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Downtown Aspen's Most Inspiring Corner of the World: Step into Dark Horse Alley

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

I’m enthralled by Alice in Wonderland; the lessons, the morals, the colors and the utterly random way that Tim Burton spins a yarn. Face your fears, dream the impossible (at least six times before breakfast), travel by hat and be true to yourself, no matter the era or dress code. I’m not sure I could have handled it all in 3-D; too much stimulation already. But something about that rabbit hole, that portal to another world, reminds me of last summer.

I’d walked by this gap between the buildings countless times, most of the time totally unawares of the gravel and the slice of sunlight peeking out from one of Aspen’s rare, undeveloped patches of asphalt. This time, I saw a table, one of those lacy-looking wrought-iron numbers, with a full-blooming flower in a primary color, alone in all its glory and a vase of water. It was a dreamy little still-life, a time-out from the humdrum and a place to watch the summer day go by.

It led to a new world that I’d never noticed before because it had just that summer sprung up. Wendy Smith had opened a coffee and delectable lunch cart, called Dark Horse Alley, and the table beckoned you to come closer and step inside. It felt like a French sidewalk café, or one of those courtyard delights off the cobbled streets of New Orleans; one right turn and you’d entered a whole other realm where everything tasted a little better, at no extra cost.

Last Summer Best AlleyLast Summer's Best Alley
It was summertime and I couldn’t imagine that the new alley world would be quite as inviting in the winter, heat-lamps and cozy lattes aside. The rain came down, the snow fell and the alley returned to its oft-forgotten vacant space.

One day in January, I saw an elegantly decorated sandwich board on another sidewalk, a few blocks over. Wendy’s moved the cart into the atrium in the Historic Ute City Building. Oh happy day!

Dark Horse Alley is now found in one of Aspen’s only indoor malls, surrounded by a cacophony of stores that I can’t say I’ve frequented but now with a courtyard and a smattering of beautiful café tables, each with its own flower, with wireless internet and a skylight to let in the changing seasons and a secret table in the corner of the building, near the window, for the wistful to sit and type and watch the world go by.

It’s no longer a magical alley, a portal into a secret, more delicious world, but a bright, expanded space full of exceptionally affordable organic soups and homemade sweets, gourmet coffees and espresso and fine salads and sandwiches, named after Wendy’s fanciful musings: there’s the Wild Sherpa salad with apple, mint coriander and brie, the Saucy Tuna with sweet and spicy chutney, Dark Horse soup with an Indian spice theme and breakfast anytime, a bold, respectable and much-appreciated culinary gesture in Aspen. Son Danon makes his own brownies and colorful cupcakes beckon you back to the cart for one last treat of the day.

Discover Wendy’s World with Dark Horse Alley and the Aspen Sugar Company, in the Historic Ute City Building, Hyman and Galena. Cash only, please...there's no way Alice brought a credit card to Wonderland. 970-319-2068.