‘Junk at the Red Onion’ wins liquor license
ASPEN ” The new proprietor of Aspen’s oldest bar has received approval from City Hall to serve booze at the renovated establishment called “Junk at the Red Onion.”
Scott DeGraff went in front of the Aspen Liquor License Authority on Tuesday to get a new license for the bar and restaurant. He was granted approval for Junk at the Red Onion, located on the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall. He also received a license for the Aspen Cooking School, which will be renamed the Fun Worldwide Lab, located on the Hyman Avenue mall.
DeGraff, a Las Vegas restaurateur and nightclub owner, recently signed a lease with The Red Onion building owners, Andy Hecht and Ron Garfield.
DeGraff lives in Aspen, and owns several clubs and restaurants in the Palms Hotel and Casino, including the Playboy Club, Rain nightclub and N9NE Steakhouse.
The Red Onion closed its doors March 31, 2007, after operator Dave “Wabs” Walbert’s lease expired and the rent was being increased substantially. He had owned the popular eatery and watering hole for more than two decades.
DeGraff said his plans to open Junk at the Red Onion will honor the past of the 115-year-old bar and restaurant but offer a new concept. It would be similar to what DeGraff is opening next winter at Snowmass’ Base Village ” Junk, which will serve natural and organic fare and will have alcohol service.
DeGraff said Junk at the Red Onion will have a late-night menu, which would include hamburgers (made from grass-fed beef) after 11 p.m., and other items such as omelets.
DeGraff said he understands people have a special place in their hearts for The Red Onion, and are concerned about the building’s future.
The restaurant and bar will be moderately priced, although high-end items will be available. The hope is that Junk at the Red Onion will cater to all levels of clientele, DeGraff said.
“It’s going to fill that niche,” he said, adding a person can feel comfortable in the bar wearing a tuxedo or blue jeans. “It’s a place where people can go out and eat at a reasonable price but if they want a bottle of Cristal they can. The idea is to make it accessible to everyone.”
The site has been under renovation for nearly a year. DeGraff said Junk at the Red Onion will be open by the end of the year.
“Everyone is hustling. … The goal is be to be open for the ski season,” he said. “It’s going to look fabulous, and people, hopefully, will be pleased.”
Under the purview of the city’s historic preservation commission, meticulous care is being put into preserving the building’s historic elements. The bar is being renovated on site and DeGraff has three architectural firms overseeing the project. The basement is being gutted to provide more space for back-of-the-house operations.
DeGraff, who owns FUN Worldwide LLC, an Aspen-based hotel and restaurant development company, also has taken over the former Aspen Cooking School at 414 E. Hyman Ave. It will become a high-tech test kitchen for new foods, featuring famous chefs and education programming, among other things. DeGraff said he plans to be open by August.
“I’ve never done something like this, but we’re trying to do something fun and creative,” DeGraff said of the FUN Worldwide Lab.
DeGraff, 43, will open Liquid Sky, an indoor-outdoor lounge, that will morph with Junk into one entertainment facility that will offer all-day dining, lounging, apres ski and special events in Snowmass. That facility is planned to be open by December.
The 10,000-square-foot space in Base Village, located just below the gondola, is two levels and will have four bars, including one outside where there will be lounges and private cabanas. A flick of the switch by the outdoor bartender will produce a flame, where people can cook their own s’mores, DeGraff said.
The eatery’s tagline is “Good Junk, Bad Junk, the only Junk your mom will let you eat,” and is described as a “new way of eating.”
Junk in Snowmass will open at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast and serve food all day at a midlevel price point.
He and his childhood friend from Chicago, Michael Morton, are co-founders and principals of the N9NE Group, which owns the N9NE Steakhouse, the Playboy Club, Rain nightclub, Nove Italiano Restaurant, Ghostbar, Palms Pool and Bungalows, and Moon nightclub in the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
The partners also opened the N9NE Steakhouse, Ghostbar, Nove Italiano and the Liquid Sky nightclub in Dallas.
DeGraff also has business interests in Chicago, and 16 years experience in providing fun and entertainment.
“I care about the locals, whatever city it is,” he said.
DeGraff said he and his family have made Aspen their full-time home. He has long-term leases on the four properties in Aspen and Snowmass.
DeGraff told the Times in March that he also is planning to open two other spaces in Aspen ” one will be a steakhouse and the other will be a lounge and special event venue. The locations of the businesses are not known. He declined on Tuesday to elaborate on his plans, saying his plate is full with his current endeavors.
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A straw poll by the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday indicated they would grant approval to Aspen Skiing Co.’s long-sought expansion into the Pandora’s terrain. The board did not take a formal vote, and instead, county commissioners and staff will meet to hammer out details on formal approval documents and it will be back on the Nov. 17 agenda for the vote.