Foodstuff: The ‘gloo that holds it all together
Bubble dining — plus a couple of yurts — carry the momentum of the indoors-outdoors private dining experience
I cannot say for certain whether the people of Aspen live in a bubble, given that I am one of such people and I’m not sure if anyone would know they were in a bubble from the inside. (See “The Truman Show.”)
But people in Aspen are definitely eating in bubbles, if the plastic private dining igloos popping up all around town this season are any indication.
Some bubbles came about as a matter of necessity last winter, when indoor dining skeetered between “no soup for you” and “people can have a little table inside, as a treat” and restaurants had to get creative to ensure diners could eat outside (er, inside-outside) without freezing their phalanges off.
Even after indoor dining resumed and stayed in play as pandemic restrictions eased, the igloos have stuck around for another season. A few new ones even cropped up, along with a couple of yurts (the igloo’s private indoor-outdoor dining cousin).
“Last year, that was kind of the whole reason why we did the igloos in the first place was to maximize that patio space during COVID and … more of the restrictions, and we still have tables now that will show up and they are cautious about COVID, and they want their own family in their own little bubble,” said Rachel Koppelman, the chef at Plato’s Restaurant at Aspen Meadows, where there are three igloos on-site.
But the ethos this year seems to be driven not only by pandemic pressures but also by that Bonus Jonas of the Aspen Idea: mind, body, spirit … and “experience” — usually of a private, customizable and high-end variety.
Such is the case for the “Diamond Dome” on the rooftop courtyard of the conference center The Gant, erected in honor of the 75th anniversary of Aspen Snowmass with a marketing claim to “Aspen’s only rooftop bubble experience.”
The first group that booked the dome was sold on the “private” and “small-group setting” for a New Year’s Eve fireworks watch party, said Lou Eppelsheimer, the director of sales and marketing at The Gant; others have come to the dome who “might be a little apprehensive to go out in town and eat in a crowded restaurant” but are willing to entertain the idea of a “smaller, more intimate space.”
The Diamond Dome has its own dedicated server and two daily seatings at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Reservations are required 72 hours in advance — the dome fits six to eight people comfortably but might hold 10, Eppelsheimer said. There’s a minimum food and beverage spend of $250 that turns into a cancellation fee if diners bail within 24 hours of their reservation.
Over at Duemani, the experience is as “exclusive” as it is “unique,” according to Carlos Solorzano-Smith, who oversees day-to-day operations at Duemani and sister restaurant Aquolina as a managing partner of Aspen Hospitality Group. There are two seatings, one at 5:30 p.m. with a $2,000 minimum spend and one around 8 p.m. with a minimum spend of $3,000.
Solorzano-Smith emphasizes service as well as cultivating a “beautiful place” and “warm,” “fun” atmosphere at the yurt, Solorzano-Smith said. The yurt an hold a maximum of 10 diners and also promises a dedicated server. (Most of these dining experiences around town do come with igloo- or yurt-dedicated waitstaff.)
Most of the yurts and igloos around these parts tend to run in that range a few hundred bucks and a few grand for minimum food and beverage spends: it’s $400 at both the 5:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. seatings for each the three igloos at Plato’s, which can fit six adults comfortably or eight cozily. t’s $2,500 for the 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. seatings at The Snow Lodge’s yurt at the St. Regis, which can hold as many as 12 diners but has a recommended capacity of 10.
There seems to be an appetite for such private luxury experiences too, according to folks like Koppelman, Eppelsheimer and Solorzano-Smith who oversee the restaurants that offer these sorts of things.
But those of us with appetites but perhaps not the same cash-flow to sate them can still take refuge in one of these plastic domes without liquidating our assets.
Bonnie’s, that pancake haven on Aspen Mountain, has several eight-person igloos that are first-come, first-serve with no booking fee Monday through Thursday; the booking fee is $50 Friday through Sunday. Reservations are only available in person, so you might actually need those skis you were going to post on the Swap to get there.
Kaya Williams is a reporter for The Aspen Times and The Snowmass Sun who’s still waiting to see which local restaurant will have the gumption to offer dining in an actual igloo made of snow. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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