After nearly 30 years of diligent, ahem, research-along the spine of the Green Mountains, throughout the Whites and Adirondacks and well into the wilds of Maine-I've concluded that there's no such thing as the Perfect Ski Bar. I've seen lots of good ones. A few great ones. The East, in fact, has some of the best ones going. But if Perfection is out there, I've yet to find it.
Ski bars, on their face, are joints where like-minded people gather to yuk it up, hang out and, perchance, hook up. But in reality, they're stage sets that enable all of the above to happen-and, in the Perfect Ski Bar, to happen in a singular way. So here are a few attributes of the Perfect Ski Bar. Listen up, publicans: If you build it, they will come. Or I will, anyway.
Skiing, uniquely, mixes sociability and isolation. We're all completely on our own on our descents. Perhaps only distance runners (disappointing drinking buddies, in general) are more solitary in their sport. But we skiers love to party. So the Perfect Ski Bar always feels crowded, even when it's not. This facilitates braggadocio.
That feeling of crowdedness is an illusion. In the Perfect Ski Bar, you can actually move without getting jostled-a nice thing for those of us who'd rather consume our purchases than wear them. There are lots of cozy spaces in an otherwise large room, and there's always a place to set down a drink, if not your hiney. Bar placement and half-walls with counters make this happen.
Behind the bar and in strategic locations throughout, televisions enable patrons to keep tabs on the Bruins, Celts and Pats. There's an arcade, so bored kids have something to do besides knock stuff over, and a room with a fireplace, comfy furniture and nooks that afford the romantically inclined a bit of privacy. Car salesmen don't close deals on the main floor; neither should we.
Décor? It feels like it's been there forever. Too many pub owners think they can fake this by bolting sap buckets and other New Englandy junk to the walls. Ain't so. The ambience of the Perfect Ski Bar reflects place and clientele; in effect, it allows customers to sign their own work.
As for entertainment, well, maybe I'm getting ornery as I grow older, but I've heard enough folkies cranking out Neil Young covers, and I don't like yelling myself hoarse over "entertainers" who mistake volume for talent. The Perfect Ski Bar has musicians who can actually play-or a good background soundtrack that doesn't assault. Most important, the music is always just loud enough that you can listen or dance if you want to or talk if you don't. Nice, huh?
Ski towns are saturated with locals whose priorities are 1) skiing and 2) making money. Making you feel at home isn't always on the list. But Priority 2 is easier to achieve when we rubes feel welcome, so the Perfect Ski Bar hires only the best staff. If not genuinely glad to see us, they're good at faking it-even in April, when everyone else in town is tourist-burned beyond recognition. The bartenders have a sixth sense regarding refills. The waitresses are fun and flirtatious. There's a space next to the service bar where you're welcome to step up and order.
The signature drink is so yummy they have to mix it by the barrel. The kitchen cranks out munchies of good quality in short order. (Ballast, my brothers! Want me to buy another beer? Fetch me perfectly fried wings forthwith, and don't skimp on the hot sauce.)
That's a start. There's more-such as a parking lot that's never muddy, lighting that's just bright enough, a springtime deck for those rare, late-season New England afternoons when you can actually relax al fresco without becoming hypothermic. Oh, and bar tabs that don't kill your buzz. Call me a dreamer.
Still, the most important factor in the Perfect Ski Bar has nothing to do with the joint itself. It's all about the quality of the day just ending, and the folks you're with. To paraphrase Warren Miller, the Perfect Ski BBar may be the one you're sitting in right now.
Skip King is an ex-pro patroller, a former ski resort marketing executive and a genuinely cranky son-of-a-gun who lives in Maine.