“Rio Grande to Abandon Tracks in Aspen,” declared the Aspen Illustrated News on Aug. 8, 1968. “The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad has officially notified the Aspen city council that the company’s tracks will be withdrawn from Aspen and its land made available for development if no opposition comes from the city, the county or the Interstate Commerce Commission. Notification of the D&RGW’s plans was presented to the city council at its regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 6. The railroad owns about 20 acres north of the Hotel Jerome in the C-2, light industrial district. The company did not reveal specific plans for the land, but implied that more specific proposals would be forthcoming. The city and various residents have in the past objected to track withdrawal, but recently the council reversed its previous stands and suggested to the D&RGW that if the company would develop plans for an industrial park, the city would lend support.”
From the archives: Rio Grande Abandons Aspen Tracks
Asher on Aspen: Three Chords and the Truth – a country run at Belly Up
Country music, or “hillbilly music” as it used to be called, is the sound of the working class. It celebrates a simpler and slower way of life, saluting America’s rural storytelling. A fundamental component to country music is this sense of home and belonging. I have my small-town Iowa roots to thank for my unwavering bias toward this kind of music. It’s what I grew up with, and at the end of the day, it’s the sound I crave the most.
This past week was a rather lively one for country music lovers in Aspen. The Belly Up brought three incredible country acts to the stage within a five-day period. Monday was Steve Earle; Tuesday was Charley Crockett; and Friday was Paul Cauthen. Having never seen any of these musicians before, I was especially excited for this lineup of shows.
What I appreciate the most about Belly Up is its widely diverse booking calendar. The talent buyers are intentional about catering to every music lover, no matter what style of music they prefer. They acknowledge every genre of music, which in turn, acknowledges every walk of life. It’s pretty incredible that Aspenites can attend a boisterous rock band one night, followed by an electric duo the next, followed by a honky-tonk country act the next night. Belly Up sure has a sweet way of making our small corner of the world feel big.
The week started off with country music trailblazer Steve Earle, who is known for hits like “Copperhead Road” and “Galway Girl.” The 67-year-old singer-songwriter captivated one highly excited audience as he performed hits, from “Jerry Jeff,” his new tribute album, to ’70s Texas legend Jerry Jeff Walker, while sprinkling in solemn moments of storytelling. I love when musicians take a moment in-between songs to share a little bit about their story. It humanizes the musician and makes them more relatable to the everyday concertgoer. In this case, he paid tribute to the “Mr. Bojangles” songwriter and revealed why he felt compelled to make a fourth tribute album. His encore included two staple singalongs, including Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones” and The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag.”
The next night, I witnessed the incredible charm of the ’60s country-music enthusiast Charley Crockett. On the day of a concert, I always like to “study” the music beforehand and listen to everything I can so that I feel prepared for the show. After all, you never know when you might get pulled on stage to sing with the artist. Listening to Charley Crockett on Spotify, however, is only half of his mystique. His live performance is where things really get interesting. He exudes a cool, coy presence that commands everyone’s attention, while he produces an amusing level of twain and Elvis-like dance moves. Popular for hits like “I Am Not Afraid” and “Jamestown Ferry,” his performance style is unassuming and unapologetic.
It was somehow already Friday and time to see Paul Cauthen — someone who I’ve had my ears on for a while now. I first discovered him in December of 2018, and I remember being instantly enthralled by the sound of his voice. A mix between Texas country, Memphis soul and gospel funk, the industry has had a hard time trying to pigeonhole him into one specific genre. While his vocals certainly resemble Johnny Cash, his persona and stage presence are completely one-of-a-kind. My personal favorite and lesser-known hit, “Hanging Out on the Line,” has felt like my life anthem for the past year. It has a weird, therapeutic way of speaking directly to my soul. Of course, many know him now for his top-charting hits like “Cocaine Country Dancing” and “Holy Ghost Fire,” which both hold an energy that are equally as contagious.
The ripple effect that live music has on people is pretty extraordinary. The music not only boosts your mood and serotonin levels, but it also allows you to discover new music and uncover old music. Rediscovering songs that you haven’t heard in many moons is so special and nostalgic, and these songs will likely spark a memory or two. I can still vividly recall an old boyfriend’s voice singing “Rag Mama Rag” by The Band. My concert high typically lasts about two to three days following a show, but this whirlwind of a country music saga has done me in. It’s safe to say I’ll be riding this one for a while.
Songwriter Harlan Howard famously described it as, “three chords and the truth.” These are the simple necessary ingredients for country and western music. Now, ain’t that the truth?
The Outdoor Kitchen: New favorites for car camping
It seems that my car-camping kitchen set-up is an ever-evolving mess of tubs, crates and boxes containing tons of stuff I don’t need. Each summer, I try and streamline the process by getting rid of extras and replacing or updating essentials. I’m far from having this system perfected, but here are some new favorites I’ve added to my camp kitchen this season.
