Edible Traditions: The Art of Après
“Après” has become a verb in Aspen, but it took some time to earn that status. The word is French for “after,” and the Europeans certainly perfected the art of eating, drinking and merrymaking following a day of skiing. It’s believed that following World War II, American soldiers and tourists in Europe brought the tradition back to the United States, where it coincided with the advent of our ski industry.
In Aspen, après-ski became popular in the early 1960s, according to newspaper articles. The Hotel Jerome, a longstanding watering hole in Aspen’s history, served as party headquarters. There, a “locals’ table” was situated just inside the J-Bar’s front door. Patrons could be found playing “TEGWAR,” or “The Exciting Game Without Any Rules,” recalls longtime local Jere Rood.
“It was all ‘make it up as you play,’” he says. The game bewildered incoming guests and lured them into buying a round of drinks. “Someone would move a salt shaker on top of a napkin and say ‘Your move!’ The next person might stand and walk around his chair, or move his beer stein to the right and say, ‘Raise!’ … People would begin to watch our antics and see if they could figure out the game ... we would look serious and ask if they wanted to join. They only had to pay for a round of drinks to become a player.”
Après wasn’t limited to the J-Bar. Many of the establishments in town hosted live music, drink specials and jovial skiers following a day on the slopes. The historic Red Onion was notorious for its full bar, and when there was enough snow people could ski right to its door. At Highlands, revelers gathered at the Christian Endeavor, and in Snowmass they united at the Timbermill, where Commander Cody used to play music and skiers competed at the video game “Pong.”
Aspen’s after-ski style is still strong. Every day during the winter season, skiers and snowboarders enthusiastically transition from schussing to sipping. At Snowmass, they ski right up to Venga Venga or into Base Village, which often has live music and entertainment. The Highlands Alehouse is known for its draft beer and delicious pizza, while Buttermilk has its own après scene at the newly renovated Inn at Aspen.
But just like in years past, nothing quite rivals après-ski in Aspen, where people bounce from The Little Nell’s Ajax Tavern to Sky Hotel’s 39 Degrees, reveling after their stellar ski day.
Edible Traditions is produced by the Aspen Historical Society. For access to the full online archives, including more than 10,000 historic images, visit AspenHistory.org or call 970.925.3721.