The Best Bars of Vail & Beaver Creek

What can possibly top a powder day in the Back Bowls or Royal Elk Glade? Après at a village bar; follow our guide to 24 places that are the toast of the town.

By Kelly Bastone Photography by Rebecca Stumpf February 9, 2018 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2018 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

"Don't bother with churches, government buildings, or city squares,” Ernest Hemingway, that most prolific of drinkers, once  opined. “If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” That sage advice applies equally to the culture of a ski resort, where the only title that holds more clout than bootfitter is bartender. From brunch to last call, these places, faces, drinks, and dishes fuel the high-octane day- and nightlife of Vail and Beaver Creek, defining and expanding the unique experience of village life.

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The Wall of Fame at Pepi’s Bar

Pepi’s Bar: The Heart of Bridge Street

Popping into this 54-year-old landmark pub plugs you into one of Vail’s greatest hits, past and present. On the time-burnished wood-paneled walls hang dozens of photos signed by decades’ worth of visiting dignitaries, including astronauts like Buzz Aldrin and former US president Gerald Ford (who took ski lessons from Pepi and stayed at the inn upstairs before he became commander in chief; Pepi and wife Sheika still call it home). There’s also downhiller Lindsey Vonn, grinning and gorgeous, and Pepi Gramshammer himself, young and dashing and skiing bare-headed as he bashes gates in the 1953 Giant Slalom race in Innsbruck, his historic first podium finish that led to a berth on the Austrian Ski Team. Gaze at rows of his silver ski trophies, displayed in a glass case near the entrance. Then hoist your own prize: A gleaming half-liter glass stein filled with Paulaner pils. The heady aroma of sausage and sauerkraut may prompt you to order the same while you listen to Andy Cyphert and other local acts strum through after-ski staples (“Brown-Eyed Girl” or “Margaritaville,” anyone? Solo shows play at après and dinnertime). On warm spring days when the newly remodeled bar’s articulated wall of windows opens the room up to Bridge Street, you can almost feel the pulse of Vail Village thrumming through the floorboards.

"Don't bother with churches, government buildings, or city squares,” Ernest Hemingway, that most prolific of drinkers, once  opined. “If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” That sage advice applies equally to the culture of a ski resort, where the only title that holds more clout than bootfitter is bartender. From brunch to last call, these places, faces, drinks, and dishes fuel the high-octane day- and nightlife of Vail and Beaver Creek, defining and expanding the unique experience of village life.


» Vendetta’s: A Wage Earner’s Ski Bar

Ski patrollers get their first beer for free at this beloved pizza joint, which has been serving up suds and solace since Vail’s earliest days—first as La Cave Copper Bar, then Donovan’s Copper Bar (after John Donovan took it over in 1966 and started the tradition of rewarding the mountain’s red jackets; see sidebar). Its flag changed from Irish to Italian in 1983, but this Bridge Street nook remains a haven for hard-working (and harder-partying) ski bums.

Who goes there

Ski patrollers and resort staff, young minimum-wage earners

What they’re drinking

$3 Bud drafts and $4 Hornitos shots

Paired with

$4.50 slices of Snow Pig (Canadian bacon-pepperoni-sausage pizza)

Where it’s at

291 Bridge St, Vail Village; vendettasvail.com


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Barkeep John Donovan tending his storied Copper Bar

The Don(ovan) of Vail Village

Local legend John Donovan had a seat on the town council and started one of the town’s most successful businesses (Vail Honeywagon Rubbish & Recycling), and his name graces the community’s signature gathering space (Donovan Pavilion). But he’s locally famous as the proprietor of the village’s most storied watering hole, Donovan’s Copper Bar, the epicenter of local nightlife during the village’s most debaucherous era (1966–1983). If you’re interested in reveling in those bad old good days (or is it good old bad days?)—like the boozy St. Patrick’s Day baseball games (on skis) he convened at Mid-Vail, and how he invited everyone in the county to his wedding reception at Manor Vail with a newspaper ad—join one of Donovan’s “Ski With A Local” tours Sundays through Wednesdays, leaving from the top of Gondola One at Mid-Vail at 10:30 a.m. Call 970-496-4910 for more info.