1. Decked X Pathfinder Campfire Cooking Kit
Decked and Pathfinder Survival teamed up to create an all-in-one campfire kit that easily packs into one big zippered bag, priced at $475. The kit contains a variety of cooking vessels, plates, bowls, cups and silverware for four, as well as serving tongs, a brush stove, a small grill and a cutting board. All pieces except the cutting board are made with stainless steel, and each piece perfectly fits into its own foam compartment inside a Decked D-Bag. I love how easy it is to grab and go with this bag knowing you have everything you’ll need.
2. Montbell Multi Folding Table Wide with Shelf Board
Table space is always a coveted thing when car camping, and this looker from Montbell is my new go-to. It has three levels of height adjustment, including a low setting for when you’re sitting on the ground. Made with an aluminum frame, it’s light and easily packs up into a provided carry bag. Montbell says you could seat six people around it, but I think that would be pretty tight. The separately-sold shelf board sits on the lower portion for extra storage. It took a little bit to understand how to make all the adjustments, but if you follow the instructions you should be able to figure it out quickly. $259 for the table and $49 for the shelf board, montbell.us.
3. Eureka Sprk+ Camp Stove
Sometimes it’s nice to not have to cart your giant stove along. This compact, all-in-one single burner stove makes it easy to cut out some bulk while maintaining the option of a powerful stove. An integrated fuel compartment fits 8 oz. butane canisters, adjustable feet allow for level cooking on any surface and an auto-ignition makes for fast and easy lighting. I especially love its simmer control that sometimes gets lost on my bigger stoves. It comes in its own carrying case. I recommend getting the griddle accessory to further enhance your cooking options. $60 for the stove, $43 for the griddle, eurekacamping.com.
4. Hydroflask Serving Bundle
When you’re cooking for a group of people at your campsite, serving bowls are a great thing to have on hand. This serving set from Hydroflask includes 5-quart and 3-quart bowls, tight-fitting lids and two serving spoons. The double wall insulation keeps hot food hot and cold food cold for when you’re prepping at home before your trip, or for leftovers after dinner. With pro-grade stainless steel, they are bombproof and durable enough to throw in the dishwasher when you get home. $126, hydroflask.com.
Meg Simon is an Aspen-based freelance writer, graphic designer and founder of Simon Finch Creative. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DanceAspen Turns One
In just one short year, DanceAspen has succeeded in creating a full-time, local dance company in Aspen, thanks to the vision and determination of its founder and executive director Laurel Winton and the entire team of dedicated and talented performers.
From a sold-out inaugural performance at The Wheeler Opera House last September to record-setting attendance at two evening shows in March to various collaborations within the community, such as the Aspen Art Museum and W Hotel Aspen, together they are making their mark.
As a primary fundraiser for the nonprofit organization, the Aspen Bandstand Gala took place at Hotel Jerome on Saturday, July 16, drawing an array of sponsors and selling out every seat. DJ Simone got everyone to their feet for a dance contest and dance session. Laurel Winton and John Sarpa led the paddle raise and live auction. Marble Distilling Company, Daou Vineyards, Montagave Tequila, Oliver Smith Jeweler, Flower Franch, Hotel Jerome and many other businesses enabled the success of the event with their support. And all of the dancers and many of their family members and friends helped design, decorate and execute an A-plus event with a pulse.
All contributions from the gala will go towards DanceAspen’s mission to continue to bring exciting new choreography to the valley, enrich the community with outreach and education and support the local dance artists who have made Aspen their home.
Tickets are now on sale for their upcoming New Horizons performance at the Wheeler Opera House Sept. 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Nearly last call: A late-night dining diversion at Stark’s Mountain Grill
When the text came through on my phone from crack cocktail columnist Rose Laudicina that the newly opened dining destination at the freshly minted Viewline Resort Snowmass wanted to host us for a cocktail and dinner preview, I was immediately intrigued. Rose, no slouch to pairing food and drink, had done this before with my Foodstuff predecessor, Kaya Williams, when the duo visited Last Chair at Wildwood Snowmass to pair food and drinks for co-columns last spring.
When we scheduled the night out, I hadn’t connected the dots that our 8 p.m. dinner was at the exact same time as a Snowmass free concert on Fanny Hill. Parking challenges, and the fact that I’d prefer to be in my pajamas petting my dog at 8 p.m. aside, I figured this was perfect. The Viewline’s beautiful deck overlooks the show and has plenty of seating (and a big bar). What I didn’t consider is that the deck would be full (of course it would be). I arrived first, and the team kindly sat us inside in a large, high-backed, red-velvet booth, with the sounds of soft jazz coming through the speakers, and the bass of the band reverberating every time the servers moved from the dining room to the deck.
