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Late one night in September, Garton’s Bar & Grill in Vail, Colorado, hosted its last band and — after the staff cleaned up the empties, mopped up the spilled drinks, and turned off the ice machines — shut its doors for good.
The closing of Garton’s, with its bouncing dance floor and eclectic calendar of live music, would be just another footnote in ski-resort history if it didn’t signify a chilling trend. Across Colorado, some of the best ski-town music venues are closing down, victims of a shrinking demand for the kind of revved-up nightlife that once capped the Colorado resort experience. In Steamboat, the Inferno, once the late-night mecca of Gondola Square, is closing shop. In Breckenridge, Johsha’s succumbed to bulldozers earlier this year despite (or perhaps because of) its prime real estate.
The closure of such honest-to-God music venues, each of which used to attract nationally known acts like Ween, Government Mule, Widespread Panic, and Toots and the Maytals, is a reflection of changing times. The ski-town locals who could once afford to work, live, and party in town are moving to less expensive areas away from ski-town centers — and taking their beer money with them. “It’s gotten so expensive to live in ski towns, we’ve lost the audience for good live music,” says Vail musician Brad Swart. “And you can bet the second-home owners aren’t going to support places like Garton’s.”
Still, locals are finding ways to open new clubs that can survive ski towns’ turbulent economies. In Steamboat, one recent addition is the In-Season Cafe, a popular breakfast joint that morphs into a steamy jazz club — the Blue Cat Cafe — at night. But don’t expect to see a lot of marquee acts playing the Blue Cat any time soon. It’s a good venue, but it’s not big enough to cure what’s ailing Colorado’s nightlife.