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March Madness Hoops Hangouts: The Best Sports Bars in Aspen

Brandon Wenerd's picture

It doesn’t take much to picture the scene in office buildings around the country: talk of the latest basketball gossip over the water cooler while eager middle management overlords distribute Xeroxed brackets. The intern or mailroom clerks organizing company-wide betting pools. Alumni of a higher education institution skilled enough to enter the tournament, proudly decking cheesy mascot ties on game day, anxiously discussing the possibility of an upset over a three or four seed. Relentless hypothesizing over the Vegas odds of all 65 teams in The Big Dance during coffee hours and incessant debate over who can make it to the Sweet 16, Elite 8, and Final Four.

While the Dance gets ready to rumba and chachacha it’s way to an unpredictable basketball ballet, March Madness always means degree of nervous questioning:

“What are the chances of a Big 10 team beating an ACC team?”

“How far can the Tarheels go?”

“Is Louisville really that good?”

“Who can beat Pittsburgh?”

“Will Texas A&M shut down Connecticut in the second round?”

“Where in Aspen can I actually go to watch a freakin’ game!”

March is an exciting time for the sports junkie, with a degree of palpable uncertainty looming. But Aspen is not like the rest of the world. This makes it very easy to drift toward basketball apathy, particularly considering CU Boulder’s exclusion from The Dance. Yes - Aspen is a wet dream for powder sluts, culture vultures, real estate developers, wine snobs, plastic surgeons, and trophy wives. But what about an old fashioned sports fan?

In some ways, the frenzied fan hysteria of professional sports is foreign and deeply marginalized in the Aspen area. No, Winter X Games – you don’t count. You’re only allowed to hog the spotlight one week a year. Besides, the fundamentals of your existence are relatively transparent: a cellophane and cheap marketing ploy for ESPN to keep ratings up while killing time between the NFL conference championships and the Super Bowl.

Unlike mid-sized cities, exurbs, and college towns, there really are no true sports bars in Aspen, so if you want to sip a beer during a Sunday double header in the camaraderie of fellow fans, you may be out of luck. Thus, as ski season winds down and basketball season heats up, Aspen-based college hoops freaks better choose a watering hole wisely. Here’s a brief guide for some of the best public spaces in Aspen to imbibe a libation in celebration or bracket-busting sorrow of basketball prowess (or lack thereof):

Bad Billy’s
508 E. Cooper Ave.

Formerly known as the disorderly and infamous “Cooper Street Pier,” Bad Billy’s is the closest thing Aspen has to a formidable sports bar. Flat screens are situated around the downstairs bar and there are plenty of tables to spread out. It has been said before that Bad Billy’s is the closest thing Aspen has to a true dive bar, despite being run by the owners of Kenichi, a popular Pan-Asian restaurant on East Hopkins Avenue. Thus, Bad Billy’s boasts some mighty tasty pub grub, like deep fried pickles.

Zane’s Tavern
308 S. Hunter Street
Cheap pitchers and Guinness are on tap in this basement hangout. Zane’s emanates an authentic Irish pub vibe and tends to be packed with off-duty Ski Co. employees. There is a big television and bar stools to crowd around for some true hoop action. The burgers are cheap and delicious.

Bentley’s at the Wheeler
328 E. Hyman Avenue

Boasting a handsome collection of beers on tap and a great wood-and-brass bar, Bently’s is a favorite watering hole for many, particularly on the weekends. Comfort foods like burgers, sandwiches, and fries are available. The vibe is friendly, homespun, and unpretentious. There are sure to be a few locals swinging by with their eyes glued to the scores.

Little Annie’s Eating House
517 E Hyman Avenue
The bar is a great place to watch a game, but it is usually packed with tourists and locals. Nonetheless, the 3-dollar shot-and-a-beer deal can go a long way, particularly to sop up the defeat of having your bracket’s Final Four eliminated prematurely in the tournament.

Eric’s Bar
315 E. Hyman Avenue
Eric’s is a little bit of everything: bar, lounge, pool hall, and cigar bar. That said, it is a red-hot spot, particularly for the twenty-something crowd. There is plenty of room to rack up a game of 9-ball and grab a cheap pitcher while taking in a game.

Liquid Sky
73 Wood Rd.
Snowmass Village
Yes, the music will be obnoxiously loud and the Vegas-style flames and flashing lights will be distracting, but this is probably one of the only sports-friendly spaces in the area where you can watch basketball on multiple flat-screen TVs outside, right next to the mountain by a toasty fire. In a way, Liquid Sky feels like Jay-Z’s famed 40/40 Club, next to the snow. It is also the only sports bar on the list where you can get bottle service, if that is your thing.

Woody Creek Tavern
02 Woody Creek Plaza
(970) 923-4585

Out in Woody Creek, a 15-minute drive north of downtown Aspen, the quirky and eccentric Woody Creek Tavern is shrouded in local sports lore. Christmas lights and quirky signs mean you can’t miss it. The margaritas, bottled beer, and Fly Dog are on tap. The Tavern was host to many a raucous evenings with great American author and one-time sports journalist, the late Hunter S. Thompson. Even though there is only one TV, locals Wood Creatures are sure to be gathered at the bar in ritualistic sports kinship. Betting play-by-play with locals for rounds of drinks is common practice here, so come with a wad of cash (and don’t be surprised if you loose it).