red onion

The Red Onion building in December last year, when ownership announced at least a temporary closure because of COVID-19 restrictions. According to the city’s summer activation team, the historic haunt will remain shuttered this summer. 

The Aspen City Council discussed ways to keep the downtown commercial core vibrant amidst unknown COVID-19 restrictions and news of a changing downtown core this summer during a worksession Tuesday evening.

According to Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking and downtown services, news has already been received that Aspen’s vibrant feel will be lacking on the Cooper Avenue stretch of the iconic pedestrian mall. The city’s oldest establishment, the Red Onion, has indicated it will not reopen come this summer, Osur said, but he noted that the Hyman Avenue stretch of the pedestrian mall will have an abundance of outdoor dining opportunities.

“It appears that the Red Onion will not open, so we will have no restaurants on the Cooper Avenue Mall — but on the Hyman Street Mall, we envision four resturants out there,” he said.

Mayor Torre drew attention to the announcement, reflecting the public sentiment felt when the historic locals’ watering hole announced its closure for the winter season in December. 

“I just lost my breath a little bit, if I understand what you said: that you already got preliminary word that the Red Onion will not open by returning this summer?” Torre clarified.

“That is our understanding at this stage,” Osur confirmed, saying there may be other iterations of activation in the space. “I believe the Red Onion, as is, will not open this summer.”

Part-owner Brad Smith could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday night. When he announced the shuttering of his doors at the end of last year, he indicated a desire to reopen once COVID-19 allowed the core personality of the joint to shine again.

“The Red Onion functions busy, all day, all night, for the community. People packed in, people dancing on the bar, this is what we want. And that’s what I want to see again in the future,” he told the Aspen Daily News.

At the time, it was reported that landlord and developer Mark Hunt allowed the restaurant out of its lease with the understanding that the business would not be able to make the numbers work under the red-level restrictions that were on the horizon at the time. Hunt too, offered hope for the doors opening again. 

“The Red Onion is 100% coming back. And quite frankly, I hope it comes back under the same stewardship. But it is coming back,” Hunt said last year. 

The watering hole was built in 1892 as the Brick Saloon and was officially christened the Red Onion in 1947, under the ownership of 10th Mountain Division veteran Johnny Litchfield. 

The discussion arose during a comprehensive report from city staff tasked with preparing variances ahead of the next tourist season. Like last summer, council has indicated they are open to allowing restaurants to encroach on public sidewalks and parking spaces to allow for more distanced dining as the pandemic continues to affect business operations and safe crowd sizes.

A survey is expected to be placed on shortly, along with direct outreach to residents, business owners, commuters and visitors.  

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at or on Twitter @alycinwonder.