Shot of The Alps

Root & Flower: Bridge Street’s Alpine Wine Bar

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The Singapore Sling (gin, cherry liqueur, pineapple, lemon) at Root & Flower

The village's standout wine bar claims to sell the most génépy in the United States. Don’t know what génépy is? You’ll learn that—and much more—from a staff of beverage nerds who cater to experimental drinkers. Génépy des Alpes (an herbal liqueur similar to absinthe that hails from—you guessed it!—the European Alps) is the house shot here, and bartenders love it so much they concocted génépy “caviar” that adds a silky/chewy texture to your grassy elixir, turning it into a French-style boba tea. Start there, then move on to the delightfully overthought wine list, which is divided into categories such as “jam & spice” and “underappreciated & misunderstood.” On Tuesdays, co-owner Jeremy Campbell (an Advanced Sommelier) emcees a blind tasting for the bar’s informal wine club: Members bring bottles of intriguing wines and challenge one another to guess its varietals, location, and the year it was produced. But while geekery abounds, snobbery does not: For every $60 glass of Barolo, there’s an $8 gem, and cocktails hardly get the brush-off. If esoteric rums and Spanish sherries quicken your pulse, this is your paradise.

Who goes there

Wine geeks, thirtysomething gourmands on date night

What they’re drinking

 $50 pours of Napa Valley cabernet chased with génépy shots

Paired with 

Architected cheese and charcuterie plates

Where it’s at 

288 Bridge St, Vail Village; rootandflowervail.com

» The Kings Club: Royalty Refined

The venerable lounge at the heart of the Sonnenalp Hotel is as elegantly appointed as an antechamber in the Linderhof, where guests luxuriate in leather recliners, sipping martinis and flutes of Dom Perignon and exceptionally rare cognac, and a fire crackles in the hearth as a singer softly channels Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald, nightly from 8 until 11 p.m.

Who goes there

Titans of commerce and their entourages

What they’re drinking

$280 pours of Louis XIII de Rémy Martin Grand Champagne Cognac

Paired with

Oysters on the half shell


 20 Vail Rd, Vail Village; sonnenalp.com

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Synchronized drinking: Powder 8's shot ski

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Powder 8's festive fire pit

Slopeside Scene

Powder 8: Beaver Creek’s Beach Party

Everyone loves a beer-and-pizza joint, but this Beaver Creek version serves the best of both. A 900-degree brick oven crisps Neapolitan thin-crust pizzas in just 10 minutes, and Avery, New Belgium, Odell, and other Colorado craft suds flow from the taps. And once Centennial stops spinning and only crumbs are left on the cookie ambassadors’ trays, there’s no better basking spot than the restaurant’s patio and its massive central fire pit that’s conducive to toe warming and s’mores making. Longtime local crooner Shannon Tanner channeling the Eagles and the Beach Boys (this is the Beav’s beach, after all) makes an ordinary weekday feel like a holiday—and convinces plenty of locals that work can wait for one more song, and another pint.

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A pie hot from the 900-degree oven

Who goes there

Pretty much everyone fresh from the mountain

What they’re drinking 

Colorado Native (tourists) and Dale’s (locals)

Paired with

Cubanos and slices of Hawaiian pizza

Where it’s at

 Slopeside in Beaver Creek off the Centennial Lift ski yard; hyatt.com

On-mountain oasis

The 10th Lounge: A Respite from Plastic Boots

It’s hard to match the grandeur of the mountain vistas surrounding Mid-Vail, but The 10th pulls it off. First stop is the coatroom and its picture windows framing the Gore Range sawing into the eastern skyline. Hang your jacket and helmet on custom-made metal hooks depicting a pair of crossed skis stamped with the “10th,” celebrating the Tenth Mountain Division soldiers who trained at nearby Camp Hale before World War II, and returned after the Armistice to found the resort. Then trade your ski boots for fleecy slippers and pad into the high-ceilinged lounge, which compensates for its lack of mountain panoramas with opulent touches: The bar is a $1.5 million slab of Indonesian onyx as perfectly black as a monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the burger is made of succulent Wagyu beef, a two-story wine rack behind the bar displays Grand Cru Burgundies and rare California cabernets—and there’s Veuve Clicquot by the glass. Order that, or one of the cocktails (which favor a fruity, citrus-spiked flavor palate) and rest your slippered feet on the stone hearth by the fire. Truly, there is no comparison.

