Snowbird's Aerie Lounge was designed in the 1980s and, well, it looked pretty much like that weird little decade. The elongated restaurant/bar was dark, strangely configured and it strangely reminded me of the hotel bar in the film Lost in Translation.
But designer Louis Ulrich, who designed the original bar/restuarant to match the tastes of the time, got a chance to bring the space into the 21st century and the new Aerie now lives up to the its need to be Snowbird's premiere dining and gathering space.
Ulrich (and his firm luna) is popularly known for the clever design of Vinto restaurant. And he brought in some touches from that well-received project to his Aerie update. For example, Ulrich used the blonde wood that wraps Vinto's booths to lighten and give warmth to Aerie. But the comparisons don't go much further. This is a rooftop lounge at the base of one of Utah's most spectacular mountains, after all. By day the views of the slopes and down Little Cottonwood Canyon steal the show; by night Ulrich brings up the lights and uses those same panoramic windows to reflect light back inside to emphasize the social atmosphere within the bar and restaurant.
"When we first designed the Aerie the emphasis was on the view, everything was designed to look out," Ulrich says. "But at night there is nothing but darkness out there. We're in the mountains after all. So we want the windows to reflect back in and turn attention to your friends and family gathered around you."
The bar side is full of cozy couches for those that want to lounge. This area is separated from the actual bar counter by a smaller rail bar for those who like to stand and mingle. (One note: I would lose the intrusive piano player or, at least, turn his PA down.)
In the restaurant side a variety of table options allow for many dining options. There are tables against the windows and on the back wall, a selection of secluded tables for wooing couples and also larger-sized booths, with sadly, televisions in each. These so-called "Football Booths" are popular with families, according to restaurant managers, and thankfully the inset televisions can be covered with curtains for those of us who lament the incursion of flat screens into every public space in the nation.
The new Aerie is a vast improvement on the awkward dark, space it used to be. Ulrich's emphasis on warmth and, as he says, "social density" are clearly realized throughout. Bottom line, the Aerie is now one of Utah's coolest spots for a drink, dinner, special event or wedding reception.