Chapter ends in Merry-Go-Round’s history
The carousel of time is about to turn at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant at Aspen Highlands.
Sunday, April 6, will be the last day the infamous midmountain restaurant will be under the management of George Schermerhorn, who has been in the kitchen there since 1981.
His lease is up, and the Aspen Skiing Co. is assuming the operation.
Andreas Fischbacher, the chef at the popular Cloud Nine bistro at Highlands, will be the manager and chef at the Merry-Go-Round next season, and the restaurant’s employees will work for the Skico. Fishbacher will continue to oversee Cloud Nine and manage the Skico’s summer catering business.
The Skico has been taking over operation of most of its mountain restaurants as leases expire. Cafe Suzanne, the Ullrhof and High Alpine are the only remaining Skico restaurants leased to independent operators. Bumps and the Ajax Tavern are leased to Real Restaurants, a California company.
It’s not clear what changes the Skico may make over the summer to the Merry-Go-Round.
Managers are hoping money for a renovation will be approved by ownership in a capital improvements budget next week. If so, the kitchen and serving area will be remodeled to upgrade the equipment and create food stations instead of a traditional cafeteria line.
Mike Kaplan, the Skico’s senior vice president of mountain operations, said he didn’t expect major changes to the seating area.
“You won’t see many drastic changes up there, but we think we can improve the experience without losing that old flavor,” he said. “It’s a funky place. We’d like to maintain that funkiness while improving its functionality.”
The 17,600-square-foot building dates back to the early 1960s, and the main portion was once a Safeway store in Grand Junction.
The restaurant seats 700 people, has one of the best decks in the skiing world, and has a flat roof that, in a good winter, requires frequent tending with a snowblower. (Seeing they guy on the roof is usually a sign that good turns are soon to be had.)
There’s no word yet on what the change in management will mean for the portraits on the restaurant’s wall of vintage Cher Bono, Lloyd Bridges, Gene Hackman, Phil Donahue or Glenn Campbell, all sporting late ’60s and early ’70s skiwear.
It’s also too soon to know what it means for the restaurant’s menu, which has included Gretl Uhl’s famous apple strudel since 1981.
Uhl’s strudel first became popular at her own restaurant on Aspen Mountain in the 1970s. And when Schermerhorn and his two partners asked Uhl to join them in 1981 as consultant in a bid to get the lease at the Merry-Go-Round, she ended up playing a key role.
First, she vouched for the trio and told then-Highlands owner Whip Jones, in her direct manner, that they could in fact do the job and that she would help them.
Second, she spent the first year in the kitchen with Schermerhorn at her side.
He had been a bartender, bar manager and partner in other Aspen restaurants, including Galena Street East, the Chart House, and the Red Onion, but had never learned the kitchen side of the business, which Uhl knew very well.
Meanwhile, Cronenberg, an engineer, mastered the baking duties and kept the kitchen working and the building standing. He stepped away from the restaurant two years ago. The third partner, Jim Gilmartin, left after the first season.
“It was pretty much Gretl’s at Aspen Highlands,” Schermerhorn said. Over the years, the menu got more complicated and lighter, although several soups are still from Uhl’s recipes.
And while Uhl became more and more of a part-time consultant, for years she made the dough for her strudel and kept her famous recipe in her head. Eventually, Schermerhorn and Cronenberg mastered the strudel recipe by watching Uhl.
Now, Schermerhorn says it is not his place to pass on Uhl’s secret recipe to the Skico. Uhl died last February and her son, Tony Uhl, is the rightful caretaker of the strudel dough recipe.
But her legacy may yet live on. Uhl was from Aspen’s sister city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. And Chef Andreas is from Austria and a big fan of all types of strudel. So perhaps …
In any event, the Merry-Go-Round will be selling Uhl’s famous strudel at 1982 prices on the last two days it will be operating this season, Saturday, April 5, and Sunday, April 6.
And on Saturday, there will be a farewell party with a band to celebrate the Merry-Go-Round in its current place in time and history.
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