When Rose arrived, we decided to start with a couple of cocktails and a set of three starters suggested by the staff. I ordered the Melon Refresh with Tequila LALO, Aperol, watermelon, lime and Fever Tree soda, and three generous portions of appetizers arrived at the table. We got the restaurant’s most popular selections, according to the manager: the smoked trout spread with house pickles, herb salad and grilled baguette; the skillet cornbread topped with wildflower honey and grass-fed butter; and elk carpaccio accompanied by herb salad, parmesan cheese and green olive oil.
I sucked down my watermelon drink with the patience of someone who usually schedules a dinner reservation about 90 minutes earlier than we had and tucked into the carpaccio. Thinly sliced rounds of elk topped with flaky sea salt were good but needed more salad to accompany them; the herbs didn’t quite offset the saltiness of the meat.
Our kind server checked on us approximately 7,000 times, as we were the only people actually inside the restaurant, save for about three people at the bar. Everyone else was rocking out to the band outside. In the restaurant’s defense, we were cozy in our half-moon booth. I’m sure they would have tried to figure something out if we had requested a move to a more music-oriented location. I also was too busy stuffing my face to bother anyone with anything. I continued munching and really enjoyed the trout dip, which was specifically sold to us as “not very fishy,” which is generally my main problem with a fish dip (good sell, manager John!). Light and flaky, with a side of pickled vegetables and perfectly grilled bread for smearing, it was definitely my favorite bite of the night, and I’m even surprised to see myself typing this.
We ordered another drink; this time I tried the Picture Perfect spritz with St. Germain, sparkling rosé, Fever Tree soda and basil. I told Rose it was a “real porch pounder” and proceeded to decide on my main course.
The restaurant features a nice mix of entrees for both meat eaters and vegetarians, with offerings such as a roast chicken, a burger, a couple of meat-free pastas and a salmon (all between $25 and $40, save for the filet, which was a spendy $60 per plate). Rose and I were both in a carnivorous frame of mind, so I got the steak frites, which is an 8 oz. bistro steak with bearnaise sauce on the side and fries, medium rare. Rose ordered the burger, which comes with white cheddar, tavern sauce, red onion and also a side of fries. We should have further strategized our meals to sample more variety, but the heart wants what it wants. For good measure, I also threw in an order for the truffle mac and cheese starter that we could share as a side. Because life is all about balance!
Things went a little haywire in the kitchen, as our entrees took longer to arrive than anticipated. To wit: The band was done before we were, but I was relaxed, well-cared for by the restaurant staff, and the fries were cooked to crispy perfection. Rose equated them to “high-end McDonald’s,” and I’m not mad about it.
So, if you’re in Snowmass, check it out for yourself. My advice? Go with a selection of starters, an order of fries and the side of macaroni and cheese and you can’t go wrong. The wines by the glass were reasonably priced, as well. In the summer, if you happen to be there on a Thursday night, go early and be sure to request a table on the patio. Enjoy the show!
Katherine Roberts is a mid-Valley based writer and marketing professional who basically loves nothing more than eating, drinking, gabbing with friends and listening to music, so this column was a home run. She can be reached via her agency, Carington Creative, at email@example.com
Bar Talk: Stark’s Alpine Grill
With a spritz menu fit for its relaxed slopeside patio and classic cocktails prepared to match a more sophisticated vibe inside, Stark’s Alpine Grill seems to be outfitted to please a crowd of varied interests.
I recently found myself tucked into one of the restaurant’s cozy, curved, velvet booths alongside the ATW’s fantastic food correspondent Katherine Roberts to craft a pair of columns focused on the food and drink offerings laid out in front of us.
Stark’s Alpine Grill, located in the less-than-a-year-old Viewline Resort in Snowmass Village, bills itself as a casual yet cozy space with seasonal American cuisine, a cross between a steakhouse and a contemporary supper club.
Kathrine and I were there on a Thursday, which during summer in Snowmass means a bustling crowd on Fanny Hill enjoying the free Thursday night concert.
The patio was packed. Its location on Fanny Hill is positioned in perfect view of the concert and crowd below, and with beer prices starting at $6 and cocktails ranging from $14 to $16, it seems like a good alternative to hauling your picnic blanket up the ski hill if you’re looking for a new Thursday night concert perspective.
While Kathrine and I didn’t get to experience the patio scene firsthand, we did get to hear the music from our indoor spot.
I decided to start my evening off with a spritz, as if I were outside.
Stark’s has four spritzes to choose from, all $15. Initially, I was intrigued by the Chandon Garden Spritz, a cocktail consisting of Chandon, orange bitters and herbs and spices, but when my dining and drinking companion for the evening inquired about what the herbs and spices were, the employee told us the drink was premade by Chandon, and the description was just what the bar was given.
