Red Onion owners terminate tenant’s lease
July 15, 2009
ASPEN – Junk at the Red Onion has been scrapped now that the building’s landlords have terminated their lease with embattled local restaurateur Scott DeGraff.
DeGraff’s company, Fun Worldwide LLC, announced Tuesday that the owners of the Red Onion building, Ron Garfield and Andy Hecht, terminated the lease. DeGraff had planned to open Junk this month, several months behind schedule.
“There’s not a lot to say,” said Campbell Levy, who works for Aspen-based Promo Communications, which handles Fun Worldwide’s publicity.
“It’s not to say that someone else won’t come in, it’s just not going to be Scott,” he said. “The space is pretty much ready to go.”
It’s unknown whether DeGraff asked to get out of the lease or it was terminated because of a lack of payment or financial stability to get the bar and restaurant open.
DeGraff, as well as Garfield and Hecht, didn’t return phone messages.
Recommended Stories For You
The termination of the lease leaves the 118-year-old watering hole in limbo once again. The doors of the Red Onion were shuttered on March 31, 2007, after operator Dave “Wabs” Walbert’s lease expired. He had run the popular eatery for more than two decades.
Since then, Garfield and Hecht have poured millions of dollars into renovating the building, while also preserving its historical character with oversight by the city of Aspen.
Most of the work is complete – the bar is refinished, and most of the historic tiles on the barroom floor are placed back in the original pattern.
DeGraff told the Times in May that he was waiting for the lighting system, kitchen equipment and furniture before opening. He said he anticipated that the bar and restaurant would be open the third week of July.
It would have been his second Junk location – DeGraff opened Junk at Base Village in Snowmass in December, along with Liquid Sky. Those establishments have been closed since the last day of ski season and are now the subject of a lawsuit filed by the general contractor against DeGraff.
Colorado First Construction Co. and PCL Construction Services Inc. of Denver filed the lawsuit in June in Pitkin County District Court. The suit claims that DeGraff owes $663,732.41 for work done at Liquid Sky and Junk in Base Village before they opened.
The lawsuit claims DeGraff agreed to pay the construction group $1.89 million to perform “interior and exterior finish construction work.” The total was later upped to $2.11 million because of additional work.
As an inducement to commence work on the project, DeGraff “guaranteed payment” Nov. 3 to the construction group for the work, the lawsuit says.
The construction firms, which also have filed a mechanics lien on the property, claim they are entitled to foreclose and sell the property that houses Junk and Liquid Sky.
DeGraff told the Times in May that his relationship with PCL was amicable and that both sides were working to resolve the matter.
Chad Olivier, construction manager for PCL, said at the time that the lien filed by his company was a formality.
But when reached via e-mail this week, Olivier’s position had changed.
“We have been more than patient under the circumstances, and are hopeful for a breakthrough soon so the contract can be closed peacefully,” he said. “The foreclosure action was the next necessary step to secure our interest in getting ourselves and the subcontractors involved paid what is currently due and owing on the project … The project was substantially complete on Dec. 23, 2008, and open for business, and we have overdue amounts in excess of four months now.”
Levy said there are no plans to permanently close the Snowmass establishments. They will likely reopen for the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day shows and then close again until ski season.
DeGraff also recently transformed the former Cooking School of Aspen on the Hyman Avenue mall into his signature N9NE Steakhouse. Levy said DeGraff is considering adding another night to the lineup. Currently it’s open Wednesday through Saturday.
Sara Adams, the city’s preservation planner, said that during the last site visit she had at the Red Onion, nearly everything had been completed with the historical renovation. Outstanding are restored pieces that include a stained glass mirror, booths and wooden doors.
Adams added that it’s a shame the work will remain hidden from the public indefinitely.
“They really did such a good job with the preservation, and no one can enjoy it,” she said.