Aspen bars, restaurants turn into ghost town for Halloween
Closing time came earlier than usual for patrons at The Red Onion on Halloween this year.
For a venue that typically makes the last call around 2 a.m. on Aspen’s “locals’ holiday” — plus what would have been an extra hour of drinking afforded by Daylight Saving Time — the final pour came before sunset, around 6 p.m.
Brad Smith, managing partner for The Red Onion, said Sunday the decision came in anticipation of Halloween crowds and COVID-19 guidelines that limit restaurant capacities and seating options. Oct. 31 is a typically busy night for Aspen’s oldest restaurant and bar, with costumed patrons congregating to drink and celebrate.
“We usually enjoy that crowd,” Smith said. But with a long list of regulations to follow and the challenges of enforcing them, “it was easier to close and not fight it.”
“It was too much pressure on my staff to try to manage it,” he said.
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The abbreviated operations came on the heels of Thursday’s reduction on the cap of informal gatherings — from 10 people to five — issued by Pitkin County. Restaurant operations were unaffected by that county mandate; early Halloween closing times were a voluntary decision made by individual businesses.
Pitkin County is currently in the safer-at-home level 2 “concern” status on the state’s COVID-19 dial. Under state guidelines for restaurants in level 2 counties, alcohol sales must conclude by 11 p.m. Eateries also are capped at half-capacity or 50 total patrons — whichever is fewer — and must abide by social distancing and face-covering regulations.
Mitch Osur, director of parking and downtown services for the city of Aspen, said Sunday that city officials visited several restaurants downtown in advance of the holiday to ensure that area eateries were aware of all current COVID-19 restrictions.
At Mi Chola, last call came at 4 p.m., with most tables cleared out within the hour and doors shut around 5:30 p.m. Most nights, the Mexican restaurant on Main Street closes at 11 p.m.
Manager Fallon Feast said the early closure was a “last-minute decision” made the night before Halloween after conferring with local police. Citing concerns that the Red Onion’s early closure would lead to an influx of crowds at Mi Chola, restaurant management made the call in anticipation that it would be “difficult to control the masses,” Feast said Sunday.
But that didn’t deter costumed celebrants from toasting to good times while they could.
“It was packed,” Feast said. By mid-afternoon, “every table was full” with the restaurant running at 50% capacity and tables set at least 6 feet apart, in accordance with county guidelines.
Not all downtown restaurants closed early to ghouls and goblins, however. A few blocks up on the pedestrian mall, Aspen Pie Shop, Mr. Grey and Su Casa all kept business as usual Saturday night.
Whether the change in some restaurants’ operations had any effect on the spread of COVID-19 is yet to be determined. It can take up to two weeks for individuals to show symptoms of the virus, so county-reported case numbers likely won’t reflect any infections that may have stemmed from Halloween festivities until mid-November.
There is, however, a chance that the diminished late-night happenings helped quell any potential rowdiness around town.
Both the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the Aspen Police Department supervisors reported Sunday that it was a quiet weekend, without any arrests or Halloween hijinks afoot.
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