As a drink columnist, I was looking to try a drink bartenders would mix themselves rather than just crack open and pour into a pretty glass, so I went with the Sunset Breeze spritz, made with Lillet Rosé, prosecco, Fever Tree grapefruit soda and grapefruit.
The cocktail was an attractive pale pink and yellow – it looked exactly like the shell of a grapefruit Jelly Belly. It was served in a classic and good-sized spritz goblet.
The Lillet and the Fever Tree cut through whatever tart acidity might have been present from the grapefruit, making it easy to sip and pair with just about anything on the menu.
Kathrine also ventured into the spritz menu during our dinner, albeit for her second cocktail of the night, opting for the Picture Perfect made with St. Germain, sparkling rosé, Fever Tree soda and basil.
After one sip, she declared it a “porch pounder,” and I crowned it the most well-styled drink of the night, despite the fact that it was perfectly clear. The “glass” (it was actually plastic) was unique and fit the supper-club feel of the space. It truly was picture perfect.
I enjoyed our smattering of apps – skillet cornbread, smoked trout spread and pink pepper crusted elk carpaccio, which you can read more about in better detail than I’m capable of describing in Kathrine’s food column.
To pair with the entrée course, I chose the Spirit in the Dark, $16 from the signature cocktail menu, purposefully looking for something a little more herbal and spirit-forward to accompany the burger I ordered.
Speaking of the burger, the Tavern Burger at Stark’s is now in the running for my favorite burger in the area. The wagyu beef tastes of quality, and whatever special sauce they put on the burger takes the flavor up enough to sit in my top burger spot. The burger also comes with fries, which are crisped to perfection and instantly conjured up memories of the salty golden goodness that comes out of the McDonald’s fryer.
But back to the drinks: The Spirit in the Dark is made from The Botanist gin, genepy (an herbal aperitif), lemon, thyme and blackberry. It checked the spirit-forward box, but the herbal component was mostly just there in aroma, not taste. The blackberry gave it a nice juicy flavor and feel, in addition to providing the beautiful berry color the drink sported.
There are two more categories to the cocktail section of the drink menu: the classics for $14 each and a non-alcoholic list for $9 a glass.
After my experience at the Boisson dinner (read more about my zero-proof experience in “Bar Talk: A Sober Approach to Drinking”), the three non-alcoholic drinks caught my eye. I’m excited to see a restaurant like Stark’s dedicating a section to creative mocktails for patrons.
At first glance, the menu and various settings at Stark’s Alpine Grill seems to be at odds with each other – does it want to be a casual American eatery with a party patio or an intimate supper club? However, after settling in and exploring the menu, I believe Stark’s makes the case for itself to be all the above. Instead of conforming to one vision, the restaurant lets customers choose their own adventure, with drink and food options to compliment whatever that might be.
Yacht Rock Revue brings its easy, breezy sound back to Belly Up
Local favorite Yacht Rock Revue returns to the Belly Up tonight for another sold-out show. The songs remain the same as they have since approximately 1979, but the performances always vary.
“You’re not going to hear the same songs in the same order every time. There are no songs that we absolutely have to play every time. Both sides have to stay engaged, the audience and the band. We try to keep it fresh for ourselves, in that we’re always adding new songs,” said singer Nick Niespodziani, the hot dad in tight jeans who helms this ship and the motley crew onstage.
“A lot of guys in the band want to add really obscure, deep cuts to the set list,” he said, but audiences are always guaranteed a singalong of their favorite AM Gold songs, no matter what unique material the band decides to perform each night, which is what Niespodziani thinks sets Yacht Rock Revue apart from other cover bands.
And speaking of “Hot Dads in Tight Jeans,” that’s the name of the band’s album of original material. The musicians completed the project a few years ago; then, in February of 2020, while the band was playing a show in Denver, having just left a performance in Aspen, “the whole tour that was supposed to support it didn’t happen,” Niespodziani said, so they’re always trying to incorporate material of their own into their sets during their current slate of shows.
“We wanted to meld the yacht rock sound with something more modern. Some combination of us as real people and us as the characters in Yacht Rock Revue. The process of making the album was so satisfying and so fun,” he said.
As for how that original material, such as an upbeat tune entitled “Step” is received by fans, Niespodziani said, “They’re some of the best received songs of the entire night. That our audience is willing to take in a few new songs every show helps keep our energy up as artists. The whole idea felt very risky when we decided to make our own album. It’s an interesting challenge, writing-wise. You want to be true to yourself and write songs that are in your voice but that also fit this genre, but that we can perform in a bombastic enough way that they can stand up with some of the best songs from an entire era. Trying to write a song that can go head-to-head with the greatest songs of the ’70s and ’80s, trying to satisfy all of these competing agendas — it’s a fun challenge to prove we’re not just ShowBiz Pizza animatronic performers,” he added, jokingly.
