Autumn looks good on Aspen. With its abundant stands of golden-yellow aspen trees set against the backdrop of an impossibly blue sky, this Roaring Fork Valley mountain town is saturated with color in late September and early October. The summer crowds are gone and the skiers and snowboarders haven’t arrived yet, which makes fall the perfect time to plan a relaxing, laid-back road trip to Aspen. To really ditch the crowds, go leaf-peeping on some of the region’s less-traveled, off-the-beaten-path hiking and mountain biking trails, then wash up (or don’t—this is Colorado, after all) and grab a drink at these Aspen bars.
415 E Hyman Ave., Aspen
Keep your phone handy because, as soon as your drink order arrives, you’re going to want to snap a photo. 7908 is helmed by executive chef Byron Gomez of Top Chef season 18 fame, manager/master sommelier Jonathan Pullis, director of spirits Matt Corbin, and resident DJ Bryan Normand. This A-list crew is responsible for 7908’s modern, club-like atmosphere and its off-the-wall, slightly outrageous cocktail offerings. For example: The Weekend at Ernie’s is served in a miniature bathtub, complete with a rubber ducky and an umbrella. The Cloud Nine has a huge puff of cotton candy dangling over the top of the glass, while the Pagemaster is served in a flask, tucked inside the pages of a Harvard Medical School textbook. But no matter what you order, you really can’t go wrong here.
The Wine Bar
675 E. Durant Ave., Aspen
Sip wine from the Little Nell’s 20,000-bottle cellar while jamming out to a live DJ spinning vintage records at the Wine Bar, a cozy new lounge that opened in winter 2020 on the ground floor of this iconic Aspen hotel. Tap into the vast expertise of the Little Nell’s team of sommeliers, who can offer insights and recommendations for the bar’s 35 different wines by the glass, 16 wine enomatics on tap, and tens of thousands of bottles. Or, if you want to test your own wine knowledge, you can participate in a blind wine tasting and learn how to sip, smell, and see four different wines like a somm (there’s even a paper “test” for you to fill out). And if wine isn’t your thing, that’s OK too—there’s a full bar, plus light bites like wagyu sliders and charcuterie, if you’re feeling snacky. If you’re visiting on a weekend, ride the gondola up Aspen Mountain for epic views of the town below.
330 E. Main Street, Aspen
No visit to Aspen is complete without a stop at the J-Bar inside the historic (and iconic) Hotel Jerome, which has been around since 1889. This cozy, upscale bar still holds onto some of its Old West roots, when cowboys, miners, politicians, and the skiing soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division piled in for drinks and carousing after a long day’s work. Treat yourself to an Aspen Crud, a boozy vanilla milkshake made with bourbon that was the drink of choice for many Aspen revelers during Prohibition.
301 E Hopkins Ave., Aspen
Nestled in the basement under Meat & Cheese Restaurant & Farm Shop, Hooch is one of Aspen’s coziest—and most Instagrammable—cocktail bars. It has a vintage, speakeasy vibe, complete with exposed brick, elegant chandeliers, edgy artwork, and comfy couches. Hooch also recently opened a patio bar on the street. Their cocktail offerings rotate seasonally, but you can expect updated takes on classics, wines by the glass, a massive whiskey list, and plenty of other spirits to sip.
When You Return for Ski Season: Dante
315 E. Dean St., Aspen
Beloved New York City bar and restaurant Dante—named the World’s Best Bar in 2019—made its first foray into Aspen in the winter of 2020 with a pop-up at the Snow Lodge at the base of Aspen Mountain. After a successful ski season, Dante’s owners decided to stay in the Roaring Fork Valley a little longer for a year-long residency at the Chefs Club at the St. Regis Aspen. When it reopens this winter, grab a Negroni and maybe stay for a simple yet perfectly executed European-inspired dinner like paccheri pasta with lobster or whole grilled Mediterranean branzino.
Bonus: Marble Distilling Co.
150 Main St., Carbondale
If you’re up for making the short trek from Aspen to Carbondale, it’s worth stopping for a cocktail at the Marble Bar at Marble Distilling Co. With Connie Baker as its badass head distiller, Marble makes vodka, whiskey, and liqueurs like Gingercello and Moonlight EXpresso. The best part? You can feel good about the spirits you’re sipping because they’re not wrecking the planet. Marble is one of the most sustainable distilleries in the world, thanks to its custom water energy thermal system that recaptures 100 percent of the water and energy used during the distilling process. And if you feel like extending your trip, the distillery also doubles as a five-room, boutique inn.