Cloud 9

The wild scene that has evolved at Aspen Highlands’ Cloud Nine restaurant, left, has put Aspen Skiing Co. in the position of having to restrict access to minors.

The 2 p.m. seating at the Cloud Nine restaurant on Aspen Highlands — which has gained a reputation for patrons spraying champagne and dancing on chairs — will be for those who are 21 and older only, beginning this winter season.

The party scene has evolved over the long term and taken on a life of its own at the mid-mountain alpine bistro, which is otherwise known for European-inspired fine dining. According to Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle, you can still get the traditional Cloud Nine experience, open to any age, at the noon seating.

The decision to go with a no-minors policy for the daily 2 p.m. seating “is the best thing to do for the guest experience and our staff,” Hanle said.

“We’ll spend less time trying to enforce liquor laws and more time trying to take care of our guests,” he said. “With the nature of the experience and the way it’s evolved, it is very difficult to do both those things at the same time.”

Staff at the restaurant with indoor, by-reservation-only seating for about 120 were having to spend too much time preventing minors from acquiring alcohol, typically by having it passed to them from someone who is of age in the free-flowing environment. That takes time away from delivering quality hospitality, Hanle said.

It was also extraordinarily difficult — more so than at a typical sit-down restaurant where patrons are more easily observed. At the Cloud Nine later seating, after the meals are done, the music is turned up and the dancing begins in the tight space, with the party spilling out onto the patio.

“It’s a bit of a wild scene,” Hanle said. “Because of that fluid movement, with people dancing around, it is difficult to enforce liquor laws in that atmosphere.”

Cloud Nine opens when Highlands opens on Dec. 7. Reservations may be made 30 days in advance and staff has been alerting callers to the new policy. Employees working at the entrance will check IDs of anyone who appears to be underage when guests arrive for the 2 p.m. seating

The scene at Cloud Nine has “slowly evolved” over the years, Hanle said. It remains known for shareable meals such as fondue, raclette and seafood platters that cover most tables at either the noon or the 2 p.m. seating. But somewhere along the way — the timing is difficult to pinpoint, Hanle said — it developed into a “European-style après ski party” where some guests will spend over $100 on a bottle of champagne simply to shake it up and spray it over the crowd. Even if you’re not getting soaked in bubbly, the place can take on the vibe of a nightclub in the middle of the afternoon.

Hanle surmised that “one time it randomly happened on a Friday, then on a Friday and a Saturday, and then it started spreading as more and more people wanted to be part of it, and they had to move to other days because the weekends are full.”

For those underage, it’s probably “not an appropriate place to be,” Hanle said. “They can’t go into bars.”

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.