To borrow a phrase, Telluride (and I mean this in the best possible way) is a little drinking town with a big ski problem. I’ve lived there off and on since 2005, and recently returned for a visit for the first time in two years.
Telluride–a former mining town–has never had a shortage of places to imbibe, but getting a well-made cocktail for under ten bucks is another story. Fortunately, there are a few old standbys as well as some new blood in town that hit just the right mix of ambiance, quality, and price.
Bonus: With just one exception, they’re all frequented by locals, so you can escape the tourist scene and get a true taste of Telluride. Just don’t wear a spanking new cowboy hat or boots, heels, or a starched button-down. This town is strictly casual, year round.
And a word of warning: You’ll feel the effects of alcohol more at altitude (Telluride is at 8,725 feet). Go easy, drink tons of water, and remember that one drink has the cumulative effect of two at this height. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
1. La Marmotte
Located one block east of the gondola, unassumingly nestled against the base of the mountain, this adorable, cozy, convivial restaurant is a dying breed: the classic French Alpine restaurant. Actually, it’s the historic Ice House, one of the oldest buildings in town, but inside, it’s dark, romantic, and surprisingly lively.
For over 20 years, “The Marmot” has featured well-rendered French country classics such as Coq au Vin and French Onion Soup, along with more contemporary versions. The 3-course, $35 prix fixe is the best deal in town, but if it’s just a drink you’re looking for, you also can’t go wrong. Take a seat on a stool at the tiny front bar, and have the friendly bartender (no ski town attitude here) pour you a glass off the thoughtful wine list, or whip you up a cocktail, such as the house-infused beet martini (trust me).2. New Sheridan Bar/New Sheridan Hotel and Chop House Restaurant
A part of the famed New Sheridan hotel, this 1895 saloon is one of the oldest in the West, although the entire property underwent a major remodel a couple of years ago. Opt for cocktails, straight-up spirits, or beer at the dedicated bar (pool tables are in the back), which features its original mahogany paneling and filigree light fixtures. Happy Hour tends to attract visitors and locals (usually an older crowd) alike: it’s hard to pass up the wickedly strong five-dollar cocktail specials.
In the adjacent hotel lobby bar known as The Parlor, locals meet up for a glass or bottle of wine from one of the best lists in town (Wine Spectator has given it their Award of Excellence multiple times). Alternatively, grab a seat at the Chophouse’s beautiful long bar (my pick on where to eat/sit when I’ve got some extra cash), order some starters and a drink, and enjoy the good life side of Telluride.
The aforementioned tourist magnet, Allred’s is located at the top of the San Sophia gondola station, at 10,551 feet. Walking into the bar or adjacent dining room, both of which have giant windows, it’s easy to see why visitors (and locals celebrating special occasions or just a particularly gorgeous sunset) shell out the big bucks to dine here. The entire town lies spread out below you, and the view includes waterfalls, red cliffs, evergreen forest, and the last snow clinging to the peaks across the valley. Try a glass of sparkling wine, a special house cocktail such as the pear basil swizzle (Grey Goose Pear Vodka, basil, soda water, and lime, $11), or, if you’re visiting in winter, one of the many excellent hot toddies on offer.
Not everything in town is historic. This tiny space, tucked away on a side street in the residential “West End,” has been a pizza parlor, a Himalayan restaurant, and a longtime vacant space in the last five years. In December, it became a bar/Asian small bites spot, and reliably draws crowds for the creative cocktails and delicious, four-dollar steamed duck or pork buns (give the rest of the food a miss, ditto the silly and pretentious “jam drinks”). The decor is a schizophrenic mix of gorgeous Old West restoration with a hint of butt-ugly pop art, but super-fly bartender Oshane mixes up a mean house cocktail. He’s so gracious and charming, you won’t be able to resist coming back (the pork buns don’t hurt, either).
5. The Last Dollar Saloon (aka, “The Buck”)
PBR is King in Telluride, but you can also count on a reliably stiff drink at Telluride’s most classic bar, built in 1899: Don’t let your buzz distract you from details like the original stamped tin ceiling. TGIF is one of the best times to go if you want to mingle with locals (don’t expect a sober crowd) or see live music; The Buck is reliably packed weekend nights during the summer. My happy place is the corner table at the front, where the giant plate glass windows provide an aquarium view of Main Street.
5.5 O’Bannon’s Irish Pub (“OB’s”)
I can’t in good conscience write about drinking in Telluride without mentioning one of my favorite bars of all time, anywhere on the planet. Yes, it’s a hellhole, but if you really want to get down and dirty with the locals, no visit to Telluride is complete without a visit (if not a lost weekend) to OB’s. Plus, there’s a pool table and great juke. R.I.P., Harry (Force, the late owner).
[Photo credit: Laurel Miller]
See the New Sheridan Bar (those are actors, FYI) in this recent Coors ad.