Who goes there

Skiers who’ve sworn off pocketed bratwurst grilled on mountain decks

What they’re drinking

Hot Apple Pies (Tuaca-spiked spiced cider) and Super Snugglers (Godiva hot cocoa and Rumple Minze schnapps)

Paired with

Wagyu carpaccio and herbed Parmesan-crusted black and white truffle fries

Where it’s at

Mid-Vail; the10thvail.com

Name that Cocktail

The Seibert Sipper

What it is: House bourbon, sweet vermouth, Aperol (an homage to 10th Mountain Division veteran and Vail co-founder Pete Seibert)

Where to get it: 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Tasting Room, 227 Bridge St, Vail Village; 10thwhiskey.com

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Try the Bakon Big-Ass Bloody. Drink it at the long, L-shaped bar that looks about as rough as you might feel.

Hangover Helper

Westside Café: A Morning-After Must

Yes, there is a cure for morning-after misery. It’s a Big-Ass Bloody (its official name) at Westside Café, an across-the-highway strip mall restaurant favored by locals that not only dishes deliciously toxin-mopping breakfasts, but also repairs the previous night’s liver damage with almost-fishbowl-size Bloody Marys partnered with Fat Tire sidecars (try the “Bakon” version with bacon-infused vodka, a glossy wand of candied bacon, and a kabob of pickled vegetables). Drink it at the long, L-shaped bar that looks about as rough as you might feel: Its varnished wood has a yellowed patina from years of supporting glass goblets (Westside opened in 2002), and the walls’ rustic paneling fences out prying eyes (and thankfully dulls the roar of conversation) from the main dining room. Order the eggs Benedict with sweet potato waffles and fried chicken. You can thank us later.

Who goes there

Hungry locals, skiers with the Irish flu

What they’re drinking

Bloodys and sidecars

Paired with

The Tourist Special (same as the Local Special—eggs, hash browns, chorizo, and toast—but $2 more)

Where it’s at

2211 N Frontage Rd West, West Vail; westsidecafe.net

Thrive: The Hangover Healer

Hair of the dog gets the  Doogie Howser treatment with this nutrient-packed intravenous cocktail, administered by a team of certified (and sympathetic) medics who make hotel room and condo house calls. thrivemdvail.com


» Tavern on the Square: Menu a la Bark

The outdoor patio of the house bar at the Arrabelle caters to furry friends with a dedicated Doggie Menu that makes an obligatory water bowl seem Spartan indeed. Order Fido some house-made doggie biscuits ($4) or scrambled duck eggs ($5), and let him join in the après scene.

Who goes there

Arrabelle Club members on a dog’s day out

What they’re drinking

Crème brûlée martinis, Veuve Clicquot

Paired with

The Tavern Black Forest Fondue

Where it’s at

 675 Lionshead Pl (the Arrabelle), Lionshead; arabelle.rockresorts.com

Champion of Breakfast

Vintage: Worth Skipping First Tracks on a Powder Day

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Vintage, a cocktail-fueled brunch to start the ski day

When celebrity chef Kelly Liken closed her groundbreaking Vail Village restaurant in 2015, locals and visitors wondered what could ever replace the culinary landmark across from the Four Seasons in Gateway Plaza. Fortunately, it was Vintage, a cozy Parisian-style brasserie that might have time-warped itself into ski country from a Vichy-era Left Bank. Arrive from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Friday through Monday for the restaurant’s wildly popular brunch, and expect to find the bar four-deep with skiers sipping blood-orange champagne floats while waiting their turn to join the raucous crowd (some speaking Spanish and cradling chihuahuas in their laps) feasting on gilded plates of hollandaise-slathered Benedicts, the galette du jour, and bacon-mascarpone-stuffed brioche French toast. And ordering round after round from a cheeky cocktail menu that includes the One Night Stand (a tin cup of whiskey, walnut liqueur, lemon juice, and rosemary simple syrup) and We Speak No Americano (a double shot of espresso spiked with amaretto liqueur).

