Inside DJ Dylan’s all-vinyl listening room at Aspen’s Little Nell
Local DJ creates a COVID-safe listening lounge at the Nell
If you’re a DJ in a ski town, it’s traditionally been your job to make a 4 p.m. après-ski scene feel like 1 a.m. in a dance club. The more crowded the better, you might measure your success by the number of strangers up and dancing together.
And, if you’re Aspen’s DJ Dylan, you’ve soundtracked countless afternoons of decadent dance parties with revelers on tables in ski boots spraying and sharing champagne before sundown.
The novel coronavirus pandemic abruptly put those scenes to rest last spring, and made those après-ski DJ skills obsolete until the health crisis is over.
Devastating as that has been to musicians and DJs, it also provided an unexpected opportunity for DJ Dylan – full name Dylan Regan – to realize a professional dream.
He was charged with safely reimagining the slopeside après-ski experience at The Little Nell for this winter of COVID-19.
Smaller, quieter, less dancing and more distancing and listening were the requirements.
Regan had long fantasized about creating a listening room for his collection of 5,000-plus vinyl records, about finding the perfect vintage and all-analog speakers in a space with a custom booth. The pandemic gave him the chance to do just that at the Nell this winter.
“I’ve been dreaming about the sound in this room for years,” Regan said this week as he showed off the sound system inside the remade Wine Bar, where he spins behind a Plexiglas partition surrounded by thousands of records for socially distanced listeners.
In September, Regan recalled, it was clear the Nell would have to reimagine its après-ski scene for the pandemic winter. Most clearly, the Chair 9 bar needed a new concept. It’s packed nightclub atmosphere – a daily rager by 3 p.m. in recent winters – with ski crowds dancing to thumping EDM and hip-hop, would be deadly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nell food and beverage director Chubby Ovegas went to Regan looking for ideas. Regan shared his dream of the listening lounge.
“I said, ‘Well, if we are going to do a lounge and do something more laid back, what if we did an all-analog bar and played only vinyl,’” Regan recalled. “I thought I’d have to sell him on it but he just said, ‘Oh, yes! Let’s do that!’”
The listening room concept has succeeded in recent years in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco — a natural outgrowth of the broadening hipster return to vinyl and at-home hi-fi systems of the past decade or so. The spaces combine great speakers, DJs with good taste and a well-appointed bar.
“It’s something I wanted to do for years and it seemed like a perfect fit for this, where you can enjoy the music in its original form in this warm and inviting space,” Regan said.
It took him a few months to physically make his new DJ booth — appointed with a vintage “On Air” sign and a “Now Playing” stand for his record sleeves — and to find the right speakers (an audiophile’s dream of 1976 Klipsch speakers, found after a long search — remarkably — on Craig’s List in Denver).
The guest list at The Wine Bar is small and exclusive by necessity this winter; it’s a reservations-only space with four socially distanced booths available in mostly two-hour time blocks, with 35 wines by the glass (and the whole Nell cellar available as well for bottles) and a varying minimum spend.
It’s proving to be the right fit for an odd winter.
“After COVID, people were looking for experiences,” said Wine Bar manager Chase Clifton, who has also outfitted the bar with an oenophile wish list of accouterments and special pouring tools. “Anyone can buy a bottle of alcohol and have that at home. They want something they can do and turn into a fun story. The vinyl and the wine experience is telling a story.”
The bar is also providing gigs for Aspen-based DJs who have been largely out of work since the pandemic began shutting down public life in March. The DJs working the booth, in rotation with Regan, include Patrick Bowden, Mike Nakagawa, Bryan Normand, and Folami Small.
Regan was spinning during après hours on the patio at Ajax Tavern when Gov. Jared Polis shut down Colorado’s ski resorts in the spring. Regan also owns a production and events company, which have been mostly dormant since spring, though Regan did brainstorm some successful socially distanced events like the Nell’s summertime outdoor movie series.
Creatively, for Regan as a DJ, the winter venue is allowing him to do things he could never do before.
“It’s a different world for DJs,” he said. “The fact that we are not trying to get people up and dancing opens up avenues for us to do things we couldn’t do normally at a club or a party. We are untethered from having to get the party started and keep it going.”
That means allowing him to share his vinyl collection and to share songs — actual, full songs rather than quick-cut mixes and mash-ups — in an ideal listening environment while pulling from a far wider spectrum of genres.
On a recent afternoon, he was cranking up Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
“My goal is to set you out on a journey when you come in here,” he said. “We want to play a mix of things that tell a story and we also want to share things you’ve probably never heard before.”
On that front, his collection includes a cache of 12-inch rarities and remixes. Frequently, when he spins those, patrons come up to the booth glass and snap photos of the “Now Playing” sleeve so they can try to find it for themselves.
“It’s a little bit of an education and an exploration, telling a story and surprising people,” he said. “In regular times, I could never play a whole song. If there’s anything positive that has come out of COVID, it’s that we’ve stopped and slowed down and can appreciate some of the finer things. I think that’s why this plays well.”
Whole songs, whole albums, rarities of rock and funk and disco and R&B — people are hearing it as if for the first time. As Regan put it: “People are rediscovering the lost art of listening,”
What: DJ Dylan at The Wine Bar
Where: The Little Nell
When: 3-9:30 p.m. daily
More info: Reservations are required, along with minimum spends. Reserve on RESY or by calling 970-920-6331; thelittlenell.com