“Freak Power in the Rockies” is how Hunter S. Thompson described his planned takeover of Aspen and Pitkin County, Colorado. There, in 1970, he decided to run for sheriff, and while his plan never panned out, the strange power of this Rocky Mountain town persisted, even as Aspen became increasingly expensive.
Today, a certain freak power remains, thanks to Aspen’s offbeat, longtime local residents, amplified by the energy from visiting international jet-setters. Surrounded by the majestic Elk Mountains, when walking a few short blocks within the downtown core, you’ll pass the poshest pot shop ever, a world-class art museum, and likely some celebs. There are escapes to be found, too, atop said museum, inside hotel lobbies, and always down staircases (skip the stilettos, ladies). Should you find yourself in one of the most iconic outdoor playgrounds in the world this season, here are the restaurants to provide all the freaky, fancy, and classically Aspen sustenance to keep you fueled for your own adventure.
Update June 2021: Despite its fame, Aspen is still a small ski town where the majority of locals rely on tourism. When the pandemic hit, it hit hard. But by the time the 2020/21 ski season kicked off last November, Aspen Snowmass bounced back thanks to stringent travel guidelines and operational protocols that kept visitors safe and lifts spinning. As the town heads into summer, Aspen is bracing itself for what’s expected to be the one of the busiest seasons ever. After reaching the milestone of green-level restrictions in May, restaurants are coming back at full capacity from a well-deserved, off-season break.
The following is an updated take on Aspen’s dining scene, highlighting the “see and be seen” hot spots and enduring staples — all of which should be applauded (and amply tipped) for surviving the devastating effects of the pandemic over the past year.
Note: The inclusion of restaurants offering dine-in service should not be taken as an endorsement for dining inside. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk to COVID-19 outdoors, but the level of risk is contingent on social distancing and other safety guidelines. Check with each restaurant for up-to-date information on dining offerings. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the city of Aspen website or official state resources.
Katie Shapiro is a freelance cannabis and travel journalist who lives life at its highest and writes about it from her home base in Aspen. She is a senior contributor for Forbes and High Country columnist for the Aspen Times, with other work appearing in the Denver Post, Modern Luxury, Curbed, Thrillist, and more.
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.