HOPS Culture, Aspen’s newest bar and restaurant, has set up a beer garden in the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall that is generating conversation among downtown residents and businesses.
HOPS, located in the Hampel Building at 414 E. Hyman Ave., opened for business on Saturday. Few people took advantage of the outdoor seating over the weekend because of frequent rain showers.
Business owners in the Hyman and Cooper malls, who requested that their names not be published for various reasons, such as backlash over their views, gave a range of opinions about the beer-garden space.
One said it was a great idea, but perhaps too large. Another expressed concern that dining-area sprawl is taking over the Hyman mall, noting that Finbarr’s and Escobar also will set up outdoor eating and drinking areas for the summer season.
Former Aspen Councilman Torre, who lives nearby, believes the 11 picnic tables comprising the 45-foot-long beer garden are too much.
“I’ve heard about this from a few business owners on the block, as well,” he said. “The outdoor-dining space on the Hyman mall seems to have grown beyond the initial city idea allowing for the center of the mall to be used.”
He said city officials began discussing the concept of outdoor dining on the mall around six years ago.
“Originally, it wasn’t supposed to be dense,” Torre said. “The idea was to create an area where restaurants and bars could service customers, but not block off the middle of (the mall) from pedestrian access.” One of the walkways bridging the north and south sides of the mall is partially blocked by the tables.
Torre said he supported outdoor dining on both the Cooper and Hyman pedestrian malls to encourage more activity. On Cooper Avenue, The Red Onion has permission to provide outdoor seating in an area close to its building, but not in the center of the mall. That’s because the Cooper mall is a designated corridor for emergency vehicles.
“The space given to HOPS in the middle of the mall is filled by picnic tables and blocks off the mall more,” he said. “There are three restaurants now using the middle of the mall, but instead of being an addition to the pedestrian experience, I think it’s starting to become a hindrance to everybody being able to use that public space.”
Initially, the idea behind allowing outdoor dining on the mall focused on restaurant spaces that were tucked away, without direct access to the street, and those that were small and needed more breathing room, Torre said.
“I’m not trying to pick on HOPS, but they have outdoor seating along their building’s perimeter,” he said, referring to a 9-foot-wide area in the alley on the east side of the Hampel Building. Zocalito restaurant used some of that space in recent years, but the property line favors the Hampel Building.
HOPS owner Bill Guth said he worked with the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission over the course of several meetings to outline the boundaries of the beer garden.
“There’s a ton of pedestrian access on the north and south sides of the Hyman pedestrian mall,” Guth said. “I think it’s an exciting new idea and we’re bringing a lot of vitality to the center of the mall.”
He suggested that people with concerns about the beer garden should wait until after the summer season to pass judgment.
“Give us a chance,” Guth said. “We’re all about casual and fun and enjoying things, and we’re very much professional operators. We will not tolerate, and we don’t expect, any rambunctious behavior out there. It’s intended to be a great communal environment.”
The Hyman mall is a vacated street, so there is still at lot of room for pedestrian circulation, he said.
“Frankly, I don’t understand where the concerns come from, because Finbarr’s was previously a larger space in the center of the mall last summer,” Guth said.
Since the center of the mall has been used for outdoor seating by Finbarr’s and Escobar in the past couple of years, it no longer functions as a pedestrian walkway, he said. This summer, Finbarr’s will have a 60-foot-long area and Escobar will have the same length as HOPS at 45 feet.
“We’re excited to be neighbors with them and working together,” he said.
Mayor Steve Skadron said that since he hasn’t seen the new beer garden yet, he could not comment on its size or potential effect.
“We want to give businesses every opportunity to succeed,” he said. “We depend on the (Commercial Core and Lodging Commission) for input on matters like this. If there is a pedestrian-flow problem that inhibits other businesses in the mall area, it’s perhaps something we’ll need to take a look at.”
HOPS has a long-term lease in the Hampel Building, which is listed for sale by Aspen commercial real-estate broker Karen Setterfield, of Setterfield and Bright. The asking price is $9.98 million.
In all, the building has three retail tenants, including HOPS, and five apartments.
Commercial Core and Lodging Commission members could not be reached for comment.
“Give us a chance. We’re all about casual and fun and enjoying things, and we’re very much professional operators.”