Closing time at six89 in Carbondale
August 29, 2012
CARBONDALE – “We’re closing because it’s time,” Mark Fischer said of the impending Oct. 27 closure of six89, his popular, longstanding restaurant on Carbondale’s Main Street. “We’ve come full circle, and it’s become an issue of sustainability. I think it’s far more important we go out on top of our game than to eke out a few more years.”The move to close was prompted in part by the restaurant’s lease not being renewed, as well as lack of interest by Fischer and his wife-business partner, Lari Goode, to purchase the building, which, in Fischer’s words, “needs a lot of love.”But the bottom line is the couple’s desire to move on to the next thing. “Although it’s important, we’ve never been driven by dollars and cents,” Fischer said. “We could put a million dollars into a hundred-year-old building, but that doesn’t make any sense. Purchasing it doesn’t fit with our business model. It’s time for something new.” The couple also owns Phat Thai, with locations in Carbondale and Denver, and the Pullman in Glenwood Springs.Six89’s tenure began in the spring of 1998, when the aforementioned lease was first signed on the unassuming, turn-of-the-century house. “It was serendipity,” said Fischer, who was returning to the Roaring Fork Valley after a stint at the Fog City Diner in San Francisco. (He had previously cooked with Charles Dale at the former Renaissance and at the Caribou Club, both in Aspen.) “We saw the possibilities, did a lot of demolition and remodeling and opened that fall.”From the start, Fischer was ahead of the trend. His menus featured dishes made with ingredients sourced from local farmers and purveyors, as well international flavors. Some, such as ponzu, aioli and gremolata, which were less familiar then than they are today, inspired the addition of a “Menu Lexicon.” “Our idea has always been not to pigeonhole the food into one category, like French, Asian or Italian,” he said. “We worked with the seasons and the location, changed the menu often and tried not to take ourselves too seriously.”Categories such as small plates included tasty bits like crispy goat-cheese gnocchi salad with truffled oregano vin (a version is still on the menu). “Bowls” included fiery red mussel stew or smoked duck mu shu. And such dishes as North Atlantic salmon with roasted pepper relish and tapenade came under the heading of large plates. If you couldn’t decide, there was always the possibility of opting for “Random Acts of Cooking” – family-style servings of whatever the chefs felt like preparing that night.Over the next 14 years, six89 grew steadily from a local neighborhood darling to a culinary destination. Diners who originally made the journey down from Aspen and over from Grand Junction or Edwards for Fischer’s confident, quirky cuisine, were joined by others from far-off sea-level cities. While customers became regulars and then friends, writers heaped praise in such publications as Food & Wine, Gourmet and Bon Appetit. Fischer himself was a James Beard Award nominee several times in the Best Chef Southwest category.Although the closing of six89 has been confirmed only recently, some of the restaurant’s 20 or so employees had been aware of the possibility. “I’d been in the loop for a while,” said Bill Bentley, six89’s wine director, who has been at the restaurant from the start and is responsible for both the front of the house and the collection of good-value wines from all corners of the world. “The lease goes through June, so it was a surprise for some folks that we’re closing so soon. But we typically close for November and most of December anyway, so it made good sense.” While Bentley hasn’t committed yet to future plans, he said that family time and skiing will be on his agenda this winter and he will consider starting a business he’s always wanted to pursue – high-end, gourmet fishing trips.According to Fischer, once six89 closes, about half of the employees will be placed in various positions at his other restaurants, both in the valley and Denver. Chef de cuisine Bryce Orblom, who has been at six89 since August 2008 and in charge of the kitchen since the following October, will make a move downvalley to the Pullman and has hopes of continuing with Fischer and Goode in their next venture.About what that venture might be, Fischer said first that it will definitely not be another version of six89. “Six89 will always have that place in my heart – that it’s the nearest and dearest and the more precious,” he said. “But this is definitely an ending.”After moving the iconic galvanized cow (a custom piece the couple had shipped from a New Zealand art gallery) that long has stood guard on the front lawn, as well as the backyard chicken coop, to their house in Missouri Heights – and taking some time off to ponder – plans to open a new restaurant with an all-new concept and menu might come to fruition as early as next spring in another Main Street location.”We are not departing the scene,” Fischer said. “We’re pretty committed to Carbondale. We think it’s an awesome place and would like to do things that are going to make us a part of it for a long time, whether that involves owning real estate in town, or operating a business or a combination of both.” Fischer has confirmed that they have signed a lease on the space that currently houses the restaurant Hestia, which, in turn, is expected to close this fall. Serendipity once again.
Linda Hayes is a freelance travel and food writer who lives in Old Snowmass.