County issues closure order for Scarlett’s Aspen |

County issues closure order for Scarlett’s Aspen

A "notice of closure" was posted on the door of Scarlett's Aspen. (Maddie Vincent/The Aspen Times)
Maddie Vincent/The Aspen Times

Pitkin County Public Health issued a mandatory closure order for Scarlett’s Aspen on Sunday after the restaurant and lounge failed to comply with county and state public health orders over the weekend, officials confirmed.

A notice was posted on Scarlett’s door Sunday, and the rooftop restaurant and lounge has 30 days to either work with the health department to come into compliance with COVID-19 crisis requirements or contest the closure order, Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said Sunday.

“On Friday night and Saturday there was some evidence that showed that the public health order was being violated in a number of different ways,” Koenemann said, referring to Scarlett’s. “We’ve done a lot of work up to this point to help (Scarlett’s) with education and understanding of what compliance looks like and means, and so the violations on Friday and some on Saturday really led us to this next step.”

In June, Scarlett’s and Bootsy Bellows — which are under the same ownership and management — were found in violation of county and state public health orders and closed their doors to make adjustments to come into compliance, as previously reported.

Since then, county and city compliance teams and local law enforcement have worked with Scarlett’s employees and management to ensure they understand what health and safety measures need to be in place, educating and training the establishment’s staff on how to operate in line with the mandated efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, Koenemann said.

This included an in-person meeting between public health officials and Scarlett’s staff at the establishment June 25, she said, where officials talked about things like what properly distanced tables look like; how staff need to wear a mask at all times and to educate patrons on when they are required to wear masks as well; and how groups of no more than eight are allowed in a seating area. Koenemann also said she believes city of Aspen compliance officials and local law enforcement officers have worked to reinforce and educate Scarlett’s as well.

On Friday and Saturday, Koenemann said law enforcement informed Pitkin County Public Health that patrons and employees at Scarlett’s were not wearing masks, and groups of more than eight were seen clustered together and not social distancing in the establishment and outside of it while waiting to get in — both violations of the current public health order, leading the health department to act more severely after its attempts over the summer to educate and train on compliance.

On Aug. 3, Bootsy Bellows was issued a closure order by Pitkin County Public Health, too, after police found the bar and lounge was operating when bars are currently mandated to remain closed amid the COVID-19 crisis.

When asked if the Bootsy Bellows violations played into the public health department’s decision to close Scarlett’s, Koenemann said no, it did not.

“We’re really trying to be consistent with looking at each business independently of one another and really trying to follow our process,” Koenemann said, referring to educating and working with businesses to help them be in compliance, mainly through the health department’s new consumer protection team. “We’ve really tried to be objective when it comes to these two businesses; even though they are owned by the same person we’ve looked at them independently.”

Andrew Sandler, owner of Scarlett’s and Bootsy Bellows, confirmed Sunday that yes, there were groups of people clustered together and not social distancing outside of the Scarlett’s building and in the building stairwells and common areas Friday.

That’s why Sandler said Scarlett’s called Aspen Police to help disperse the groups of people and remedy the public health order violation. He said otherwise the establishment was “operating as usual.”

Now with the mandatory closure order for Scarlett’s issued Sunday, Sandler said he feels he and his staff are being punished by public health officials for what he says was an effort to fix a problem using the avenues they’ve encouraged.

“Clearly I have a target on my back,” Sandler said Sunday. “We called the cops to help us disperse the crowd and get rid of the groups of people and were rewarded by the government shutting us down today.”

Sandler went on to say that Scarlett’s has welcomed education and training on the public health order and how to be in compliance. He said staff tries to patrol the building’s common areas as much as possible to ensure proper social distancing is in place, but that Labor Day weekend drew more people to the establishment than it has been used to the past several months. He disagreed with the statement that patrons and employees were not wearing masks.

When asked what Sandler’s plans moving forward to address the closure order are, he said he intends to contest the closure and wants “to have a hearing.” Sandler said his main goal is to ensure his employees have jobs, and that he wants Koenemann specifically to help him and his staff better understand how they can “better serve” the health department.

Koenemann did not respond directly to Sandler’s comments and concerns Sunday, but did say the public health order directs businesses to limit the number of people it serves to maintain social distancing, and if businesses can’t control the interactions of people in their establishments then they “in essence are in violation of the public health order.”

The order also requires businesses to submit a completed “safety plan checklist,” which must be approved for the business to reopen amid the pandemic, and when followed addresses the limits and in-person controls that should be in place to operate safely, Koenemann said.

“The public health order states that you can’t open your business unless you can comply with the business safety plan. And so there were definitely violations of this business safety plan here,” Koenemann said of Scarlett’s.

Koenemann said public health officials are more than willing to help Scarlett’s take another look at its business safety plan to make it more robust or think through how it can comply with the plan better.

She also acknowledged the great work and commitment many county businesses are doing to slow the spread of COVID-19, and said that it’s important for them to continue to be vigilant with their safety and health protocols, especially as they move into the winter season.

“We’re really looking forward to working with (Scarlett’s) and all businesses so that we can continue to protect the community from COVID-19 illness,” Koenemann said. “The more we can practice and be really strong on good public health practices like social distancing and wearing a mask, the more likely it is for us to have the ability again to have kiddos go back to in-person learning and to be able to have a winter season.”

She continued.

“We all want to see a successful winter season and this is the time to get that right because it’s going to be harder in the winter when more people are inside and we have more folks coming to visit our community … it’s going to get harder so if we can get it right now that’s going to help us later on.”

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