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Crisfield crab cakes with caper red-pepper rémoulade; photography by Sara Hanna
Sneak Peakby Kelsey Bjelland | Jezebel magazine | January 29, 2013
One step into Aspen Bartini, and the smell gets me. I’m instantly transported to my favorite Montana ski lodge, with a cozy, blazing hearth full of cedarwood. Breathing it in, I remember that, yes, I am (surprisingly) in the middle of Buckhead.
A tall fireplace covered in candles beckons; soft red track lighting sets the mood; antler fixtures adorn the walls. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, and makes me want to pull up a seat at the bar—next to the white baby grand piano—and stay awhile.
Owners Troy Legg and John Williams have transformed the former East Paces Tavern space into one reminiscent of a luxe mountain cabin. (This is the duo’s first venture into restaurants—though they’ve been longtime biz partners in Roswell’s USA Pool Management.) But for how the newly opened spot sends me West, the real inspiration for the concept was much… simpler. “We were talking about opening a restaurant, and all of a sudden, we just said, ‘What about Aspen?’” explains Legg. “It’s just a line from a really stupid movie [Dumb & Dumber], but watch it enough times, and you find humor in it.” That humor has indeed been manifested in Aspen Bartini—but just enough to make it charming, never corny. “Either people love it or hate it, and I’m OK with both,” says Legg, laughing. “It’s just about seeing the lighter side of things.”
Speaking of light, the bar keeps it that way—it’s a great place to kick back and relax. The fixture itself is homegrown—Legg and Williams sourced the whole black-walnut bar, which is incredibly made of just one tree, from Blue Ridge, Ga. Behind it, girls clad in black-lace bustiers offer up signature concoctions, like Kiss My Aspen (Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Cointreau, POMO and grapefruit juices, topped with rock candy) and the Evergreen Julep (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps and fresh mint).
Though the sips are creative, they certainly don’t overshadow the bites—mostly small plates, artfully created by Executive Chef Tony Sharpe (previously of Café 458 and Cherokee Town and Country Club). I start things off with the classic Snowmass caprese, which is fancily plated and satisfies. Up next, Caesar salad is presented with a lacy sculpture made of Parmesan, and the BLT salmon salad, with notes of hickory bacon and soft-yet-crunchy challah croutons, is almost too pretty to eat. All three actually make me glad for my choice to order salad (a decision that usually leaves me regretful at the first sight of anything else covered in cheese). After samples of crab cakes, calamari and lamb lollipops, I’m too full to take down much else, but still manage to find room for dessert (of course). Sharpe recommends the Black Diamond brownie—aptly named for those steep, powdery runs in the real Aspen. Baked in-house, the chocolate is not too sweet; the toasted marshmallow reminds me of a campfire s’more; and the Grand Marnier sauce adds a new dimension, making me slow down to savor every bite.
By now, as day ages into night, Aspen is filling up with a second dinner crowd, but I notice that the first is also still here. Luckily, that’s just what Legg was hoping for. “We wanted this to be a restaurant first, but give people a reason to stay.” Case in point? A disco ball and a mirrored-wall dance floor where you can catch live music on weekends—yet, somehow, the only cheesiness in the entire space is neatly framed on a beam at the bar, in the form of black-and-white photos of D&D’s Lloyd and Harry.
So, next Friday night, when you’re looking for a place to hang, a place where the beer flows like wine and where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano, you know just the spot. I’m talking about a little place called Aspen…