You don't have to be a skier to enjoy apres
Grouse House has locals and part-timers flocking
OTIS — If you've been reading Eagle sports writer Mike Walsh's "Powder Report" columns, you should know by now that "apres" is ski-world shorthand for what comes after a day of hitting the slopes. The term is most often associated with grabbing a beer and a bite following some mountain time.
Otis Ridge Ski Area's Grouse House restaurant is one of several county establishments that can give skiers their apres fix within shouting distance of the trails they've just sped down. With a well-stocked bar offering beer, wine and liquor; a menu filled with old reliables; and ample seating with slope views, the restaurant doesn't have any trouble attracting skiers and snowboarders to the ski area's base for lunch, dinner or drinks.
"This is definitely the hot spot after the mountain closes," said Eric VanOostveen, Otis Ridge's general manager.
Actually, that may be the case even well before the ski area's typical 9 p.m. closes during the winter season.
"3:15, the bar's usually packed," said Michele Turner, Grouse House's front-of-the-house manager.
The restaurant was considerably quieter when a reporter and photographer stopped by Wednesday night. Though Otis Ridge had been open for its free beginners day on Dec. 8 and the previous weekend, the season hadn't yet begun in earnest.
"Our real official kickoff is school vacation week, which is actually starting this Saturday," VanOostveen said Wednesday.
But Grouse House isn't married to ski season. Spurred by a 2017 renovation, the restaurant is a year-round dining hub that, in addition to locals, appeals to Otis' bevy of second-home owners.
"You get the big summer crowd that comes in, you know, late spring, early summer, and then they take off in the fall, and it gets quiet here," VanOostveen said. "As soon as the ice freezes and snow is on the ground, skiers and snowmobilers and ice fishers come back up."
Upon entering Grouse House, two ingredients for a high-quality apres spot — wood and warmth — are immediately apparent. The restaurant's renovation used wood milled exclusively in Great Barrington.
"Down to the bar stools," VanOostveen said.
A dining area to the left provides views of two converging slopes.
"Some people just come up, and they like to sit in front of the windows and have dinner and watch people ski by. They've probably never put a pair of ski boots on in their life," VanOostveen said.
To the right, a bar section can hold about 20 patrons. A beer list includes a Barrington Brewery option on draft along with the usual domestic and imported options, ranging from $3 to $5. Wines from California, Italy, France and Australia range from $6 to $10 per glass.
Before diving into any food, Turner encouraged this reporter to check out a corner with photographs documenting the ski area's history as well as a basement that hosts snow-making equipment and machinery. When David Judson first started building the Grouse House structure in the 1960s, he envisioned it as a space that could fit two compressors downstairs and visiting ski instructors upstairs, according to Otis Ridge's website. A restaurant called the Grouse House was added in between. How did it get that name? VanOostveen isn't 100 percent certain, but he relayed the story has been passed down over the years.
"There was a nest of grouse here when they were building it, and the owner refused to finish building until the grouse were out of their nest and flying," he said. "And I guess the people that were working on the building started calling it the Grouse House. It just kind of stuck."
The building is no longer an inn, but a compressor can still be seen — and felt — downstairs.
"When the compressors and water pumps start, the building experiences the associated vibrations and some noise," the ski area's website says.
Staff report that the tremors aren't disruptive; diners can still enjoy the restaurant's most popular dishes, which include mac 'n' cheese with pulled pork, barbecue chicken and ribs and the frequent duck specials, according to server Dianna Hofer. Buffalo wings and crispy polenta are common appetizer orders. Only served on weekends, lunch options are slimmer. During a busy season, the establishment doesn't want to keep patrons waiting.
"This time of year, we're looking for speed," said Michael Terranova, who has helmed the kitchen since Grouse House reopened in October 2017.
The restaurant invites its customers to slow down. For example, diners can watch the annual New Year's Eve torchlight parade that features members of Otis Ridge's camp through the dining room's windows. The ski area has long placed an emphasis on education and family-friendliness.
"We're kind of our own beast," VanOostveen said.
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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