The 1,200-square-foot basement space beneath Aspen Kitchen is about to become the city’s newest dance club.

Stephanie Janigo and Julie Engels will be co-owners of Grotto, a party-place concept at the former home of the defunct Rickhouse Social and the Rec Room. Janigo is co-founder of Messenger Aspen, a website that launched in early 2016 to link fun-seekers to local nightlife, providing a calendar listing of concerts and other events. Engels is managing partner of the service, which has evolved into an event-production company.

Janigo and Engels have been holding pop-up parties at various local venues such as Mi Chola and Hops for the last couple of years. Now they will have a spot in the city’s core to call their own.

“It’s great to finally have our own space,” Engels said. “We’re hoping to bring that space alive with a new concept that not only will attract locals but also tourists and visitors.”

The two women are partnering with Craveable Hospitality Group, which owns and operates Aspen Kitchen, on the project. Plans call for a large dance floor, DJs and live music, a bar menu with offerings from Aspen Kitchen, and table service.

Grotto, the name of the club, wasn’t officially chosen until Friday afternoon. In the early 2000s, Aspen had a live-music lounge known as The Grottos that was located in the underground space currently housing sushi restaurant Maru Aspen; there is no connection between The Grottos and the soon-to-open Grotto.

Speaking of opening dates, Engels and Janigo are targeting June 13, the Wednesday just prior to the start of the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, for a VIP party in the early evening from 8-10 p.m. The private party will be followed by a public unveiling later in the night. 

At first, operating days and hours will be Thursday through Sunday, 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., but the schedule might change as the summer progresses.

“As was the goal with Messenger Aspen, we’re looking to reignite the playful spirit of Aspen,” Janigo said. 

As an event-production company, Messenger Aspen also has been using the former Rickhouse Social space at various times since the latter’s closure.

Janigo explained the concept for Grotto.

“We’re developing a club that can act as a social hub for the local community,” she said. “(One that) offers an ever-changing experience to captivate people’s imaginations, creativity and loyalty. We’re trying to create a space that’s fun and unpretentious, yet provocative and sexy, that attracts everyone with the right mindset, from the locals to the jet-setters.

“We want a club that people will want to participate in, to be part of an experience.”

Diverse offerings and flexible scheduling are part of the plans. Engels said the public can rent the space for private parties. On some nights there might be DJs or a live band; movie nights also are envisioned.

“The space can be a blank canvas that can be reignited by whatever themed night we’re having,” Engels said. “If you look at the (Messenger Aspen) calendar, other clubs have music or do different things but we’re looking to have different diversity within the club environment. 

“On any given night, you can come down, you can see your friends, but something different might happen.”

There are no plans for nightly cover charges. The partners say they may occasionally hold ticketed events.

“We want millionaires or billionaires, all the way to someone who’s a liftie or just staying here for a season, to feel comfortable in our space,” Janigo said.   

The club’s capacity will be 180 people.


More in the works

Grotto is not the only club or restaurant with a planned summer or fall opening. As is the case every year in Aspen, numerous other projects that aim to capture the attention of the drinking-and-dining public are making their way toward fruition.

• Clark’s Oyster Bar, an Austin, Texas, seafood restaurant headed by McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group, has taken over the East Hyman Avenue location that was the longtime home of Little Annie’s Eating House, an Aspen institution from 1972 to 2016. Hiring for numerous positions is ongoing and a June 11 opening is the goal. Under an agreement with the city, the restaurant is required to have an affordable pricing structure. The website Eater Austin said that in addition to seafood, the restaurant will include offerings in the Little Annie’s vein, such as burgers and a shot-and-a-beer special.

• Aspen Public House is aiming for an opening this summer in the Wheeler Opera House corner space at East Hyman Avenue and South Mill Street that housed Justice Snow’s and Bentley’s. The city, which owns and operates the Wheeler, chose Aspen Public House following a winter selection process that included 12 applicants. The restaurant’s fare reportedly will consist of “Colorado comfort food,” and the project is led by Bill Johnson, owner of Capitol Creek Brewery in Basalt. Through a similar request-for-proposals process, Justice Snow’s was awarded the 2,618-square-foot space in 2011, and held the spot until earlier this year when it fell behind on rent. Bentley’s preceded Justice Snow’s for years.

• Locals who miss the Bavarian-themed Wienerstube restaurant – which operated in Aspen for 45 years until January 2011 when it was closed and demolished to make way for the new Aspen Art Museum at the corner of South Spring Street and East Hyman Avenue – can expect something similar this winter in the Dancing Bear Mountainside Building. Almresi, which has a location in Vail, plans to offer lunch and dinner in the space, which is next to Wagner Park, across Durant Avenue from the Dancing Bear Parkside Building. Almresi is owned by the Thoma family, which besides Vail, also has restaurants in Germany. The cuisine is said to be inspired by fare from both the Alps and Rocky Mountains. “We want to bring a very cozy and traditional European Alpine‐ style restaurant to town,” said owner Franz Thoma. “The most important thing for us is when the door opens our guests have the feeling of being somewhere else – for a few hours you can sit in a Swiss Mountain hut or in the Alps in Austria. We will offer a high level of uniqueness and authenticity,” said Thoma.

• A restaurant described as having “French/Peruvian fare” is being planned for the former BB’s Kitchen space in the Aspen Grove complex at 525 E. Cooper Ave. Aspen architect Michael Edinger is involved with the project but was unable to provide details following an Aspen Daily News query last week. A request for a building permit was submitted to the city on May 22. “It’s going through the process,” said Chief Building Officer Stephen Kanipe.

• As was previously reported in the Daily News, a new restaurant/club concept called 7908 is planning to open sometime in July in the former Finbarr’s Irish Pub space in the Hyman Avenue Mall. Actor/entrepreneur Roger Wilson, who had a starring role in the famed early 1980s teen film “Porky’s,” is heading the project, which he describes as an upscale supper club. Renovations are underway.

This listing does not purport to be all-inclusive.