The look, feel, size and culinary offerings of the Cantina Aspen restaurant could change dramatically before the summer tourist season is underway.
The owners are awaiting a city building permit that would allow the large dining area at the south end of the restaurant space to be walled off from the middle dining area. That space, featuring large windows facing South Mill Street, would revert back to the building owner. Commercial real estate broker Karen Setterfield, of Setterfield & Bright, already has listed the 1,200-square-foot area as future retail property.
Setterfield said Sunday that plans call for two separate retail spaces of 600 square feet. The listing asks for $140 per square foot, which amounts to about $7,000 per month, a price that does not include insurance, utilities, taxes and other costs. A potential tenant could lease both spaces to house a larger retail operation, she said.
The Cantina Aspen bar and restaurant operation will change significantly, according to managing owner Aidan Wynn. Plans call for retiring the Tex-Mex concept in favor of “modern Mexican” fare, Wynn said.
“We’re going to offer a smarter product, better service, better quality food and an overall new experience,” Wynn said. “The Cantina has been The Cantina for 28 years and it’s kind of had its time. We still want to be a locals place. I was born and raised here.”
As one employee of the restaurant told The Aspen Times informally, “We want to class up the place.” The popular restaurant, prominently positioned at the corner of Mill and Main Streets, will be renamed El Rincon, which translated from Spanish to English means “The Corner,” Wynn said.
With the bar area and outdoor patio seating as well as the middle dining area, the restaurant simply doesn’t need the large dining room, he said. The entire restaurant typically only fills up a few times a year during special events, such as the Super Bowl or New Year’s Eve.
“We’re going to make a smaller, more quaint restaurant,” Wynn said. “It’ll be easier to control the quality. We’re going to make some subtle menu changes and a slight redevelopment of the bar area and a little remodel of the dining room.”
The cuisine will still be Mexican, but in a different way.
“Mexican food on its head, I guess you could call it,” Wynn said. “We’ll still have some of traditional Tex-Mex favorites, but we want to try things like duck carnitas, goat stew, pan-roasted rock cod with a chicken-mole sauce, for instance.”
The revamped restaurant will sport a better beer list, he said, as well as special versions of tequila and mezcal cocktails — departures from the traditional margarita.
The work will begin as soon as the city issues the building permit, unless that occurs this week. Wynn doesn’t want to close the restaurant before the potentially busy Memorial Day weekend.
“I want to do this before June 9th because I have a huge party slated that night for the restaurant,” he said.
Setterfield said the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission in April signed off on a change to the exterior facade that will allow construction of doors near the Mill Street sidewalk into the two retail spaces.