El Dorado opens its doors in Carbondale, adding a new chapter to an old legacy
For the Aspen Times
El Dorado, the newest addition to the Carbondale bar scene, is making waves not just for its signature cocktails and vibrant atmosphere, but also for the rich history encapsulated within its walls.
Located at 358 Main St., the bar officially opened on Aug. 16, a symbolic date mirroring the town’s zip code: 81623.
“This building has a ton of history to it,” Owner Michael Arnold said. “It’s been a saloon. It’s been a million different things. You can see some of the metal patching in the floor where they used to patch bullet holes back in the day.”
His journey with El Dorado started unexpectedly. After securing the building, previously housing Batch Provisions, in late January, he was initially unsure about the path ahead.
“The short story is I wanted to do something for Carbondale,” he said. “I wanted to give something special to this community, but I didn’t know what I wanted it to be. I never thought it would be a bar.”
The final concept became clearer when he saw a need on Main Street.
“People were looking for a nice place to have a good bottle of wine or a cocktail or a beer,” Arnold said. “We wanted a place with no TVs, where people want to get off their phones, and so that’s where we are today.”
With the recruitment of General Manager Ben Simonette and Bar Manager Jess Clutter, both of whom were working at a beach bar in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, the vision for El Dorado became more clear.
Simonette’s own journey to El Dorado had familial ties. He flew out to Carbondale after being referred by his uncle, Charlie Berger — the contractor for the bar.
“My interview was actually to go fly fishing,” Simonette said. “After the interview, they mentioned they needed another bartender. I mentioned it to Jess while we were cleaning bar mats one night, and we were both in a good position for a life change. Now, here we are.”
Clutter found the new bar to be a natural extension of her persona.
“If I was a bar, I would look like this place,” she said. “It’s a perfect fit for me.”
Beyond its experienced staff, El Dorado has a distinct ambiance. Chris Rullet, a fellow visionary of the bar alongside Arnold, pictured a blend of Carbondale’s western heritage with a psychedelic twist.
“We wanted to make this an environment where the western heritage, specifically of Carbondale, meets a psychedelic feel,” Rullet said. “This place is extremely unique, and I can’t really think of another place like this in the valley. We spent a lot of time on detail and people will be able to notice that when they walk in here.”
Musical choices further accentuate the bar’s vibe, promising tracks from artists like Tame Impala, Colter Wall, Khruangbin, and A Tribe Called Quest. The bar’s mantra, “Stay Gold,” reflects its mission — to offer an authentic, inclusive, and memorable experience. That mantra is also represented in the entrance to the bar, which consists of a large, gold door.
Guests can savor locally-made Argentinian empanadas or partake in the bar’s weekly cocktail specials. And in a nod to affordability, a beer and shot combo is priced at just $7.
“We brought these bartenders in from across the country because they are already awesome people, and then we sent them down to a bartender bootcamp and upped their cocktail game,” Arnold said. “They were already great bartenders, but we wanted to make them that much better, so that we can generate the best possible experience.”
El Dorado beckons with its rich past and a promising future, aiming to be a haven for everyone in the valley.
“This is not a corporation but a family,” he said. “Everyone here has bought into what we are doing. The people that we have brought in are here because they are creative, and we know what they can bring to the table.”
Now with its door open, Arnold said he is excited to see what other unique concepts flood Main Street in the near future.
“For the most part, this is a lounge, which is something that you really can’t find on this street,” he added. “We are just one of the few places on this street hoping to make it better than it already is and, hopefully, whoever comes after us also comes up with a great concept.”