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Michael Conniff

Michael Conniff

Posted: January 12, 2011 11:56 AM

Hizzoner is not quite off his rocker, but in his new guise as restaurant critic former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown left our fair city of Aspen fairly reeling with his hissy off-the-cufflinks remarks about our weather, our food--and what he sees as our racism.

"I spent the New Year's weekend in Aspen, Colo," he said in a notes column on SFGate.com. "Big mistake. There's nothing to do there unless you're an Eskimo. And once you're there, well, they know they've got you. There ain't no Motel 6's or Embassy Suites in Aspen. Hotel rooms are in the $2,000-a-night neighborhood, and you can't get out of a restaurant for less than $200 a person. I really knew I was in the wrong world when I walked into a restaurant called the Ajax Tavern for lunch. There were only two other parties in the place. They sat me back by the kitchen, and when the food came it was colder than my water glass. I don't think it's a stretch to say discrimination is still very much alive in the snowy white hills of Aspen."

To paraphrase: Willie Brown went to Aspen and it was cold. The food was cold and expensive. And he was discriminated against because he's black.

Before we knock the Mayor upside the head let's stipulate that it is cold in Aspen and New Year's Day was the coldest day one in recorded history. Let's stipulate further that restaurants in the downtown core often require a downpayment upon entry. No argument there or there.

But is Aspen racist?

I want to forgive the Mayor for being a dope and coming here on the worst weekend of the year. But I can't forgive him for mistaking Aspen's historically crappy service for discrimination based on the color of his skin.

I too have been to the Ajax Tavern, at the foot of Aspen Mountain, and have never had a problem with service. But I also know from painful and repeated experience that calling good service in Aspen hit or miss would be to miss the mark. Queen Noor made beds here as a maid. Howard Dean washed dishes at the foot of Ajax. Anyone in Aspen longer than a weekend will tell you the ski-bum, powder-day mentality makes it next to impossible to maintain good service year-round.

I remember interviewing a new general manager at the St. Regis Aspen some years back. His mission: to elevate the hotel to 5-star status. It never happened, despite the fact that the hotel is fine and fancy. The reality: you just can't get good help here, and if you do the closing of the lifts is your biggest challenge.

Racism? I've neither seen nor heard of it here, even if one of the primary reasons is the dearth of blacks in the Roaring Fork Valley. Of course it's there, but for an elegant man like Willie Brown to bewail his fate in an expensive restaurant in a resort town based on color is beyond ridiculous.

"You can also imagine what it's like to dine in Iceland on the river," the Mayor wrote further of his adventure at Ajax Tavern. "My tomato soup was not supposed to be vichyssoise but the altitude and the minus 18 degree temperature made it seem as if I'd ask for it on the rocks. The chicken paillard -- or what was ostensibly chicken paillard -- was just as challenging from a heat-finding standpoint."

Willie Brown's food was as cold and expensive as Aspen itself, but he missed the real lesson in Aspen. Bad service knows no race, color, or creed.

 

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