Cops: Aspen club Bootsy Bellows ‘was clearly open’

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

A downtown Aspen bar was clearly open and serving alcohol at nearly 1 a.m. Saturday, with a full staff, loud music and a crowd of up to 75 people drinking, according to police reports.

Further, neither the Bootsy Bellows staff who appeared to be working, including cocktail servers, bartenders and a bouncer, nor the patrons at tables, the bar or on the dance floor were wearing masks, the reports state.

“Andrew Sandler, the owner, was standing at the bottom of the stairs next to the door, and when he saw us, his face dropped,” according to a report by Aspen Police Officer Lauren Sumner. “I walked in and noticed at least three servers/bartenders as well as one bouncer working.

“The bar was clearly open.”

Both Sumner and Officer Jeremy Johnson were on routine foot patrol downtown at 12:55 a.m. Saturday when they noticed the basement door to Bootsy Bellows was ajar and could hear loud music and people talking, according to their reports.

Once inside, Sumner and Johnson also noted further evidence of alcohol being sold at the bar — which is not allowed to be open at all under state and county public health orders — nearly three hours after the statewide 10 p.m. last call for alcohol to be served at restaurants.

“At one point a customer (who put a mask on) came up to me and asked me the following: ‘So a bunch of people just bought bottle service only five minutes ago and the bottles were about $150 or so; can we re-cap them and take them with us?’” Johnson wrote in his report. “I later observed a female cocktail waitress present a receipt to a patron for payment.”

The officers also saw the club’s booths “full of patrons sitting and surrounded by people standing,” while others stood at the bar and on the dance floor with the bartender “tending alcoholic drinks,” the reports state.

“There were approximately 50 to 75 people in the club,” according to Sumner’s report. Johnson estimated there were 60-plus people inside.

Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn on Monday called the situation a “blatant violation of the public health orders.”

“The bar was open for business,” he said. “This is just an egregious violation on the face of it.”

Sandler told officers “he would ‘take his lashings’ and he is going to take responsibility for screwing up,” according to Officer Sumner’s report. He told Officer Johnson, “I screwed up, cite me. This is on me.”

Sandler told the Times on Sunday, however, that the club was not open or staffed and that people “descended on the place” early Saturday through an unlocked back door with their own alcohol.

Sandler, however, did not file a police report alleging trespassing or burglary at the club, and did not ask that police investigate the alleged break-in, Linn said Monday.

Sandler did further explain the situation to Aspen police in text messages about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, according to Johnson’s report.

He said a member of the electronic music group Thievery Corporation had been upstairs at Scarlett’s restaurant Friday evening and that “people were harassing him,” the report states.

“I told the staff to move them downstairs so they could pay their bill without being harassed,” Sandler wrote, according to the police report. “All their bottles were ordered before 10, obviously.”

The staff left the Thievery crew downstairs for 20 minutes while kicking people out of Scarlett’s, when 40 people entered Bootsy’s through an open back door and “one of them jumped in the DJ booth and (turned) everything on,” he said. A Scarlett’s staff member kicked some people out but left three parties of 20 people to continue drinking, Sandler said.

The “celebs and people downstairs were drinking bottles,” and were neglected by the Scarlett’s staff “as we were busy upstairs,” Sandler said, according to the police report.

“The worst part is some of the people downstairs were locals who came right in and did what they wanted,” Sandler said in the police report. “This was a total lack of follow through from the staff and I was unaware of it. It’s my fault.”

Sandler did not return a phone message Monday seeking further comment.

Sandler’s version of events is tough to swallow, Linn said.

“It’s hard to accept to his story at face value,” he said.

It was unclear Monday what will happen to Sandler and Bootsy Bellows in the near future.

Ry Neiley, assistant Pitkin County attorney, said normally a business that has been shut down for violating the public health order can request a hearing with the public health director within 30 days. However, since bars aren’t allowed to be open at all, that can’t happen, he said.

“This is not a gray area,” Neiley said. “Bars are to remain closed.”

Not only that, but Sandler was forced to shut down Scarlett’s — on the second floor above Bootsy’s basement location — for a weekend in June over similar allegations of serving alcohol and not enforcing social distancing.

“We’re clearly dealing with a business owner who’s been made acutely aware of the requirements of the public health order,” Neiley said. “To the extent that he blew that off … I will say that the standard provided in the statute is a willful violation.”

A willful violation of the public health order, which can be addressed by a judge in Pitkin County District Court, is classified as the highest level misdemeanor under Colorado law and is punishable by up to 18 months in jail, a $5,000 fine or both, he said.

It is up to Public Health Director Karen Koenemann to determine whether to file a criminal case, Neiley said.

On Monday, Koenemann told the Times she needed to speak further with the county attorney’s office before making a decision as to how to move forward. However, she pointed out one crucial difference between the situation in June with Scarlett’s and the one Saturday with Bootsy’s.

“What was unique to this scenario is that (Bootsy’s) was not allowed to be open whereas Scarlett’s was allowed to be open,” she said. “It was a pretty blatant violation of not just (Pitkin County’s) public health order, but potentially the governor’s health order (and) a city ordinance.”

Gov. Jared Polis shut down bars statewide at the end of June and called July 21 for a statewide last call for alcohol at 10 p.m. As of late June, Aspen’s City Council required people to wear masks inside public buildings and businesses as well as outside.

As for Sandler’s version of events, Koenemann dropped a hint as to what might happen in the near future.

“I think if that’s the case, then the owner should bring that to court if he wants to share that story,” she said.

Saturday’s incident could affect Sandler’s liquor license, as well.

Aspen’s Local Licensing Authority board meets Tuesday, at which time City Attorney Jim True will present an affidavit outlining what happened Saturday, Aspen City Clerk Nicole Henning said. If the board accepts the affidavit, it will set a hearing for Sept. 1, when Sandler can come in and present his side of what happened, she said.

The board would then decide what to do next.

The case also is under investigation by the state of Colorado’s Liquor Enforcement Division, said Suzi Karrer, division spokeswoman. She declined to comment further Monday.

On a broader note, Koenemann, Linn and Neiley all noted the selfish gall of allegedly opening a bar in the middle of a pandemic, which goes against nearly every public health warning across the country, when so many are suffering.

“It certainly doesn’t help the business community that this type of thing is going on,” Linn said. “For him to be doing this kind of thing is really a slap in the face … to the entire community.”

That includes the business community, which is trying to do all it can to cooperate with public health orders and still make money, as well as the police and public health officials, he said.

Koenemann said most restaurants in town are doing all they can to cooperate with the constantly changing health orders, while public health officials are trying to focus on larger problems like how to get kids back in school and prevent community transmission of COVID-19.

“It feels frustrating when so many people are sacrificing so much,” Koenemann said. “That’s the part that gets to me. You could be putting people at risk for getting sick.”