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No more late nights at Wolf

John Colson

The Howling Wolf, which for more than four years has been Aspen’s most popular after-hours spot, will be that no longer.

After a basically amicable hourlong meeting with the Aspen liquor licensing authority on Tuesday, the management of the Howling Wolf agreed to stop staying open after 2 a.m. to avoid violating Colorado liquor laws.

The arrangement is only expected to last for a couple of weeks, however, after which the Howling Wolf will either be in a new location or no longer in business.

The bar’s management was called in to City Hall for a “show cause hearing” to explain to city officials why they should not pull the Howling Wolf’s liquor license.

The Wolf and the city have been at odds for some time over allegations that the Wolf was serving after hours, “overserving” some customers, allowing some level of party activity in an unauthorized room in the basement, and generally being uncooperative with city officials.

Aspen building and fire officials had been called in to inspect the premises last year. They indicated that they found a number of problems, including lack of an alarm and a fire-suppressant sprinkler system; the use of the downstairs “Green Room” as a gathering place; blocking of a back hallway leading to the alleyway behind the bar, which has been blocked either by people or by boxes and equipment; and lack of a system for locking up the liquor and beer when the establishment remains open for business after 2 a.m.

But at the hearing, officials indicated that the problems had been largely taken care of with the exception of arranging a building permit to bring the “Green Room” up to city codes for uses other than office space or storage, and the installation of a system to lock up the booze. The management had installed a Venetian blind that pulls down over the liquor shelves, but liquor board members pointed out that it did not cover the beer taps, and maintained that someone could easily reach around behind the blind and grab a bottle.

Owner Steve Murdock and manager Paul Levine told the liquor board members that they are hoping to relocate the Howling Wolf to new quarters and would rather not spend the money needed to install a liquor lock-up system, or do a lot of work on the Green Room.

The board members agreed that the work need not be done in light of the pending change of address for the club. Murdock and Levine said negotiations continue with the estate of the late Bert Bidwell, owner of a building at the corner of Cooper and Galena streets, to take over the basement space now occupied by the Flying Dog Brew Pub.

Levine indicated he hopes to continue to offer after-hours operations even at the new location, as a service for Aspen’s throng of night- club patrons who aren’t ready to call it quits when the rest of the town shuts down at 2 a.m. But, he must figure out a way to get all drinks off the table in accordance with state law.

“The rules change at 2 [a.m.],” declared Assistant City Attorney David Hoefer, stressing that in staying open after 2 a.m., the Wolf is accepting responsibility for anyone who breaks the law and hides away a drink.

“Is there leeway there?” asked Levine in return. “Do we have to throw out the band’s friends while they load out?”

He maintained that one after-hours complaint from Aspen police officers involved friends of the band that played that night, who had come to help the band break down their set.

Hoefer indicated he had to work that out with the police.

The issue was settled when Murdock pledged that, until the Wolf closes down on April 18 to either move or go out of business, the bar will shut the doors and kick out all customers at 2 a.m. “except for the band loading out and staff.”

Liquor board member Terry Allen, as the meeting drew to a close, told Levine, “You need to address this attitude problem with the police.”

If officers find a drink in a patron’s hand after 2 a.m., “you have to address that and not get all bent out of shape,” Allen continued.

Levine argued that he has not had a bad relationship with the police in general, but board member Gary Esary chimed in, “I know you feel like you’ve gone halfway, and the police feel like they’ve gone halfway [to work together], but there is still a little bit of a gap here.”

And Allen, before dismissing the Wolf and closing the meeting, urged Murdock and Levine to comply with the law or face the consequences.

“We don’t get paid to do this,” he said, referring to the volunteer members of the board. “I’d rather be at my business making money than sitting here admonishing you two guys.”


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