Matterhorn Ski Bar
The iconic Sunday River gathering spot continues its popular run serving wood-fired pizza, local beer, and après-ski vibes
If I were asked to describe a quintessential American ski bar, my mind would immediately jump to the Matterhorn in Newry. Just off the Sunday River access road, the chocolate brown, chalet-like building with jaunty red trim stands out against a backdrop of snowy peaks lit by late-afternoon sun on this April day. Inside, a three-dimensional collage of ski gear, trail signs, and posters is layered on almost every surface except the floor—even the bar top is made of skis laminated together. A large peace sign wrapped with multicolored lights illuminates an American flag created with red, white, and blue skis. Above the busy bartenders’ heads, hundreds of mug-club steins are strung on wires lit with more lights, and over it all, an enormous moose head keeps a glass eye on the crowd. This late in the season, it’s a smaller group than on a mid-winter Saturday, when après-ski slides right into evening and a live band rocks the house. “The kitchen stays open until people stop ordering, and the restaurant and bar stay open until people leave or it’s 1 a.m., whichever comes first,” says owner Matt Wolf.
I’m talking with Wolf and general manager Jamie Patneaude on the second floor, where Swiss flags, maps, and other memorabilia offer clues to how the ski bar got its name. In the late 1980s, founding owner Roger Beaudoin was on a skiing trip to Zermatt, Switzerland, when he discovered the North Wall Bar, a laid-back watering hole serving pizza and beer. In 1995 he and his wife, Patrice Cappelletti, opened the original Matterhorn Ski Bar in downtown Bethel, named in honor of Zermatt’s famous peak, which Roger later summited twice. Three years later, they bought a plot of land on the Sunday River access road and built a new restaurant, calling the main floor Great Grizzly Steakhouse, and the upstairs Matterhorn Ski Bar—eventually, the entire place became the Matterhorn.
Next to the driveway, a carved wooden bear holding a climbing axe and hoisting a stein is a remnant of the restaurant’s previous name. “A lot of people still call it the Griz,” says Wolf, who bought the restaurant from Beaudoin in 2014 after managing the bar for two years. Wolf spends his summers running two restaurants he co-owns in Old Orchard Beach—Myst and Surf 6—and didn’t see the need to change much at the Matterhorn. “You see people take over a place, and they really feel a need to put their own spin on it,” Wolf says. “It was really important to me not to do that.” Keeping things relatively constant extends to the staff. “We have a waitress who has been here for 19 years,” says Patneaude, himself in his 13th season.
Kitchen manager Tina Hayes is a 14-year veteran whom Wolf credits with raising the bar for the Matterhorn’s menu of hearty comfort food. “Every year it gets better and better,” he says. Buffalo mac-and-cheese is one of his favorites—bow-tie pasta and chunks of chicken in a spicy, rich cream sauce topped with a half-pound of crumbled, crisp bacon and buttery crumbs. “It’s like crack,” says Wolf, and I have to agree: this is a dish I would probably never order, but, seated at one end of the bar, I can’t stop digging my fork into the brimming bowl. Prince Edward Island mussels in a garlicky white wine broth with capers and tomatoes is another popular dish—deservedly so—and ditto for the homey chicken potpie, which is baked in the restaurant’s centrally located wood-fired brick oven.
Pizzas baked in the same oven are the foundation of the Matterhorn Ski Bar’s menu, and choice seats at a counter facing the oven offer diners a view of the action. The signature pizzas are all named for locations in the Swiss Alps. The Zermatt features chicken, spinach, feta, pesto, and a three-cheese blend—a flavorful combination complemented by the thin, nicely charred crust. The wood-fired oven also turns out addictive garlic knots, ideal for dipping into the mussel broth or munching on with a beer. The Matterhorn has 19 taps, including one pouring Matterhorn Ski Bar Beer, a crisp, refreshing lager brewed by Geary’s that goes well with almost anything on the menu.
Adventurous drinkers, like the snowboarder in a Ninja Turtle costume playing darts with a boisterous group near the bar, can team up to slug down a Glacier Bowl—a boozy, 60-ounce libation featuring various fruity flavors and neon hues. The Shock Wave combines vodka, blue curaçao, pineapple, and Sprite for a drink that’s the color of antifreeze. There are several bendy straws in the bowl-shaped glass, so I hope the turtle is sharing—as the menu reads: “It glows and so will you.”
In addition to the robust bar scene, the Matterhorn Ski Bar also appeals to families with cozy booths in the dining room and arcade games in a room off to the side. The vibe is warm and friendly as a crowd of regulars begins to pour in from the slopes, stripping off extra layers of ski clothing and cheerfully giving their mug- club numbers to Wolf, who banters with customers and staff as he pours beers behind the bar. “I’ve been in the restaurant business for almost 30 years, and I’ve never worked in a place where everyone’s great,” Wolf says. “The people here, they’re never grumpy; they’re just happy.” At the corner of the bar, a chatty trio digs in to a mountain of nachos, laughing as they discuss the highlights of the ski season. “People become friends from coming here,” says Patneaude. As if to prove his and Wolf’s points, the group pushes their tray of nachos in my direction: “You have to taste these—they’re so good,” one of them says. We raise our glasses in a toast to next season, when the Matterhorn Ski Bar will work its well-honed brand of mountainside magic once again.