Based on the current phase of permitting and barring any major setbacks, Aspen’s legendary Red Onion restaurant and bar should be able to reopen sometime this fall — a notable development from the projected timeline last reported.
While the historic haunt will remain “Red Onion” in name, who or what entity will operate the venture remains to be foreseen.
“It’s going to be the Red Onion, it’s going to be the Red Onion as people know it,” Aspen developer Mark Hunt said Thursday. “And ultimately, we have to figure out the long-term operator for the business.” Hunt is the owner of the building, among several other prominent commercial properties in town.
Brad Smith, who served as a part-owner in the restaurant and bar for the past decade, explained Thursday that the Red Onion moniker is formally tied to the building itself.
“The owner of the building owns the name the Red Onion,” Smith said. “The Red Onion name belongs to the real estate; we were ‘Onion LLC’ doing business as the Red Onion.”
Hunt said that while he has “spent a lot of time talking with Brad and will continue to do so, until we have a more formalized plan on when we’re going to reopen, we have not officially made a decision on the ultimate operator.”
“But Brad is definitely in the mix,” he added.
Hunt noted that he’s received more interest on the space — “people have really come out of the woodwork who would love to be involved in some way” — than any of his properties in town.
The Red Onion “means a lot to a lot of people,” he said.
Asked Thursday if the future proprietor of the Red Onion would be locally based, Hunt said, “most likely.”
For his part, Smith said he hopes to continue operating the storied local watering hole but understands that ultimately it is Hunt’s decision.
“I have said all along that I would hope to be the operator of the Red Onion. … I would like to reopen it because I felt like we offered something that the entire community was able to enjoy,” Smith said. “I don’t think there’s many restaurants in Aspen that can say that right now. It seems like it’s [becoming] higher and higher end with every new opening.”
The city of Aspen formally accepted Hunt and his team’s application to remodel the space on June 4, a week ago today, according to Community Development Director Phillip Supino.
“We’ll start reviewing it as soon as the permit fees are paid, which we expect them to do imminently,” Supino said Wednesday. “We’re very interested in making sure we can respond to the direction we’ve gotten from council and comments we’ve heard from the community about the importance of bringing the Red Onion back online. And with that in mind, we’re going to review the permit as expeditiously as we can and try to help the applicant get that project completed sometime this fall.”
Per the applicant’s request, the city agreed to couple the project with construction taking place at the neighboring Bidwell Building located at 434 E. Cooper Ave.
Supino explained that while grouping the two developments makes sense for reasons such as shared utilities and proximity, it also creates a more nuanced project portfolio than simply remodeling the interior of the Red Onion.
“The Bidwell Building and the Red Onion are inextricably linked, not only by the way that the two properties were developed over time, but [by] the way that Mr. Hunt has chosen to relate the two projects together,” he said, “and that relationship creates some complications for things like stormwater infrastructure and utilities and the issuance of building permits.”
The bulk of the renovation plans include relocating and upgrading the Red Onion’s kitchen, improving ADA access by moving the bathrooms from the downstairs to upstairs and making significant improvements to the mechanical systems, which were aging and failing, according to the application.
While Hunt was hesitant Thursday to set an end date to the project’s timeline, Supino said, “We are in a position to make sure that the work is completed on that four-month timeline to basically make the renovation go as quickly as possible. Because, again, the city wants to make sure that community institution is returned to the community.”
Added Hunt, “I think everyone’s eager. I think everyone’s on the same team pushing for the same goal and we’re all eager to get this thing moving forward.”