Butch Darden’s seafood shack is back in Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Butch Darden’s seafood shack is back in Basalt

Owner Butch Darden, right, with help from Tom Romero, recently opened Butch's Lobster Shack in downtown Basalt. Darden's food has appeared in numerous places througout the Basalt area over the years.

The shack is officially back in Basalt.

Butch Darden opened Butch's Lobster Shack on Thursday night and already is drawing big crowds. His fans eagerly awaited his return after an absence of two years.

"We have a lot of people who were just waiting for this to happen again," he said Friday.

The lobster shack is open on the lawn west of the Kelly Block Building, one of the historic structures on Basalt's Midland Avenue. It's the building where Heirlooms is located. There are a half-dozen bar seats on the small deck of the shack and eight picnic tables scattered in the lawn. It will make for great mingling.

“I buy good stuff. It’s hard to make good food out of cheap stuff.”

— Butch Darden

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In prior years, the shack was popular in cramped quarters next to a propane tank at the Phillips 66 gas station and, briefly, on the asphalt at the old recycling center. If it worked there, Darden said, it's bound to be successful in the grassy setting.

Darden has been nothing if not resilient. He started an oyster bar in a corner of the old Tippler nightclub in Aspen in 1979. He was recruited to the Grand Aspen in the late 1980s, then went big-time with a restaurant for 18 years in the Timberline Lodge in Snowmass Village. A lobster shack in Basalt was so successful for a couple of summers that he opened a second restaurant there in 2010. Both restaurants fell victim to the recession and closed.

Butch resurrected the lobster shack in Basalt and operated for several summers before losing space to lease two years ago.

The Slater family, who were involved in the purchase and renovation of the Kelly Block last year, invited him to their lawn. Darden had to go through the regulatory process before he could open — securing Basalt land-use approvals, getting water and sewer service at a reasonable fee and passing an Eagle County health inspection. The colorful shack where the lobster rolls, chowder, fish and chips, shrimp tacos and more are served from was once the refrigerated unit on the back of a catering truck. A separate commissary is located a short distance away, behind the Kelly Block building.

Butch is back in his usual spot — behind the shack cooking lobster. His friend Tom Romero is helping with the food and also the handyman chores that are always necessary at a restaurant.

Several restaurant workers who have been with Butch since his days in Snowmass Village have returned to help for the summer.

It's obvious that many of his faithful diners also will be back.

"I just wanted to say 'hey,'" said a woman named Cindy, who was wearing fish flip-flops and came by to welcome back Butch while he was working on the shack's deck Friday morning.

The shack is open 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It will remain open until mid-September.

He doesn't have a liquor license.

Darden said he believes the shack is popular because it offers the broadest range of seafood in the area. Many area restaurants offer just a few items.

"I buy good stuff," he said. "It's hard to make good food out of cheap stuff."

When asked what is most popular, he said: "Lobster rolls, by far." Chowder is up there, too.

He doesn't have any problem finding fresh seafood. He buys lobster up to five times per week. But there's a price to pay.

"Lobsters are more expensive than I've ever seen," he said.

Darden said he didn't want to pursue reopening the shack unless it was in a space where he could return summer after summer. That's the understanding with his landlords — "Unless I (mess) up," he said with a little more colorful language and a laugh.

scondon@aspentimes.com