Little Nell’s restaurant adds pizzazz and a new moniker |

Little Nell’s restaurant adds pizzazz and a new moniker

The Little Nell Hotel has found it isn’t cheap maintaining a five-diamond, five-star reputation in the hotel industry.

The 10-year-old hotel, which consistently draws the highest possible ratings from Mobil and AAA, is nearing the end of renovations that cost about $1.5 million.

The 92 guest rooms have been remodeled and redecorated, the living room off the lobby was spruced up, and now construction crews are scrambling to complete a massive facelift of the dining room by Dec. 19.

The Restaurant, as the dining room has been known since the hotel opened, is going through philosophical changes as drastic as the physical remodeling.

“We’re trying to de-formalize and get back to our roots,” said Eric Calderon, the only general manager the hotel has ever had. “We’ve evolved into a special-occasion-only restaurant.”

So he’s stripping off the tablecloths, at least during lunch. He’s lowering prices. He’s giving the restaurant its own little bar and – perhaps most shockingly – he’s giving The Restaurant a name.

They’re calling it Montagna, which is an Italian version of mountain, according to Calderon. That matches a culinary theme that features alpine cooking from different regions.

Paul Wade, formerly of The Peaks in Telluride, has been hired as the new executive chef. The Little Nell’s original chef, Richard Chamberlain, is working as a consultant with the title of culinary director.

Chamberlain has “always cooked food that people want to eat,” said Calderon.

The general manager admitted that changes to his restaurant were prompted in part by the success the St. Regis has experienced with Olives. He also wants to capture a feel that’s achieved by Conundrum Restaurant and some other successful hangouts in Aspen.

The decor, food and service of a restaurant all influence its reputation.

“We’re trying to de-formalize all three,” said Calderon.”The restaurant world is ever changing with every new fad. After 10 years, we couldn’t get around it anymore.”

The new entrance will be through the living room rather than via a hallway on the side of the lobby and living room. Diners will enter the restaurant through the bar, then find a more open dining room than before. No big barrier will separate the upper and lower sections like before.

The decor has been changed from earth tones to “more dramatic colors,” said Calderon.

The bar, which seats 18, will feature its own menu. Prices will be lowered for both lunch and dinner. “I feel we’ve become a little on the expensive side,” he said.

His goal is to attract locals back for lunch and to get more tourists more often.

The rooms were updated in phases, a process that will be completed Dec. 20. All “soft goods” – from bed skirts to chairs and carpets – were replaced, and new, larger televisions were installed. The TVs have headsets, which allow one person to watch without disturbing another.

Calderon can’t be certain that the changes will be enough to earn the hotel lofty marks again, but he does believe it will keep the property popular with his customers.

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