Aspen Daily News
The so-called basement to nowhere is now going somewhere.
Former Red Onion proprietor Brad Smith said on Wednesday that he has signed a lease with Cooper Street Development LLC for the vacant below-ground space at the 508 E. Cooper Avenue building that previously was the home of the bars Bad Billy’s and Cooper Street Pier, along with the restaurant Lucci’s.
The property was rehabilitated into a four-story penthouse by a development group that includes Andrew Hecht, son Niko and others following the closure of Bad Billy’s in March 2011. Cooper Street Pier, revered by many in the community as a local dive-bar institution, closed in November 2008.
Smith said he signed a lease with Andrew Hecht for the nearly 1,600-square-foot basement, which includes a kitchen. However, the new leaseholders will be responsible for its build-out into a restaurant. A city of Aspen deed-restriction, part of a legal compromise reached between the city and the building owners prior to the building project, requires that the space be used only for a bar or restaurant, with prices deemed as affordable, according to standards at the time. The compromise came about after the owners sued the city following the Aspen City Council's rejection of a proposal to subdivide the building into condos.
Some stipulations that were required by the city relating to the restaurant's operating hours and pricing have since been altered, making the venture more feasible to the new leaseholders. But Smith said Wednesday the restaurant will be affordable for locals by current Aspen standards.
The ground floor of the building houses the retailer Brunello Cucinelli and the upper floors of the building sport a private penthouse. Since its redevelopment a decade ago, the basement space has gone unused.
Details of the lease agreement were not disclosed, but Smith said he has a multiyear lease that would keep his new restaurant there until 2033. He hopes to open by next summer, in time for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. But the timing may depend on how quickly he can obtain a building permit from the city.
Smith said his new establishment, which has yet to be named, will be geared to locals. It’ll have a ski-town theme, bar-and-grill style food, and numerous televisions offering sporting events with emphasis on football, baseball and hockey. His partner in the project is Jordan White, former bar manager of the Red Onion, which closed in December 2020 amid the pandemic. The Cooper pedestrian mall's historic Red Onion building, which is being redeveloped, is owned by developer Mark Hunt, who has chosen Aspen restaurateurs Craig and Samantha Cordts-Pearce as its new leaseholders.
Smith and White will own and manage the restaurant at 508 E. Cooper.
“Jordan and I are both very excited to get something opened back up that’s very driven to serve the local community here, which doesn’t seem to have been addressed very well in the last few years,” Smith said, alluding to the large number of high-end restaurants that have opened recently.
“We’re going to welcome everybody in. It is definitely going to be locally serving. It’s for the lift operators and ski patrollers, restaurant and hotel workers, everybody. We want everybody who gets off work, those who feel like they don’t have a spot to go right now. We’re creating a spot for them to come to.”
Smith said he would hold some type of contest in which community members can submit their choices for the restaurant’s name. He said it would be open seven days per week, and the hours will range roughly from 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. until closing time, which will depend on how much business is occurring late in the evening. As the space is windowless, he doesn’t expect it would be popular during lunchtime.
Workforce issues aren’t a great concern as many of his former Red Onion employees have expressed an interest in returning to his employ, Smith said. He will need a staff of about 12 to 15 workers. There will be 15 seats at the bar and around 30 seats in the dining area utilizing eight four-top tables which can be converted into two-tops and six-tops, he said.
“I’m fortunate in that I had pretty much the same staff for almost my entire 10 years at the Red Onion,” Smith added.
By: Andre Salvail I Aspen Daily News I November 25, 2022