Justice Snow’s to open doors at Aspen’s Wheeler
January 26, 2012
ASPEN – When patrons step into the new Justice Snow’s Restaurant and Bar in Aspen’s iconic Wheeler Opera House on Friday, they might feel as though the establishment has always been there.
In fact, it likely will be a hectic work in progress right up until Thursday’s invitation-only preview party, when its proprietors unveil their efforts to create a gathering place that complements Aspen’s historic theater venue.
On Wednesday afternoon, it was all hands on deck as workmen finished staining the woodwork and assembled tables and chairs amid supply deliveries, final decor decisions, cleanup and runs for coffee.
“I joked to my friends that I’m at the point in the process where I’m either crying or screaming,” said Michele Kiley, co-owner of the business, along with Marco Chingolani and chef Jonathan Leichliter. “Is there such a thing as an opening without pushing it down to the wire?”
The partnership, known as Fiercely Local LLC, won favor with Aspen City Council in a competitive process to select a new operator for the former Bentley’s space at the city-owned Wheeler. Members of Fiercely Local formerly ran the Cheese Shop/Speciality Foods of Aspen.
After a city renovation project at the Wheeler that began last summer, Fiercely Local has had about six weeks to make the restaurant space their own.
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The group’s vision becomes reality for the general public on Friday. Those who remember Bentley’s will find a new establishment with familiar touches – most notably, the bar itself. The original hope to replace the bar with a different piece of Aspen history – the bar that once graced Andre’s – didn’t come to fruition. The expense of transporting it from California and refurbishing it didn’t pencil out. Instead, Kiley said, the Bentley’s bar was removed from the building, stripped to bare wood and refinished. She is pleased with the result.
“Getting that bar back in that space – it was obviously the right choice,” she said.
“It’s a beautiful bar, so it worked out fine,” agreed Brooklyn-based designer Matt Duncan, one of many who had a hand in creating the new space. He added copper and leather elements to the refurbished bar.
Virtually every element at Justice Snow’s (more on the name in a bit) is new to the restaurant space, but some of it is older than the Wheeler itself.
Hefty planks of 300-year-old white oak, taken from a western Pennsylvania barn, now line the barroom floor, Duncan noted. The floor in the lower room, dubbed “the parlor,” has been redone in barn wood of American chestnut, a now-extinct species. The walls throughout the bar and restaurant have been refinished in Venetian plaster and an antique, solid-brass chandelier, rescued from a scrap yard, now hangs in the parlor.
“It would be a little sinful to do slick and modern in the Wheeler,” Duncan said. “I really wanted the place to hearken back to the early days of the Wheeler.
“We wanted this to be a place where day laborers, business people and the elite could meet and mingle,” he said. “Everybody should come in there and feel comfortable.”
Duncan has come up with flourishes that tie the restaurant to the theater, but Kiley wasn’t anxious to reveal the surprises that have been incorporated into the space.
She did explain the name, Justice Snow’s, which some have panned in the early going, she conceded.
“It’s a very, very arcane Aspen reference,” said Kiley, who found the name in newspapers dating back to the 1880s, when the Wheeler Opera House was built. Snow was a justice of the peace in Aspen at the time.
“I thought, my God, what are the odds that we had a justice of the peace who’s last name was Snow?” Kiley said.
The restaurant will be open 365 days a year for lunch and dinner. Kiley described the menu as “Colorado-inspired” and “ridiculously affordable.”