Former Aspen nightclub owner Andre Ulrych dies at 78

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Aspen Times fileAndre Ulrych is pictured in the circular house he designed and built in the West Buttermilk area in the early 1970s. It became known as "The Mushroom House."

ASPEN – Andre Ulrych – the Polish immigrant who moved to Aspen in 1968 and ran a famous downtown nightclub on South Galena Street in the 1980s – died on March 17 in Hawaii after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 78.

Ulrych was part artist, part builder, part entrepreneur. He designed and constructed what came to be known as “The Mushroom House” near West Buttermilk in the early 1970s, which featured a circular staircase, different levels and planes, numerous hanging plants and other oddities, old and new. The house still captures a lot of attention; in 2009, it was featured in a New York Times article that focused on its new owners, who renovated it.

“I don’t think people were meant to live in square houses,” Ulrych told Aspen Times reporter Mary Eshbaugh Hayes in 1974. “The American Indians had the right idea. A round house is more intimate. All the rooms open into each other and are together. I like to wake up in the morning and see straight across the house.”

Ulrych was born May 20, 1934, in Warsaw, the son of Juliusz Ulrych, a government official in Poland. His family spent World War II in an internment camp in Romania. They later lived in Turkey and Cyprus.

After some time in England, he moved to the United States in 1955, but he was soon drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to Germany. There, he met his first wife, Brigitte.

After military service, he had a residential construction business in upstate New York for nine years but wasn’t happy. While visiting Chicago for a convention, he saw a newspaper sports story that referenced Aspen, and a couple of years later, in 1968, he moved here.

Former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling, 70, remembers him well. Stirling, who moved to Aspen in 1972, said they used to ski together.

“When you talked to him, it was always like a light was on,” Stirling said Tuesday. “He had a very bright way about him. And he was a slight fellow; he was actually rather diminutive. I believe he had a skiing background, but he wasn’t quite as good of a skier as all those other Europeans who got here through skiing.

“He had a wonderfully positive and open way about him. For his size, he was really a giant of a guy in his way of connecting with people. He always went ahead with his projects even if people discouraged him from doing them. And he invariably succeeded.”

An obituary written by his daughter, Barbara Ulrych, lists his full name as Andrzej Juliusz Ulrych. Around Aspen, he was known simply as Andre.

“(He) lived life without bounds, skied with finesse, climbed Makalu in the Himalayas without oxygen, and Everest; (he) was an explorer, adventurer and architect,” she wrote.

An artist who lives in Redstone, Barbara called The Aspen Times on Tuesday from Hawaii and talked about her father. She confirmed that Andre and Brigitte started a restaurant with a bar on Galena Street in 1969 and ran it until the late 1970s, in the location where the Cos Bar is now. Their three children – Barbara, Julian and Andre – would work there as well.

“It really was the hub of Aspen,” Barbara said. “It was where everyone went for breakfast. It was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year. He started something unique. His employees were respected. It wasn’t unusual for someone with a Ph.D. to work there, washing dishes.”

In 1978, she said, Ulrych bought the building across the street, where the high-end retailer Prada does business today. He renovated the structure and opened a restaurant on the first two levels and a nightclub on the top floor with a retractable skylight. His name can be seen at the top of the building today.

Local commercial real estate broker Karen Setterfield remembers dancing at Andre’s back in the day.

“It was kind of a magical place,” she said. “Everybody dressed up and went there. They’d go up to the top floor and dance. It was a disco. In the wintertime, you’d be on the dance floor, and it would get too hot, and they would open the roof, and the snow would fall down on you.”

Barbara said her father was creative on many different levels. He was even involved in the startup of an organic-seed company, Seeds for Change.

“He had a saying, ‘Be strong like a bull.’ Life has rough spots, and you have to tough them out,” she said. “He did everything his way.”

His battle with Parkinson’s lasted 23 years, she said.

“There was so little of him left at the end,” Barbara added.

Stirling described him as a true Aspen legend.

“Aspen is truly a better place by virtue of Andre having chosen to be here as long as he was,” Stirling said.

A quote in the 1974 story by Hayes perhaps best sums up his philosophy: “It’s so easy to get into a rut. Life can be very exciting if you keep changing and doing different things.”

Andre Ulrych is survived by his second wife, Jyoti; his brother, Tadeusz J. Ulrych; his first wife, Brigitte, and their children, Barbara, Andre and Julian; grandchildren, Nathan, Juliana, Isabella, Sophia and Tristan; a niece, Liza, and her son, Sebastian; and a nephew, Jason.