Who goes there  

Hotel guests looking for an experience they can Facebook and Instagram to elicit envy from friends back home, locals looking to impress out-of-town guests

What they’re drinking

Champagne floats

Paired with

Chicken and pancakes slathered with thyme-infused maple syrup

Where it’s at

12 Vail Rd, Vail Village (south of the Main Vail roundabout); vintage-vail.com

 » Garfinkel’s: A Monopoly on Ski Yard Vistas

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First ascent of Mt. Nacho on the deck at Garfinkel’s

When your legs are fried but the afternoon’s glow makes it impossible to leave the slopes, if you’ve parked your car in Lionshead, you park your tired carcass on Garf’s deck, Lionshead’s only slopeside deck that’s been a landmark since it opened in 1999. Perched within spitting distance of the Eagle Bahn gondola, you watch waves of snowriders rolling off the snow and onto the bricks. Rehydrate with a pitcher of Lagunitas, or better yet, step inside and spin the wheel of misfortune: Garf’s infamous shot wheel (mounted above the bar) displays a dizzying assortment of named shots, many as unpalatable as their monikers (“Moose Piss” is all the well liquors mixed together, and “Lil’ Biotch” is a similar mashup of schnapps). The only rule? Whatever you land on, you have to drink.

Who goes there

Skiers and snowboarders who party as hard as they shred

What they’re drinking

Patio Punch (ginger beer spiked with Deep Eddy lemon-flavored vodka and black raspberry syrup)

Where it’s at

36 E Lionshead Circle, Lionshead; garfsvail.com

Name That Cocktail 

The Ricky Tikki

What it is: Bacardi 8 rum, nigori sake, pineapple juice, demerara syrup, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters

Where to get it: Frost, 16 Vail Rd, Vail Village; thesebastianvail.com

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Forget about Bud Light; Bol is a bowling alley where Pappy Van Winkle and Elijah Craig hang out on the top shelf.

Bowl and bOogie

Bōl: Nightlife Refined

Finding a bar in a bowling alley isn’t unusual—bowlers everywhere are used to shuffling across threadbare carpet to tip back a bottle of Bud—but Bol luxe-ifies both ambience and drinks in a bowling venue that replicates the feel of a Las Vegas VIP lounge. Mod-sculpted chairs frame a sleek white bar helmed (if you come on the right night) by James Hallmark, a whiskey lover who makes annual pilgrimages to bourbon distilleries such as Knob Creek and Elijah Craig (both craft single-barrel bourbons exclusively for Bo¯l). Custom bottles of Maker’s Mark contain Bol’s own special blend, and Pappy Van Winkle corners the top shelf. s During dinner, DJs spin an all-ages mix of pop and dance tunes, and weekends after 10 p.m., the cavernous dining room morphs into a light-speckled dance club that pulses until 1 a.m. (on Fridays, DJ Erick plays an eclectic mix of salsa and raggaeton; on Saturdays, DJ Spinna mixes booty-droppin’ music). Yet those carnivals don’t detract from the 10 bowling lanes, where reservations are essential—because as it happens, the only thing better than bowling a strike is pairing it with a Toki-o Fashion Show (a smoky-sweet cocktail that smothers a cube of frozen maté with Japanese whisky and Pedro Ximénez sherry) or a Bad Santa.

Who goes there

Gussied up foodies needing a dose of big-city cocktail culture

What they’re drinking 

The Bad Santa (an enormous cube of ice suspended in an elixir of Old Grand-Dad bourbon, Amaro Montenegro Italian liqueur, and Lillet Rose apertif)

Paired with 

The mouthwatering Eaton Burger or a gargantuan tomahawk steak

Where it’s at

141 E Meadow Dr (Solaris Plaza); bolvail.com

 » Express Lift Bar: Closest-to-Snow Watering Hole

This winter, Vail Resorts reconfigured a former coffee shop into a full-service après bar that’s now the closest watering hole to the Vail Village slopes. Most popular cocktail: the steaming Block Rockin’ Chocolate (cream-topped cocoa spiked with vodka and raspberry liqueur).

