The first time I walked into the Sitzmark, the attic-like bar in the upper level of Utah’s Alta Lodge, it was after one of those I-can’t-believe-this-is-real powder days. The windows inside the bar that overlook Mount Superior steamed with the moisture of a couple-dozen snow-drenched skiers getting off the hill.
The air smelled of cinnamon and cloves, thanks to the house-made hot cider piping from the bar. The fireplace crackled. I remember thinking, this is the coziest damn ski bar I’ve ever been to.
Rustic wooden benches were scattered around a tiny room with low-slung ceilings. The bar itself was inexplicably sunk into the floor like a pit. Skier Dan Withey was behind the bar pouring drinks.
Withey—who moved to Utah from Wisconsin in the ’90s in search of powder and never left—is the lucky bastard getting face shots in a lot of those classic photos from Alta photographer Lee Cohen.
The Alta Lodge was among the first hotels at the base of Alta—it dates back to 1940, two years after Alta Ski Area first opened. While the establishment has been updated over the years, the bar is housed in what was the hotel’s original building, so it has a distinct throwback feel to it, much like the rest of Alta.
It’s as if the knotty-pine paneling and black-and-white photos on the wall have stories they’re itching to tell.
The bar’s official name is the Sitzmark Club, but most people call it the Sitzmark, or the Sitz. Utah’s former liquor laws used to require that patrons pay a fee to become a member of a private club before they could enter a bar. It was a weird legality, but one that any skier visiting Utah over the course of 40 years may remember. The law was finally kicked in 2009.
“In most states, you join a club to stop drinking; here you had to join a club to start,” says Marcus Dippo, who worked at the lodge for decades and married into the Levitt family that has owned the Alta Lodge since 1959.
After that first visit to the Sitzmark, I didn’t make it back for many years. But I always remembered that feeling of walking up a couple of flights of creaky stairs in my ski boots and stumbling into this magical, cinnamon-scented drinking loft.
So, when I found myself at Alta again years later, I had to make my way back there. Withey was still behind the bar. The hot cider still permeated the room. It was just as cozy as I remember.
What you’re drinking: Order Withey’s signature party marg or a boomerang, hot cider dashed with whiskey and tequila.
You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to drink here. But you do have to be 21 to enter. (This year, due to COVID, the bar is only open to hotel guests.)
The bar opens at 4 p.m. and last call is usually around 10 p.m. Alta shuts down early, because, after all, it could be a powder day tomorrow.
Don’t miss the cheese platter, which rolls in at 5 p.m. It could be chips and guac or vegetables and hummus. Whatever. The point is it’s free and you can help yourself.