll be given a key and directed to find the space (James Bond, anyone?). A special food menu from Culinary Director Matt Zubrod is offered with favorites such as Kampachi Crudo, Wagyu Tartare with Polenta Chips, Truffle Fries, Burrata, Caviar and Citrus, and Caviar Tacos and Aharcuterie. The décor here meets somewhere in the middle of Prohibition era and Art Deco – two distinct eras that somehow magically come together in the form of lanterns, mismatched pillows, crow lamps, and scrapwood to bring together the makings of an indulgently secret space.
You’ll recognize it from it’s adorable and Instagram worthy Victorian façade and intimate interior where they serve food with incredibly fresh ingredients and delicious and always satisfying coffee. Bear’s Den also has an endearing downstairs cocktail lounge. In fact, it’s much more than a lounge—the brain-child of Alia Joonas and her business and life partner Bridger Smith, Bear’s Den was designed with the idea of comfort, warmth and good vibes in mind, Joonas offers an inviting fireplace, an open kitchen, and a quaint bodega for pick up food as well. Inspired by global cuisine, Joonas offers family style dining and small plates, perfect for a low-key apres, or a romantic date downstairs.
Tucked away just below Bear’s Den, this is the perfect spot to bring out-of-towners, a first date, or your girlfriends for a well-rounded night on the town. Alia Joonas has been conceptualizing this intimate wine and tapas spot for the better part of a decade. At just 28 years old, Joonas has managed to execute a business plan in a town known for some of the most expensive real estate in America. Designed to compliment its upstairs café, which serves soups, salads, sandwiches and personal recipes from Joonas’ childhood, the downstairs draws inspiration from Northern Spain’s Basque region and features a broad selection of wine, tequila and mezcal. The menu features plates inspired by Spanish cuisine, like Toasted Polenta with Tomato Tapenade, Cider-Braised Spanish Chorizo, and Anchovy Crème-Stuffed Manzanilla Olives. Joonas also pays homage to her childhood roots, being brought up in the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius by featuring a savory Chicken Tikka Masala. The space is made with such love that it even features furniture from Joonas’ own home. The décor includes both contemporary and antique design, with a cozy and inviting ambience. A dimly lit space with warm wood tables, it’s both elegant and casual, while still feeling like something you’ve never quite experienced.
If you’re popping by for a drink and a place to warm up post-ski, we recommend ordering the La Chula, a tequila drink made with the finest on the shelf, tequila 8 silver, ancho reyes liquer, peach liquer, pomegranate and lime juice, fever tree soda, and a jalapeño garnish. Eccentric and diverse in flavor, you can almost taste this drink as much as you can smell it.