Ajax Tavern ponders its future | AspenTimes.com

Ajax Tavern ponders its future

Janet Urquhart
Ajax Tavern head waiter Ryan Kerr of Aspen, left, and host Cory Lowe of Old Snowmass chat on the outdoor patio of the slopeside restaurant. The tavern's future is uncertain after its lease is up in 2007. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

The Ajax Tavern, the slopeside spot for aprés-ski cocktails at the base of Aspen Mountain for more than a decade, faces an uncertain future after its lease expires in 2007.The restaurant/bar with the patio just steps away from the gondola plaza will remain a fixture for the next two ski seasons. But The Little Nell hotel isn’t extending the tavern’s lease after it expires in ’07, according to Bill Higgins, one of the restaurant’s owners.Higgins and his partners, Pamela McLain and Bill Upson, are looking at alternatives, and expressed interest in running the new base area restaurant/bar that will be part of the Residences at The Little Nell.

The hotel is under construction opposite the gondola plaza from the Ajax Tavern and will include a large aprés-ski deck. Operators of the tavern, however, have been told they’re not in contention to run the Residences restaurant, Higgins said.Finding another spot with the attributes of the tavern’s prime locale won’t be easy, he added.”A lot of the allure and the charm of the Ajax Tavern … is associated with the fabulous space and the deck there,” Higgins said.

The Little Nell will absorb the tavern’s space into the hotel, according to general manager Eric Calderon. The renovation will occur after the Residences at The Little Nell is operating, sometime in the spring of 2007.”It doesn’t make sense to have to have two restaurants right next to each other at the base of Aspen Mountain,” Calderon said.The Little Nell will manage the fractional-ownership suites at the Residences, but the developers of the project will select the restaurant operator for the hotel, he said.

Developers have been talking with several prospective operators of the new restaurant/bar, which will be open to the public. No decision has been made, according to spokesman R.J. Gallagher.The Ajax Tavern opened in 1994. Dena Marino is the head chef, and McLain is the managing partner.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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