It had been an unseasonably dry and warm winter in the Valley in 1936, and the anticipation of a day spent enjoying “winter sports under a summer sun,” as famed East Coast PR man Steve Hannagan had spun it, seemed like a pipedream to the hundreds of revelers gathered at the Sun Valley Lodge. The guests became restless and quickly turned to their favorite pastime, drinking. Diversions and celebrations were planned to distract the guests, and the Lodge footed the bill until the snow fell, but the partying got a bit out of hand. It is rumored a fist fight broke out among the impeccably dressed guests, and while the details are fuzzy and unsubstantiated, the incident officially cemented Sun Valley’s reputation as a fun-loving “party town” at the same time that it became known as America’s first destination ski resort.
It has been nearly 90 years since that gala celebration, but the promise of “winter sports under a summer sun” has remained. To go back to the O.G., where it all began, head to the Duchin Lounge—referred to by locals as the “Duchin Room” or “Wrinkle Room.” Located in the lobby of the Sun Valley Lodge, the Duchin Lounge hasn’t changed much since Ernest Hemingway took a break from writing For Whom the Bell Tolls and descended the steps from room 206 to grab a cocktail. Although the design has been revamped several times since Marjorie Duchin (for whom it is named) first decorated it in the 1920s, much of the dark-wood trim and old glamour remain. Here you can grab a “Hot Buttered Rum” made with fresh batter from the onsite bakery. Don’t miss the “Hemingway Special Daiquiri,” a nod to the Lodge’s once famous guest and, later, Sun Valley resident.
Crafted after one of Hemingway’s favorite drinks from his time in Cuba, the “Hemingway Special Daiquiri” is made with fresh lime and grapefruit juices and Heering Cherry Liqueur (a craft cherry liqueur from Copenhagen). Both sweet and refreshingly tart, the drink transports revelers to sunny days and balmy nights, or, as Hemingway describes it best in a passage from Islands in the Stream, “Hudson was drinking another frozen daiquiri and when he raised the frost-rimmed glass, he looked at the clear part below the frappéed top, and it reminded him of the sea.”
Another popular watering hole on Main Street in Ketchum, The Sawtooth Club, was the local hangout of legendary actor and motorcycle and race car enthusiast, Steve McQueen. One of the original ski town bars and restaurants, The Sawtooth Club, formerly known as “The Yacht Club,” has been serving cocktails to locals and tourists since the 1930s when it first opened. McQueen, who was nicknamed the “King of Cool,” was an icon of 1960s and 1970s counterculture for his antihero persona and daredevil personality. He did many of his own stunts and famously won the 12 Hours of Sebring race in 1970 in the three-litre class, narrowly missing the overall title by about 21 seconds, losing to Mario Andretti and his team who were driving a five-litre Ferrari. McQueen was known to hop behind the bar at The Sawtooth Club now and then to pour drinks and tell stories. His reported drink of choice was a can of Old Milwaukee, but The Sawtooth Club has a wide selection of signature cocktails made with craft regional liquors to choose from like the “Idaho Lemonade,” made with Idaho Blue-Ice huckleberry vodka, Sprite and lemonade, or the “Western Old Fashioned,” which is a mixture of small-batch Yellowstone Select Bourbon Whiskey, bitters, fresh orange, and a splash of Gran Marnier with a cinnamon-sugar rim.
Bar hopping for a winter après-ski adventure would not be complete without visiting “The Christy” on Sun Valley Road—officially named Michel’s Christiania. Here, former U.S. Women’s Ski Team coach and Frenchman Michel Rudigoz has created The Olympic Bar, the quintessential ski town bar and lounge, complete with candid photos of Olympic medalists Picabo Street and Christin Cooper, signed skis from Italy’s Alberto Tomba and memorabilia from a veritable who’s who of alpine racing elite.
Signature drinks at The Christy are the “French 75,” a light and lively traditional cocktail of gin (or vodka) lemon juice, simple syrup, and champagne—basically, a champagne martini, that dates to World War I, by barman Harry MacElhone at the New York Bar in Paris (later Harry’s New York Bar). The combination was said to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm field gun.
“The really cool thing about the bar,” recalled former bar manager, Jan Hegewald, “is that guys like Clint Eastwood will sit down and have a drink and share stories like everybody else, and it’s not a big deal.” There, you might even see Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Miller or Justin Timberlake.
In a nod to one of Sun Valley’s more famous movie stars, The Warfield Distillery and Brewery features a drink called “The River of No Return,” after the 1954 film starring Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum. Monroe, who graced the Winter 2015 cover of Sun Valley Magazine, clad in an Idaho potato sack and dripping in diamonds, filmed on location in Canada and the Salmon River in Idaho, where the story actually takes place. Just five years later, she returned to film Bus Stop just north of town at the site of the former North Fork Store as one of the first films under Hollywood’s first female film companies, MMP (Marilyn Monroe Productions). She was a woman ahead of her time, although that part of her story—her complete reversal of the Hollywood power structure and inspiration for stars like Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra, who followed her lead and created their own production companies—is not as well known. You can sip the drink “River of No Return” five miles from where Marilyn Monroe filmed her second Idaho movie and ponder what might have happened if she hadn’t died in 1962 at the height of her fame.
Just remember that if you DO spot a celebrity enjoying a cocktail on the barstool next to you, follow the local’s creed and treat them like anybody else. Don’t gawk or gape, and for heaven’s sake just enjoy the drinks of the stars and don’t ask for an autograph or a selfie.