All that said, audiences can still count on the same nostalgic fun they’ve come to expect from this lively, upbeat show. The development of the band over the years has been very organic, from its early performances (which started as kind of a joke years ago) to now, with attention paid to musical details. The musicians research each performance, so their sounds and moves are always an homage. Even their choreography is a tribute to Niespodziani’s mother, who used to sidestep dance in the kitchen during his childhood. These details are consistent with the band’s ethos, which is that all of this is in service of fun.
“The goal this whole time is that we’ve always wanted to be really keyed into what the audience reacts to, and which songs connect, which stage moves connect,” he said. Their goals “developed slowly over a period of a few years and are still developing, as we’ve started playing bigger and bigger venues. Live music is supposed to be fun. That’s really what we do, make people happy.”
And even as they continue to play bigger and bigger venues, they are happy to return to places with a “sweaty club vibe” like Belly Up.
“It’s very visceral, and the energy is being transferred at a very close range in there,” Niespodziani said. “We love Colorado in general; we love the people, the environment and the weather. There are some places where you go, and your band just connects. This is a place where people love our band.”
To that end, tickets for the show are currently sold out, but if you’re lucky enough to steal away into the night to see Yacht Rock Revue, I’ll see you there in my captain’s hat.
This week’s entertainment highlights in the Roaring Fork Valley
Summer Series: Maysha Mohamedi, 12:30 p.m. Aug. 4
Join featured artist Maysha Mohamedi in a free conversation (registration required) at AndersonRanch arts center. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2002 from the University of California, San Diego, where she studied cognitive science, specializing in neuroscience. After graduating, she earned an MFA in painting from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco in 2011.
In her abstract paintings, the artist meditates on selfhood and consciousness through a singular lexicon of color, composition and mark-making. Her academic background in neuroscience is reflected in the liveliness and expansiveness of her paintings. Liberated from the constraints and dictates of the three-dimensional world, her immersive works exude a sense of freedom and illimitability. For Mohamedi, the viewer is an equal creator in this shared universe of boundless possibilities. andersonranch.org
Hamilton Aguiar ‘Raising the Curtain’ exhibition: Aug. 4-5
Hamilton Aguiar lives in a world that activates the senses on the Floridian coast, which inspires his work.
“I seek to dissolve the wall between the outside and inside spaces, between the exterior reality and interiority of the artist’s soul,” he writes.
His art ranges from seascapes and landscapes to florals and abstracts and sparks the human consciousness and its natural tendency toward paradox: “the struggle to balance isolation vs. connection; stillness vs. hyperactivity; vitality vs. distress,” he writes. “Taking the design principle of rhythm, my work generates a sense of awe and wonder.” Aspen Grove Fine Art. aspengrovefineart.com
“Bright Star,” Aug. 4-6
Theatre Aspen Education presents “Bright Star” as its final education production of the summer. “Bright Star” is the culmination of its four-week training and production program for seventh through 12th graders.
“This show is really a celebration of the talent of our kids and community as a whole. We have young actors who come from everywhere, from Aspen to New Castle, kids from out of state and adult community actors — some of whom have lived in the valley for decades, some of whom are visiting for the summer. The way this beautiful script and score from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell is brought to life in the glow of Aspen Chapel makes it a magical show for the whole family,” said Vanessa Strahan, Theatre Aspen’s director of education.
The show is directed by visiting New York City director Robbie Simpson. Simpson is best known for directing the 2021 National Tour and New York City productions of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” live on stage.
Inspired by a true story, this Tony-nominated musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell follows two different timelines — one taking place in the 1920s, and the other in the 1940s. A soldier just returning from World War II meets Alice Murphy, a successful literary editor. While working to confront Alice’s past, they discover a life-changing secret. This Summer Youth Production is family-friendly, fun, and heartfelt. Showtimes are: 10 a.m. Aug. 4; 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Aug. 5; and 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Aug. 6. Aspen Chapel. theatreaspen.org
10×10 Name Unseen Silent Auction, viewing starts Aug. 5
“This is always a favorite community event,” said the Art Base’s executive director, Skye Skinner. “Our supporters love trying to guess who created these incredible works of art, and our participating artists donated extraordinary pieces for 2022.”
The public will have the opportunity to view the 10×10 Name Unseen Silent Auction until Aug. 19 and can bid online until the auction closes at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 20.
Ticket holders for the Art Base’s annual pARTy on Aug. 20 will have the last opportunity to view the work in person. Then they head to Lions Park for a catered dinner, a program about the Art Base’s educational offerings, and an annual paddle raise from 7-9 p.m. This year’s pARTy honors local artist Teresa Booth Brown as the recipient of the 2022 Melva Bucksbaum Dedication to the Arts Award. Tickets: theartbase.org
“Art is a powerful lens through which we can see ourselves and our world. Art education helps us learn how to use that lens and to share its vast potential,” said Booth Brown when asked about receiving the award.
