After fine, Bootsy and Scarlett’s may be back in business

A "Notice of Closure" sign by Pitkin County Public Health was posted on the door of Bootsy Bellow this past summeer. (Maddie Vincent / The Aspen Times)

After a turbulent summer and fall, Bootsy Bellows, Scarlett’s and Over Easy are quiet this offseason, though that might not last.

One of those three businesses — which all operated out of the basement and second floors of the building on the corner Galena Street and Hopkins Avenue in downtown Aspen — will not operate in that space again. Another may re-invent itself with a food menu. And the third may rise again despite assurances last month to a city board that it was closed for good.

“I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” Andrew Sandler, owner of Bootsy Bellows and Scarlett’s restaurant, said Friday. “If you look where we’re heading, it makes more sense (to open) Scarlett’s because of the patio.”

That’s not what Sandler told members of the city of Aspen’s Liquor Licensing Authority last month during an acrimonious, hour-plus-long hearing that ended with the board voting 3-1 to accept a $5,000 fine and a plea of no contest for Bootsy’s nightclub allegedly being open for business in the early morning hours of Aug. 1 and violating public health orders.

“We are bankrupt at Scarlett’s,” Sandler said at the Oct. 6 hearing. “We have surrendered the premises to (building owner) Mark Hunt. I’m out of everything — money, resources, employees — everything.”

At the time, the assertion that Scarlett’s was permanently closed helped sway LLA Board member Phil Golden, who previously said he did not think $5,000 was enough punishment for Bootsy opening the bar for business, to vote to accept the fine.

“Given that Scarlett’s is closed … I’m in favor of getting this settled,” Golden said at the end of the October hearing.

Aspen city attorney Jim True, however, cautioned board members about assuming Scarlett’s would remain closed, saying they had no evidence of that.

“Did you give up the lease?” Board Chairman Bill Murphy asked Sandler.

“We gave up the lease,” Sandler said. “The lease ended months ago.”

Murphy said he wanted to see the paperwork and Sandler said he’d provide it. The board then voted — with board member Amos Underwood voting against the settlement — to accept the fine.

But on Friday, Sandler said he wants to meet with Hunt and possibly work out another lease for the Scarlett’s space. In addition, he said he’s working on installing some sort of kitchen set up in the Bootsy Bellows space — he might also use Scarlett’s kitchen and a dumbwaiter down to Bootsy’s — so he can open that space for business.

“I fought back against the liquor board, who I thought was extremely aggressive in how they wanted to pursue me,” he said. “It’s very telling and the nature of town now. There are people who want to get back to reality and others who want to heighten fear and phobia.”

If Scarlett’s opens again, it would be subject to stringent oversight from the Pitkin County Public Health Department.

The October hearing was the second time members of the city’s liquor board attempted to punish Sandler for allegedly opening Bootsy in violation of the public health order, which forbid bars from opening. The board deadlocked 2-2 in September on a settlement that would have banned Sandler from the premises for 30 days and put the nightclub on probation for 45 days, while continuing to keep it closed because of the health order.

The incident at the center of the dispute occurred Aug. 1 just before 1 a.m., when two Aspen police officers on routine patrol in the downtown core walked past the open door to Bootsy Bellows and heard loud music and people talking. They walked downstairs and found Sandler standing at the door with another man, while the nightclub’s multi-colored lights flashed, music played loudly on the sound system and a crowd of about 30 people drinking and mingling without facemasks, according to police reports and police body camera footage from the night.

In addition, a bartender appeared to be working behind the bar, while a cocktail waitress delivered a check to a table at one point, according to police body camera footage. At one point, a woman came up to one of the officers and said she and “a bunch of people” had just paid $150 for “bottle service” and wondered if they could take their liquor with them now that police were breaking up the party, according to the footage.

The officers estimated that a bartender, a bouncer and three cocktail servers were working that evening, according to police reports.

“The bar was clearly open,” one officer wrote in her report.

In October, Sandler told board members the bar wasn’t open for business and that one of his staff accidentally left a back door open, which attracted about 40 people to come inside and party. Those people brought their own liquor and glassware and also took bottles from Bootsy’s, he said. As for the woman who asked to take the liquor bottle she said she’d just purchased, she was drunk and didn’t buy it at Bootsy’s, he said.

“This girl brought her own bottle down and for some reason said this to the cops,” Sandler said. “We don’t sell bottles for 150-bucks.”

“Are you denying, Andrew, that someone sold a $150 bottle of liquor …?” Murphy asked.

“Absolutely,” Sandler said. “Why would we do that? It doesn’t make sense.”

True said he believed the evidence showed the bar was open.

At that point, Underwood declared he wouldn’t support accepting the $5,000 fine. Golden said he wanted Sandler to admit wrongdoing, prompting True to point out that a no contest plea is akin to a guilty plea.

Underwood pushed for a two-day hearing during which police officers would testify so he could hear their side, but his fellow board members ended up accepting the fine and no contest plea.

“Amos, how much more do you want me to suffer,” Sandler said at one point. “I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

As for Over Easy, the popular breakfast and lunch spot that used the Scarlett’s space during the day cannot operate there anymore even if they just sell eggs, True said. That’s on order from the state liquor enforcement division, who also would rather that Scarlett’s and Bootsy had separate liquor licenses.