Bootsy Bellows Aspen issued closure order by county; owner says lounge was never open

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

Pitkin County public health officials issued a closure order for Bootsy Bellows Aspen on Saturday after the lounge and nightclub allegedly violated both county and state COVID-19-related public health orders.

Officials issued the closure because Bootsy Bellows reportedly was operating as a bar late Friday into Saturday, and neither employees nor patrons were abiding by the county mask ordinance and social distancing requirements under orders for Aspen-area businesses, according to Karen Koenemann, public health director for Pitkin County.

“We were notified Saturday morning that Bootsy Bellows was operating on Friday into Saturday morning as a bar,” Koenemann said Sunday, which is a violation of both state and county public health orders. “That’s really the basis of the order.”

However, Andrew Sandler, owner of Bootsy Bellows, said the establishment wasn’t open to the public.

What happened over the weekend was a “perfect storm of nonsense,” where he says locals and tourists walked into the lounge uninvited through an unlocked back door with their own alcohol, a story he recognized is hard to believe but is what he said happened.

“It’s my fault, I don’t know how it happened. It absolutely looked like we were open even though we weren’t,” Sandler said, noting he got to Bootsy Bellows around the same time Aspen Police did. “About 30 people descended on the back door because it wasn’t locked and they had their own liquor with them. We were closed but the back door was unlocked.”

Public health orders currently allow restaurants within the county to operate at 50% capacity with safety requirements in place. That includes that all employees wear face coverings, all patrons wear face coverings when they are not seated at their tables, and all tables be spaced at least 6 feet apart. Bars are not allowed to reopen, per both the county and state public health orders.

Around 1 a.m. Saturday, Aspen police officers doing their nightly business check-ins came across an open Bootsy Bellows, police officials said Sunday. Officers went in and reportedly found both employees and patrons without masks on and inadequate social distancing taking place. Police said they spoke with patrons who said they had been served alcohol.

Aspen Police officials said the weekend incident is still under investigation. The interaction between officers and the people at Bootsy Bellows early Saturday was captured on police cameras and officials said the lounge “clearly appeared to be open,” leading the department to file a public health order violation report with Pitkin County Public Health. Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies then issued the closure order on behalf of public health officials.

In June, both Scarlett’s and Bootsy Bellows voluntarily closed down for a weekend after discussions with a Pitkin County assistant attorney about similar public health order violations, as previously reported.

However, Sandler said Bootsy Bellows — which is below Scarlett’s, a kitchen, bar and lounge also run by Sandler — was not open or staffed over the weekend. He explained that the alcohol and liquor for Scarlett’s is delivered to the back of Bootsy Bellows and that these back doors are usually left unlocked so staff can easily go back and forth between the establishments when needed.

Sandler says people “descended on the place” early Saturday through the unlocked back door with what he believes must have been their own alcohol, as the lounge has not been in operation and there were no wells or coolers stocked. Scarlett’s was closed at the time but Sandler said a staff member helping clean up went downstairs to “guard the bar” and a security guard was called to help get the people out of there.

Sandler also said he takes responsibility as the owner for the back doors being unlocked, but doesn’t understand how a closure order can be issued when Bootsy Bellows was never reopened.

Koenemann said she was unaware of Sandler’s story and that public health officials had not talked with him over the weekend. She said the order would stand “until the owner wants to challenge it in court.”

Public health officials plan to consult with the county attorney’s office to determine what the next steps will be regarding the closure order. The “Notice of Closure” posted on Bootsy Bellows’ door says penalties may include a fine of as much as $5,000 and imprisonment in county jail for as long as 18 months, according to Colorado revised statutes.

This is the first closure order Pitkin County Public Health has issued during the COVID-19 crisis. And Koenemann said while most restaurants have been doing “all the right things,” she feels it is important for business owners and the community as a whole to understand how public health order violations by one establishment can have a ripple effect throughout the community.

“It’s a balance of let’s all grow in the same direction and take this seriously,” Koenemann said.

“It really does take all of us and each business moving in the same direction because what you do in one place impacts another place, what you do as an employer impacts your employees … it’s all interconnected so why wouldn’t we all try our best to reduce the spread? Because the more we all do, the better off we’ll be as a community.”