Plein Air Art Festival, noon to 7 p.m. Aug. 8-14
Colorado artists come to paint for five days in Snowmass’ first-ever Plein Air Art Festival. On Aug. 13-14, the public can view and purchase pieces in Snowmass Base Village. gosnowmass.com
“Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song,” 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10
This nearly two-hour documentary explores singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen through the prism of his internationally renowned hymn, “Hallelujah.” It portrays the songwriter and his times, the song’s dramatic journey from record label reject to chart-topping hit and moving testimonies from major recording artists for whom “Hallelujah” has become a personal touchstone. Approved for production by Cohen just before his 80th birthday in 2014, the film accesses a wealth of never-before-seen archival materials from the Cohen Trust, including Cohen’s personal notebooks, journals, photographs, performance footage and extremely rare audio recordings and interviews.
NOTE: For a full calendar of events, visit the calendar at aspentimes.com
Wineink: Raise a glass of beer — or wine
If you were lucky enough to be a Buffalo — that would be a University of Colorado Buffalo — through the 1970s, ’80s or ’90s, right up to 2018, you no doubt were familiar with the saloon on 11th and Walnut in Boulder called The Walrus.
One of the best dive bars in any college town anywhere, The Walrus was opened in 1972 by Frank Day, a legendary Colorado restaurant entrepreneur with close ties to Aspen. It was a place where fans gathered after football games, students met future life partners and graduates raised toasts to their accomplishments. And it marked the beginning of Day’s five-decade (and counting) career in hospitality.
Today, Aug. 4, is Frank Day’s 90th birthday, and those who know him will not be surprised if he celebrates it by working.
“I still go to work every day,” said the hospitality innovator, who has opened over 80 restaurants in Colorado through his Boulder-based company, Concept Restaurants, and has owned the Hotel Boulderado since 1980. “This is a detail business, and you have got to pay attention to the details. I’ll go and sit at the bars of our businesses and talk to the bartender. That’s how you get to know what’s going on.”
Over the last 50 years, it is arguable that few have sweated the details, or served as much beer and wine to Colorado diners and customers, as the Concept group that Frank founded. It all began with The Walrus but morphed into an empire that included brewpubs (The Walnut Brewery, Boulder Beer and the Rock Bottom Brewery chain), steak houses (Frank’s Chophouse and LoDo’s Chop House & Brewery) and pizzerias (Old Chicago and Filmore Pizza). His outposts have changed the way Colorado, and America, eats and drinks. The Rock Bottom Brewery helped to nationalize the brewpub culture that is ubiquitous today. And on Aug. 22, in keeping with the ongoing work ethic theme, Frank and his wife and business partner, Gina Day, will open Boulder Social, another Concept eatery that will mine the homemade beer and pizza concept in Boulder.
But the crown jewel and the legacy property for the Days may well be that Boulder institution, the Hotel Boulderado.
“I bought the Boulderado because it had three nice bars, it was the right price and the other group wanted to turn it into offices,” he told me as we sat beneath the famed stained-glass ceiling in the hotel’s lobby.
What Day bought was a piece of history that, though modernized in 2017 with a luxury renovation by Aspen-based architecture firm Rowland+Broughton, still provides the ambiance and character of the last century. The Boulderado opened on New Year’s Day in 1909 and has been a part of the community ever since. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and you can still ride the original 1908 Otis Elevator, with an operator, to your floor if you stay in the historic main building. For a combination of nostalgic charm and modern comforts, the Hotel Boulderado is uniquely special.
Those “three nice bars” that Day spoke of in the Boulderado have historical precedence, as well, and are all serving guests today on a daily basis. Few know that Boulder was a “dry county” from 1907 all the way up until 1967, when Boulder County voters ended the 60-year prohibition. The best you could do in the hotel was 3.2 beer.
Today that history is immortalized in the basement, or “catacombs,” of the hotel in the multi-roomed License No.1 cocktail bar, so named because it received the first liquor license following the repeal of the Boulder prohibition. On the front patio of the hotel is the airy and cheerful Corner Bar, Boulder’s quintessential “let’s meet for a beer” spot, and inside the lobby diners revel in the casual, but fine-dining, farm-to-table atmosphere of Spruce Farm & Fish.
While Frank has a history with beer and brewing, it is Gina who runs the wine programs and selects the wines at all the Concept restaurants, including Spruce, which has an affordable, well-considered, global list of wines both by the glass and bottle.
“When we opened the Walnut Brew Pub in 1989, I thought we should have a good wine list, as well, to give people a choice of what to drink. And besides, I like to drink wine,” Gina said, as she chuckled.
The list at Spruce is reflective of the philosophy that Gina brings to all the lists she curates.
“A wine list says a lot about a restaurant. If it is overpriced and doesn’t create value for customers, it creates a negative perception about the restaurant,” she explained. “We try and have different price levels so that our guests get good wines at all prices.”