Who goes there

First-time visitors who don’t know how to navigate Bridge Street bars; thirsty skiers who don’t want to clomp to Bridge Street bars

What they’re drinking

The Boot Remover (an espresso-tini combining Spring44 vodka with Leopold coffee liqueur and espresso)

Paired with

Chicken banh mi sandwiches and pesto flatbread pizza

Where it’s at

On the Gondola One ski yard behind the lift ticket window; vail.com

Behind Bars

Name: Steven Teaver

Works at: The Remedy and Flame

Where that is: One Vail Rd, Vail Village (Four Seasons); fourseasons.com

Years in Vail: 15

Years at this job: 7

Free advice: “Trust your bartender, and don’t be in a hurry.”

More free advice: “If you’re waiting on a specialty cocktail, ask for a half glass of champagne while it’s being made for something to sip on, or a pour of bourbon—that’s my go-to.”

Four Seasons Beverage Director Steven Teaver

I’m the beverage director for the whole Four Seasons property and the sommelier, so I do everything. There’s no such thing as an average day for me; I meet with all my suppliers on Wednesdays (my Monday). I might taste 200 different things—somebody’s got to do it! I also spend time in my cocktail lab, as I like to I call it—it’s our service bar for Flame, but that’s where I do cocktail development. We have a pretty good core of regulars who come through our bar at the Remedy and Flame, so I like to change things up, I’m constantly developing and tasting things. Thursday through Sunday I’m in the Remedy, I’m selling wine, I’m making cocktails, I’m talking to the guests, I could be teaching classes. Those days, I come in around 1:30 or 2 p.m., and then I get out of here at the end of service, so those are often longer days if we’re busy.Tonight (Friday before New Year’s Eve), we have 270 guests coming in for dinner at Flame, the Remedy is really busy for après-ski and we have football on, and we have a banquet for 250 people, so I’m all over the place, but that’s what keeps it fresh for me. I don’t think I’ve duplicated a day in the 7 years I’ve been here, and I love it. 

» Leonora: A Rosé-Hued Breakfeast

Not to be outdone by the hotel’s in-house late-night martini haunt, Frost, the Sebastian debuted a “Sunday Funday” brunch (11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday) at the hotel’s signature restaurant, Leonora, this past summer. A mimosa and bellini station welcomes the hungry (and hungover) as they enter the circular venue wrapped in floor-to-ceiling windows, and nestle into plush leather booths for plate after plate of savory tapas-inspired breakfast dishes like cornflake-crusted French toast with Vermont maple mascarpone, or slow-roasted heritage pulled pork Benedict with cilantro hollandaise. The best part? Tableside rosé service, courtesy of a fleet of attentive servers who never let a glass get anywhere near empty.

Who goes there

Families on ski vacation seeking a break from skiing, and a steady stream of Spanish-speaking hotel guests

What they’re drinking

Bottomless glasses of Chateau de Campuget rosé

Paired with

Slow-roasted heritage pulled pork Benedicts with cilantro hollandaise

Where it’s at

16 Vail Rd, Vail Village (the Sebastian Hotel); thesebastianvail.com

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The Red Lion: it’s an inhibition-free zone where everyone, from lifties to VIPs, can unleash their inner animal.

Never-Ending Party

The Red Lion: Vail Village, like it used to be

Patrons here arrive already drunk on Vail’s mountain beauty and great companionship, so all this unpretentious vintage local watering hole dating from 1963 (the oldest building in the Village, which once quartered the resort’s first hospital) really needs to do is provide an inhibition-free zone where everyone, from lifties to VIPs, can unleash their inner animal. The nachos and onion rings are bountiful, the drinks may be typical of Everybar USA, the wooden chairs are timeworn, and the live acts aren’t names you’ll see in stadiums any time soon. But performers here are pros at fanning the never-ending party’s spark into an inferno, and servers don’t judge you for donning a sequined wig and dancing like a hooked fish. It helps that this joint sits within staggering distance of Gondola One, making it one of the first watering holes that skiers encounter after leaving the slopes. That, along with liberal use of the shot-ski, explains why the Red Lion is packed every night: This authentic Vail relic is so popular that reservations are required for the legendary après-ski and night shows, and tables closest to the band command a $500 minimum.

