Instead of ringing in the good cheer, New Year's Eve brought fear and chaos to downtown Aspen, when former local Jim Blanning left bombs in two banks, had plans for at least two additional explosive devices and essentially shut down the old mining town on what should have been the busiest evening of the year.
The silver lining in the turbulent night, however, was the hoards of revelers that upon being evacuated from town came to party in Snowmass Village.
Local restaurants and bars reported a spike in attendance and profits were well above expectations. The financial loss Aspen businesses experienced New Year's Eve is estimated to be in the millions, as the entire downtown was roped off and shut down beginning around 2:30 p.m. Some bars and restaurants were closed by 10:30 p.m., effectively ushering folks out of Aspen and into Snowmass Village.
Krabloonik Restaurant celebrated the evening with a five-course dinner. Reservations were taken beforehand, which came to 88 people. Once things shut down in Aspen, "We got hit," said Assistant General Manager Tammy Vanderpole. She estimated there were well over 100 people. "It was great," Vanderpole glowed.
Sage Restaurant also took last-minute callers. Going into the evening they had 106 reservations for their tantalizing menu, but soon they were "getting a lot of calls from people with reservations in Aspen," said Manager Ron McKirahan, and they accommodated an extra 60 people.
"It was the best night of the year, revenue-wise," he stated. Profits were 20 percent above expectations.
Bars that did not take reservations saw even bigger surges. Jacqie Stewart, manager of the newly renovated The Office at The Cirque, said she expected 150 people to come dance to the tunes of DJ Fabian. She guessed the number was instead above 300.
"We had a line of people waiting to get in," Stewart said. "We had to stop letting people in," as they were over capacity. "I'm sure (the events in Aspen) had something to do with the overabundance of people," Jacqie stated. "I would say it was a successful night."
Said Peter Nardi of New Year's Eve, "It rocked." The new music venue, Nardi's HideAway, was full to capacity; he expected a turnout of 60 - 70 people but instead saw 100 enjoying the tunes of Dan Sheridan. As for the restaurant, it was "overpacked" and experienced "a record night." Profits were $1,000 above expectations.
Zane's Tavern was open for regular business and also had a good night. Although the owner couldn't estimate the number of partiers in attendance, he "definitely noticed an increase," due to the dampened Aspen festivities.
"People were in and out all night," said Ed Zane. "It was a rotating crowd circulating the entire village."
Scott DeGraff, being no new-comer to the entertainment scene, immediately understood the implications of Aspen shutting down. As he was being evacuated from a downtown bank, he was already on the phone to get his new restaurant Junk and club Liquid Sky open for the evening. Previously there had been no New Year's Eve plans. Between 80 - 90 people showed up, estimated DeGraff's assistant Logan Mcintosh. The club has a capacity of 250 inside and outside.
Jerrie Lyndon was among those with big plans for an Aspen New Year's. She was looking forward to dancing the night away at Belly Up, but at 10:30 p.m. when the club was evacuated, she had to think contingency plans.
"I had barely started my drink," Lyndon remembered. "I thought, what are we going to do? Every place in Aspen was shut down. The bus station was right there, so we said, 'let's go to Snowmass.' Everybody was drinking on the bus. We weren't the only ones with that idea - we recognized people from Belly Up."
Lyndon and her friends ultimately wound up on the deck of the packed The Office at The Cirque, drinks in hand. "It was definitely a memorable New Year's."
Also benefiting was the Silvertree, which was sold out for its holiday night party but managed to squeeze in 10 additional seats, according to Denise Farver, Director of Food and Beverage Outlets. She said the hotel also enjoyed "an increase in room service (business) and a lot of last-minute calls for reservations."
For Aspen guests and some residents, it was a night they'd probably like to forget. After leaving packages and notes at Wells Fargo and Vectra banks during the mid-afternoon, it's believed that Blanning also parked a sled with gift wrapped "presents" in a downtown alley.
Discovery of the packages triggered an evacuation of a 16-block section of the primary commercial core. Later, it prompted the cancellation of a community bonfire and New Year's Eve fireworks.
A bomb squad from Grand Junction arrived in Aspen early Wednesday evening to help with the investigation. Law enforcement and fire districts from five different local agencies, a total of 190 people, responded, according to Aspen Police, indicating the seriousness of the threat. Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation through reverse 911 to homes and businesses in the area.
An envelope that contained a type-written letter was left Wednesday night at the front door of The Aspen Times, which like the Sun is also owned by Swift Communications.
One Snowmass Village employee who resides in Aspen said he was turned away while en foot to Zane's on Hunter St. Other restaurants wondered what they would do with the food they had prepared - that would go unused - for what should have been a celebratory evening. Fortunately, many were able to host their New Year's celebrations the following evening. The fireworks show was also rescheduled for the night of Jan. 1.
The body of Jim Blanning, the long-time Aspen local who had tangled with law enforcement officials before and who served a prison term because of fraudulent land deals, put a sorry end to a difficult year and a punctuation mark on a tragic New Year's Eve.