A look at the Spruce list shows a number of wines by the glass under $10, including a Famille Perrin Reserve White Blend Côtes du Rhône for $9 and a “Substance” Cabernet Sauvignon from Charles Smith at $10 a glass.
“I try and look at our lists like I was a customer, with their eyes. What wines would I want, and how much do I think they should cost?” she said.
Gina also shared a test she gives to all the by-the-glass selections she makes.
“Wines go through a lot in bars, especially by-the-glass wines. Whenever I am considering a wine to add to a list, I’ll open a bottle, taste it, then recork it. And I’ll do the same for the next two days. I call it a ‘three-Day test.’ If a wine can’t stand up, it won’t make the list.”
August is a busy month for Frank and Gina. In addition to the 90th birthday and the debut of the Boulder Social, the month began with a celebration on Aug. 1 of their 40th wedding anniversary.
“Gina arranged the wedding just a few days before my 50th birthday, so she could tell her friends that she was marrying a guy in his 40s,” Frank said, laughing at the memory.
Though the Days have never had a restaurant business here in Aspen, their story reaches back to the early days of the venerable ski town.
“I never got involved in hospitality in Aspen but have been a loyal visitor,” Frank said.
His roots in this town are deep.
“My parents brought us for Christmas in 1949. They knew an artist who worked with Herbert Bayer named Paul Gallagher. So, my senior year in high school, we came out, and I learned to ski. My folks bought an old miner’s cabin for $1,500 on 1st and Hopkins,” he said, adding with a chuckle: “Some say they overpaid.”
His mother, Margaret Day, owned the Holiday House in the 1950s, and Frank and Gina still have a townhouse here on the Roaring Fork.
“I love the restaurants in Aspen. We go to Jing and Cache Cache – Jodi (Larner) does a great job – and we like Acquolina,” he said. “Of course, I remember back to the time when Steve Knowlton ran the old Golden Horn. I don’t think I had any trouble getting served.”
As he looks at his career in hospitality, the graduate of the Harvard Business School — class of ’56 — thinks he made a few good choices.
“It’s 110% a people business, and the people who go into it are lucky. I’ve had an opportunity to hire and mentor some great people. When I started, I thought the business was like a mountain, that you just kept climbing. Now I know it is more like a sandhill: You get up, and then you fall back. You just have to keep moving.” He paused, then added, “The hospitality business is like a grad school for life. I’d recommend it to anyone.”
Thanks for the advice, Frank.
Duckhorn Vineyards 2019 Napa Valley Merlot
“We like to carry great wines that have names people recognize, and then price them to provide value,” Gina Day told me, as we discussed the philosophy she brings to the wine list at The Hotel Boulderado’s Spruce Farm & Fish. That “duck”-tailed completely with my experience at the restaurant earlier this summer when I stopped in for dinner.
I had ordered the pan-seared cherry glazed duck breast and thought I might pair it with a Pinot Noir. But then I saw a bargain: The 2019 Duckhorn Merlot for just $66 a bottle. That’s not much more than I would have paid for the same wine in a wine shop. The Merlot, made by the winery that is to this day the standard for Napa Valley Merlot, was rich, supple and soft on the palate. But the beauty of the pairing was the way the aromas of cherry on the nose melded with the cherry glaze on the duck.
It was just ducky.
A harmonious improvisation: Classical guitar meets Indian sarod through virtuosos
We are all one: This is the spiritual premise upon which “Strings for Peace” rests.
In 2019, before the spread of Covid awakened the world to just how connected we are, multiple Grammy-award winner Sharon Isbin and sarod virtuoso Amjad Ali Khan released “Strings for Peace.” The collaboration melded Western and Indian traditions in a sacred and artistic flow. The intention behind the album included unity, a sense of oneness, reminding everyone that we are all one race: the human race.
“Strings of Peace” embodies the nature of a common family of stringed instruments, the guitar and sarod, playing together in harmony while still preserving each’s essence.
“Each of the artists brings the spirit of sharing the great unique treasures of their own artistic traditions, as well as finding common ground in ragas and medieval modes,” Khan wrote. “The idea is to achieve a cross-fertilization at both the cellular and cosmic levels of two classical music traditions, which are often held to be radically different. This is a blissful dream of a project … of artists united under a common aegis, regardless of their diverse backgrounds, cultures, traditions, generations, genders, religions, upbringing and career paths.”
The meeting of the musicians supports not only an appreciation and understanding of each other, but also an ideal of how to heal a divided world through the joy and spiritual nourishment that music provides.
The Aug. 6 recital featuring Isbin, Khan and his sons dovetails with Aspen Music Festival and School’s commitment to increase diversity and cross-cultural exchange (see related story, p. A3).
