A new restaurant opening this summer as a pop-up in the former Jimmy’s Bodega space next to Wagner Park will see its nightlife offerings sponsored by a dating app.
Kirby Ice House, a Houston establishment that opened in 2016 and is notable for its beer and cocktail offerings as well as its 1-acre backyard outdoor seating area, will open an Aspen branch in early June, said Russ Morgan, a development partner in the restaurant.
“We want to bring a similar vibe to what we have in Houston,” he said. “I think our casual concept appeals to both the locals and out-of-town population that visits Colorado in the summer.”
The Aspen location in the space adjacent to Wagner Park will focus on accessible, family-friendly offerings for lunch and dinner, according to Morgan and incoming general manager Jeff Staten. The menu, which is still in development, will include small bites, salads, burgers, sandwiches — “things we can get out fast and please a majority of the people coming through the door,” according to Staten.
At 9 p.m. each night, the restaurant will become the Bumble Lounge.
Bumble is an online dating and networking app known for a structure in which women must first indicate interest before any connection can be made. A company spokesperson wrote in an email that it was founded in 2014 “with a mission to empower women, end misogyny and hold people accountable for their actions online.”
The spokesperson further noted that the company’s CEO, Whitney Wolfe Herd, met her husband in Aspen in 2013 while vacationing here, “so there’s definitely an emotional tie to the city.”
Bumble has hosted numerous one-off parties at bars and restaurants around Aspen in recent years, including at Shlomo’s, the Red Onion and Highlands Alehouse, and it sponsored last winter’s Powder 8 championships on Aspen Mountain.
The Bumble spokesperson said via email that the company is “excited to bring Bumble to our users through fun, in-real-life experiences at Kirby Ice House this summer.” The Bumble Lounge will feature “activations” for app users, including bar tabs and menu discounts, she wrote. The space will offer a nightly DJ, late-night food service and complementary merchandise.
“The goal of the Bumble Lounge is to safely connect people who live in Aspen or are visiting,” the spokesperson wrote.
For Morgan, the partnership with Bumble will help anchor his restaurant’s late-night offerings, which he said will be an important component of his business plan. He said that the balance between a park-side, family-friendly restaurant and a late-night lounge with food service is in line with what he sees as a need in the local hospitality scene. Morgan, 29, noted that he lived in Aspen for a winter four years ago and has been visiting the community for much of his life.
“We have been trying to listen to what the town needs,” he said.
Social media posts describe the Aspen Kirby Ice House as a summer pop-up. Morgan declined to share the length of his lease’s term.
Kirby Ice House will open in a space owned by a corporation controlled by developer Mark Hunt. The space was most recently occupied by Hao House, an Asian street-food concept developed in partnership with Jimmy Yeager and David Wang, which opened last fall. Before that, Yeager, who is best known for Jimmy’s restaurant and bar above Hopkins Avenue, operated Jimmy’s Bodega in the space.
“We are gone,” Yeager said last week, regarding the Mill Street space. “Anyone having anything to do with me is out of there.”
Yeager added that he was glad for the opportunity presented to Kirby Ice House. Morgan noted that he is friends with Yeager, who helped him land a job at Four Mountain Sports when he lived in Aspen four years ago, and that Yeager and others whom he became acquainted with during his time in Aspen have offered helpful counsel as he goes about opening the restaurant.
The Gray Lady’s spouse
Next door to the Kirby Ice House location, restaurateur Ryan Chadwick is revamping his concept that he opened five years ago as Gray Lady.
Mr. Gray will feature a menu that is slightly upscale from Gray Lady, Chadwick said.
“Over the years we transitioned into more of a bar menu, and we want to bring it back to where it started,” he said.
Both the Mr. Gray and the Kirby Ice House spaces are due to be extensively remodeled, under plans for which Hunt has already received city council approval. Hunt has yet to submit for a building permit, but said this week that he hopes to do so soon.
Plans are ready to submit, Hunt said, but there are “moving pieces that keep me from going full speed” on the project at 305/307 S. Mill St.
Hunt, who owns more than a dozen downtown properties purchased since 2010, is about to break ground on the redevelopment of the Crystal Palace building on Hyman Avenue, which will become a boutique hotel. He also has approved plans for a budget hotel on Cooper Avenue and retail buildings on Main Street, Hopkins Avenue and Cooper Avenue, among other projects.
Chadwick noted that he has been operating on a succession of six-month leases since he opened his restaurant. While the rental rates have been competitive, he noted that the lack of long-term certainty has made it challenging to recruit and retain core staff positions, such as a chef and general manager.
But when the options are sign up for another six months or give the space back, Chadwick has so far always chosen to forge ahead.