Who goes there

Anyone wanting to relive the glory days of après

What they’re drinking

Bridge Street Slammers (e.g. The Car Bomb: a double-whammy of two pints of Guinness fortified with two shots of Jameson and Irish cream)

Paired with

Red Lion Nachos (a tortilla chip mountain with an avalanche of pulled pork, salsa, molten cheese, and sour cream)

Where it’s at

304 Bridge St, Vail Village; theredlion.com


Behind Bars

Name: Dawn Nichols

Works at: Lancelot

Where that is: 201 E Gore Creek Dr, Vail Village;

Years in Vail: 20

Years tending bar in Vail: 20

How to get a bartender’s attention: “Have your money out and be ready to order. I can usually see when people are ready to go. Just don’t be on your cell phone!”
Never ever: “Snap your fingers. And don’t interrupt in the middle of someone else’s order—we’ll get to you as soon as we can.”

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Dawn Nichols

As a bartender, you’re kind of an ambassador for Vail. You’re the conduit to what’s happening. You are the source of information. People like to talk, especially when you add alcohol. But it makes you a good listener and helps you problem-solve and keep humor in it. Usually, I’m running around like a chicken without a head, but when I have time to sit there and have a conversation, I can talk to people from all over the world—doctors to construction workers. This job has taught me never to judge a book by its cover. My day starts at 9:30 in the morning, setting up the bar, restocking all of our liquor, wine, and beer, and cutting fruit. Then we open at 11, and my bar fills up with a lunch crowd and some who need a little liquid courage before getting on the hill. I serve cocktails all day long. It’s a very physical job; I’m like a ping-pong ball behind the bar. I was at Vendetta’s for a long time before I moved over to Lancelot, and I get customers who recognize me from over there and are excited to see me. It’s nice to be reaffirmed that I have a following.I moved here 20 years ago, right after I finished graduate school in Arizona. I got a master’s in American history, and recently completed a graduate program in clinical mental health counseling. Right now, I’m starting my own practice in clinical mental health counseling in Edwards; my specialty is adolescents and family systems. Bartenders here are overeducated for what they do. But they love to be around people, and they love the lifestyle.

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Bart and Yeti’s: Lionshead’s lovable, authentic dive bar

Dog Walks into a Bar...

Bart and Yeti’s: Where everybody knows your (four-legged friend’s) name

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Bart and Yeti's

All heads swivel toward you as you step inside this low-ceilinged, 11-stool bar, but unless you’re a familiar face—or you’ve brought a canine companion—you’re unlikely to win a smile or a woof. Regulars here save their affection for longtime locals and dogs, which are welcome (in the bar only, not the dining room). This landmark’s very name acknowledges the partisanship: Bart was a golden retriever that got frisky with Gerald Ford’s dog, Liberty (who birthed a pup that Henry Kissinger claimed). And Yeti was the de facto guard dog and tennis-ball moisturizer. Both have passed on to happier hunting grounds, but man’s best friend remains this bar’s VIP.

Who goes there

Retired ski patrollers, multigenerational Valley natives and their dogs

What they’re drinking

Pints of Coors Light

Paired with

The Bart Burger

Where it’s at

553 E Lionshead Circle, Lionshead; bartnyetis.com

» Almresi: Bavarian Alps at the top of Bridge Street

Cowbells and rustic wood plank tables recall the high-Alpine huttes of the owners’ native Bavaria and Austria. So do the drinks: Génépy also is poured here, as well as an assortment of schnapps (some served in Swarovski crystal bottles) that will forever improve your impression of this much-maligned cordial. Same goes for the wine: You may not be able to pronounce Grüner Veltliner, but after discovering it here, you’ll want to stock up on this gorgeously crisp white wine next time you visit your local bottle shop.

Who goes there

European tourists, American tourists who want a taste of the Alps


What they’re drinking

$45 Swarovski bottles of black elderberry Rochelt schnapps

Where it’s at

298 Hanson Ranch Rd; almresi-vail.com


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