When Isbin and Khan joined together to record the album, they had no idea what kind of loss, sadness, isolation and suffering the pandemic was about to deliver. The album emerged just at the right time.
“This music speaks to the power of spiritual healing and spiritual yearning that could be very valuable (now),” Isbin said. “If we all work together, there could be a lot more harmony in the world than there is now.”
A rich tradition
As a sixth-generation of the Bangash lineage, rooted in the Senia Bangash School of music, Khan is one of the 20th century’s greatest masters of the sarod, according to the British Songlines World Music Magazine. He performs worldwide and has earned multiple accolades, including the UNESCO Award, UNICEF’s National Ambassadorship, the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award and Padma Vibhushan, the highest Indian civilian award, in addition to honorary doctorates from multiple universities.
He has given the sarod a fresh interpretation, while maintaining its timeless traditions and considers the audience the “soul of his motivation.” His love for, and belief in, the power of music has inspired him to create many new ragas and interpret traditional notions of music in new ways. Indeed, as his website states: “He is a man who has proven his indomitable belief in the integration of two of life’s greatest forces: love and music.”
He practices that integration each day, both on and off stage. When he performs, his invigorating improvisational style extends beyond race, creed and culture.
“You don’t need any familiarity with the music,” Isbin said, adding that their collaboration brings a sense of excitment, energy, community and depth of feeling. “(You) can feel the expressivity of what is coming from the stage and the power of that.”
Every performance differs, which is exactly what attracts Isbin.
“I’m drawn to that energy because it’s so powerful,” she said. “The performers are genius in the way they capture the cosmic spirit of the music. … In an amazing way, it interweaves our varied musical, spiritual and artistic traditions with mystical beauty, creativity, grace and great emotion.”
A tradition of her own
Isbin has become quite a legendary musician, and instructor, in her own rights. Acclaimed for her extraordinary lyricism, skill and ability to adapt to any genre, she was the first guitarist to receive the coveted honor of 2020 Musical America Worldwide Instrumentalist of the Year. Like Khan, she has garnered numerous accolades, from “Guitar Player” magazine’s Best Classical Guitarist award and Concert Artists Guild’s Virtuoso Award to the first guitarist to win the Munich ARD Competition. And, she, too, has expanded her instrument’s repertoire with some of the finest new works, in addition to commissioning and premiering more than 80 pieces by world-renowned composers.
She describes “Strings for Peace” as “an extraordinary program of ragas for guitar and sarod (that are) an eloquent and impassioned call for harmony — in music, religion and culture throughout the world.”
“It is one of the most rewarding and beautiful experiences in my musical career,” she said about the project, which began as a tour in India in February 2019.
But it’s her role here in Aspen that stands out to locals and visitors. She has been directing AMFS’ classical guitar program since 1993 and has earned a reputation for presenting all kinds of rousing performances during the festivals, from bluegrass and bossa nova to jazz collaborations with other top artists. In addition to being the founding director of Juilliard’s guitar department, she also instructs small, elite groups of outstanding guitarists in Aspen.
“It’s so exciting to guide and mentor a new generation of musicians and bring — and discover — them here,” she said.
In addition to Isbin and Khan, Saturday evening’s recital features Khan’s sons, Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash. Amit Kavthekar will accompany them on the tabla.
The program includes “Sacred Evening,” a romantic night raga, evocative of sunset and evening ambiance; “By the Moon,” a raga set to a 16-beat meter and associated with the second quarter of the night; and “Romancing Earth,” a peaceful raga, which expresses joy, devotion, happiness and love and reflects Indian classics and latter-day Bollywood. Khan will also perform traditional raga and folk music.
“Raga” literally involves improvisation within a set framework of ascending and descending notes; it’s something that develops and evolves through improvisation in the present moment.
“Raga is like a living entity,” Khan wrote. “A mere scale is not a raga. A scale is more like a skeleton. … a raga must be invoked.”
Isbin will open the recital with “Asturias by Isaac Albeniz.” Inspired by the rich and passionate tradition of flamenco, the art form likely has roots in people who traveled to Spain from India. Through her collaboration with Khan, Isbin has discovered a new appreciation for “Asturias by Isaac Albeniz,” “as if hearing it for the first time — I was able to viscerally feel the migration.”
And, Saturday’s recital promises to be filled with moving music.
“This is one of the concerts I’m most excited about playing,” Isbin said about her 29 years directing the classical guitar program in Aspen. “The music is gorgeous.”
What: A Recital by Sharon Isbin, Classical Guitar, and Amjad Ali Khan, Sarod
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6
Where: Harris Concert Hall
In addition: Isbin’s talented AMFS students perform chamber and solo works at a free Spotlight Guitar Recital at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at Harris Concert Hall and a free Music with a View concert at 6 p.m. Aug. 16 at Aspen Art Museum.
More info: aspenmusicfestival.com