Aspen’s Red Onion might turn into Junk | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen’s Red Onion might turn into Junk

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN A Las Vegas restaurateur and nightclub owner is close to etching a deal to become the new proprietor of the historic Red Onion building on the Cooper Avenue mall.Aspen resident Scott DeGraff, who owns several clubs and restaurants in the Palms Hotel and Casino, including the Playboy Club, said he currently is in negotiation with The Red Onion building owners, Ron Garfield and Andy Hecht. We are finishing up the transaction, DeGraff said Friday. Until its signed, its not done … but I am very interested in them and they are very interested in me.DeGraff said plans to open Junk at The Red Onion will honor the past of the 115-year-old bar and restaurant but offer a new concept. It would be similar to what DeGraff is opening next winter at Snowmass Base Village Junk, a restaurant concept that will serve natural and organic fare and will have alcohol service. DeGraff said Junk at The Red Onion would have a late-night menu, which would include hamburgers (made from grass-fed beef) after 11 p.m.DeGraff said he understands people have a special place in their hearts for The Red Onion, and are concerned about the buildings future. They dont have to worry about it being too froufrou, DeGraff said, adding the price point will be modest and the historic qualities of the bar will remain intact. We will pay homage to the past.The Red Onion closed its doors March 31, 2007, after operator Dave Wabs Walberts lease expired. He had owned the popular eatery and watering hole for more than two decades.The site has been under renovation since last summer, and its unknown when it will be ready for business. However, those involved in the restoration are hopeful that it will be complete by next ski season. Under the purview of the citys historic preservation commission, meticulous care is being put into preserving the buildings historic elements.DeGraff, who owns F.U.N. Worldwide, an Aspen-based hotel and restaurant development company, also has taken over the Aspen Cooking School on the Hyman Avenue Mall. It will become a high-tech test kitchen for new foods, featuring famous chefs and education programming, among other things. DeGraff said he plans to be open before the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen in June.He also is planning to open two other spaces in Aspen one will be a steakhouse and the other will be a lounge and special event venue. The locations of the businesses are not known.DeGraff, 43, will open Liquid Sky, an indoor-outdoor lounge, that will morph with Junk into one entertainment facility that will offer all-day dining, lounging, aprs ski and special events in Snowmass. That facility is planned to be open by December.The 10,000-square-foot space in Base Village, located just below the gondola, is two levels and will have four bars, including one outside where there will be lounges and private cabanas. A flick of the switch by the outdoor bartender will produce a flame, where people can cook their own smores, DeGraff said.The eaterys tag line is Good Junk, Bad Junk, the only Junk your mom will let you eat, and is described as a new way of eating.Its going to be a place at the base thats going to be full of action, DeGraff said, adding Junk will open at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast and serve food all day at a mid-level price point. Its food that you crave but there will be a large drinking component, where you can have a bottle of Cristal [champagne] if you want.DeGraff is no novice when it comes to operating clubs and restaurants.He and his childhood friend from Chicago, Michael Morton, are co-founders and principals of the N9NE Group, which owns the N9NE Steakhouse, the Playboy Club, Rain nightclub, Nove Italiano Restaurant, Ghostbar, Palms Pool and Bungalows, and Moon nightclub in the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.The partners also opened the N9NE Steakhouse, Ghostbar, Nove Italiano and the Liquid Sky nightclub in Dallas.Before that, the duo launched the nightclub Drink and Eat, Too in Chicago in 1992. They went on to open Drink in Las Vegas in 1995. Morton wanted to leverage his familys steakhouse expertise, paving the way for the opening of Chicagos inaugural N9NE Steakhouse and Ghostbar in 2000.I am taking our entertainment ventures around the country and bringing them to the mountains, DeGraff said. I always cater to the locals. To me, VIP means the people who come back a lot.Great service and food is what keeps you in business, DeGraff added. The drinking is the easy part.DeGraff said hes confident he can keep the character and brand name of the Red Onion intact, especially since he has been able to successfully carry the Playboy name in Las Vegas.[The Red Onion] fits right in with what we are all about, he said. I just want to do something thats fun and cool.Were not doing brain surgery. Were just trying to put smiles on peoples faces. I promise that people will want to eat, drink and have fun.F.U.N. Worldwide and Junk were the sponsors of this past weekends Celebrity Downhill in Aspen. csack@aspentimes.com

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