What do you get when you mix snow, skiing and tequila? No, not a bizarre polar bear challenge; I’m talking about après-ski in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Breckenridge, affectionately nicknamed “Breck,” is nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains at 9,600 feet above sea level. Mining used to sustain the economy until it evolved to be one of the top ski and snowboard destinations in the United States. The landscape is breathtaking. Mountains are coated in snow and the evergreen trees dotted the distant peaks like Mother Nature tattooed the Rockies with varying gradients of green.
My first hint that après-ski was a part of Breckenridge culture was a chalkboard sign that read, “Après-Ski, 3pm-6pm.” It was in The Maggie, a restaurant at the base of Peak 9. The food is overpriced ($15 for a bowl of chili and a water), but the booze is cheap. While I was enjoying a Colorado Kolsch, I overheard the bartender tell another tourist, “Après-ski is just another word for happy hour.”
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Since I’m from New York, $5 for a beer at noon is happy hour. I was determined to discover the real après ski, not the convenient rendition packaged for tourists. A local who works at a realty kiosk suggested I head to Mi Casa for a genuine experience.
Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant and Cantina is on South Park Avenue in Breckenridge, a few steps from Main Street. When I meandered down the hallway, a patron’s dog greeted me before I reached the hostesses stand.
Tamika Smith, one of the restaurant’s managers, told me some of the unique things that attract people to Mi Casa over other bars in the area.
“This year we were nominated for a spot on the ten best après ski bars in the country,” said Tamika Smith.
USA Today tabulated the results, and while Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant and Cantina did not make the list, the bar is ranked among the Top 20 après-ski bars. Tamika Smith said that Mi Casa first opened 35 years ago and has become a staple in Breck. Why? Simply put, the tequila. Mi Casa only offers 100% blue agave tequila. The bar is stocked with 100 tequilas, the most in Summit County, Colorado.
I explored après-ski in Breck the day after the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl. Tamika Smith said that her restaurant was less busy than usual, but I couldn’t tell, as all of the seats in the bar area were occupied. Once one group sucked the juice out of their last lime, another sat down for the first round.
Peter Chase has been a bartender at Mi Casa for five seasons. He said that the quality of tequila offered keeps skiers coming back the next day without a hangover.
Chase broke it down in simple terms. Tequila is made from agave. If at least 51% of sugars in the tequila are from the agave fruit, it is considered pure agave tequila. If tequila is tagged with “gold,” you’re almost guaranteed a hangover because of additives like sugars and dyes that give it the faux-gold hue. Quality tequila is clear unless it is aged.
Peter Chase made me Mi Casa’s special margarita on the rocks with salt. It had 3 ingredients: 100% blue agave tequila, fresh squeezed limejuice and simple syrup.
“I’ll try a shot of Don Julio,” said the stranger next to me.
Chase obliged. He went on to mention that Mi Casa doesn’t push Patrón, although they do carry it because the ski bums ask for it. Patrón of course has a memorable marketing campaign, and the common school of thought is that it’s a good brand because it’s expensive.
In between shots, margaritas and glasses of sangria, the waitresses served heaping plates of Mexican food. The burrito was massive and served with a side of rice and beans. The enchiladas looked authentic with red, green and mole sauces. Mi Casa offers complementary chips and salsa during happy hour too.
“Mi Casa is a great place where you can try out a lot of drinks and food without breaking the bank,” Chase told me.
I felt cozy and warm after a couple of hours and a margarita or two. I slid off the barstool and thanked Peter and Tamika for their time. It was 15 degrees outside, but the margaritas made me forget that Mi Casa was nestled in the Rockies.
When the party continued throughout the night, I ended up at Rita’s for tacos and margaritas. Rita’s is like Mi Casa’s edgier and trendier younger brother. Hip-hop music played in the background and there is a flying pig and a giant bumblebee painted on the ceiling. Margaritas are served in a cactus glass and the bar is laced with grass skirts. Boxes of Patrón are everywhere. The margaritas were sour compared to Mi Casa’s, but the steak tacos were so good I overlooked that fact.
There is a vibrant Mexican food and drink scene in Breckenridge that I was not expecting. Other places like Gold Pan Saloon and the Breckenridge Brewery are worth trying if you have a week in Breck. So when you’re there talk to the locals, find the crepes, and enjoy the apres-ski lifestyle!