Downtown restaurants take it outside |

Downtown restaurants take it outside

Naomi Havlen
Patrons at Gusto's on Main Street dine in the restaurant's new outside seating area Tuesday. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

Both Zocalito Latin Bistro and Club Chelsea will join the growing list of establishments offering al fresco seating this summer.Aspen’s Commercial Core Lodging Commission approved applications Wednesday from both places to serve patrons outside on the Hyman Avenue mall. Club Chelsea, which has been operating strictly as a nightclub, has expressed interest in doing a lunch business and perhaps more on the mall.Both establishments were encouraged to work with their neighbors to ensure the limited space for tables is used wisely and does not impede pedestrians from visiting surrounding businesses.”I owned a store between The Red Onion and Zele Music Cafe, who both had seating going into the mall,” said commission member Shae Singer. “They brought me a lot of business.”

Zocalito’s outdoor tables will line the side alley off the mall, where the bistro’s front door is located, and extend several feet into the pedestrian mall. About eight to 12 feet of mall space will be reserved for pedestrians to pass by.It’s a small area – 63 square feet – said Zocalito owner Michael Beary, and can only fit about five tables right now. Although some of the restaurant’s neighboring businesses have expressed concern that the tables will clutter their side alley off the Hyman Avenue mall, Beary said he thinks the tables will draw people to the area.Last weekend Beary had a trial run of the outdoor tables, and he said a number of visitors came over to see what was going on. The tables will slow walkers and make them stop cruising straight through the mall like they normally do, Beary said.He plans on continuing to work with neighboring businesses to ensure diners don’t interfere with shoppers, and he hopes to expand the area.”We live in such a beautiful area, we should be enjoying it,” Beary said. “Paris is gray, but people still love to eat outdoors there. In the ’70s, Aspen used to be like that. I’d die to see that again.”Club Chelsea’s tables will be clustered in front of its subgrade locale, roughly halfway down the south side of the mall. The club’s previous application to place tables toward the middle of the pedestrian mall was denied by the state because according to law, the patio space should be physically connected to the restaurant.

Manager Greg Jurgensen, who could not be reached for comment, must still negotiate with a neighbor about when his additional seating can appear on the mall. He told the commission that real estate office Morris and Fyrwald has asked him not to put out tables until it closes for business each day.The commission has embraced requests for outdoor dining to help restore the vitality the pedestrian malls had some 15 years ago, noted commission member Terry Butler. Open-air restaurant seating was common in those days and the atmosphere was “electric, fun, with people milling around and buying things. It was a lot better than having nothing there now,” she said.Last year the city of Aspen relaxed some of its regulations on the malls, including allowing restaurants to take up more than the allotted 10-feet-from-a-building space for outdoor dining. Lease rates for the mall space were also substantially reduced.At Gusto on Main Street, al fresco tables, umbrellas and small trees shielding the seating area from the street appeared this spring. “We got approval from the city and it worked out perfectly,” said Elizabeth Plotke-Giordani, co-owner of Gusto and Campo de Fiori. “It’s been unbelievably popular – people are mainly saying that it feels like a sidewalk cafe in Europe.”

Plotke-Giordani said she first started seeing a trend toward outdoor dining 10 years ago at Campo de Fiori, which shares a courtyard on Hopkins Avenue with Cache Cache. But more recently she sees the resurgence of outdoor dining as the newest side of Aspen’s restaurant scene.”I feel like it’s the best thing ever for town – Aspen is one of the coolest towns in the world, and I think we need things like this that take it up to another level,” she said.Takah Sushi, in its new location on the Mill Street mall, has yet to seat patrons outside but should start serving on a new large, fenced-off patio this weekend. Owner Casey Coffman said she is thankful the city has been generous with mall space this year.”They want to make the malls as lively as they can, allowing more space for restaurants than ever before,” she said. “I’m thrilled. People have always been really interested in being outside.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is