Onion owners put up their dukes
ASPEN Owners of The Red Onion are worried that current operators will sell off historical artwork and photos that adorn the walls of the 115-year old bar and restaurant when it closes March 31.One current operator said Wednesday there are no such plans, although many of the photos and memorabilia have been taken down recently after uncovering a plot among customers to steal certain items.”I guess everyone wants a piece of The Red Onion,” said Ellen “Iggy” Walbert, who, with her husband, David “Wabs” Walbert, have been running the Onion for the past 23 years. The two announced late last year that they would give up the space because new owners were planning a rent increase the Walberts felt was beyond their reach.The wall-art issue arose in an e-mail exchange between one of the bar’s owners, local attorney Ron Garfield, and City Councilman Jack Johnson, in which Johnson asked for clarification about a statement in an earlier e-mail Garfield sent to city officials.
On March 26, Garfield wrote, “I would appeal to current operator and others to prevent the scattering of important historical photos and artwork from Red Onion. These items do not belong to the owner.”Garfield also said he and his partner, attorney Andy Hecht, intend to renovate and reopen the bar next winter – “restored to its glory days” – possibly in response to growing concern among locals that the space would become a high-end retail store or real estate office.Johnson wrote back on March 27 that he had heard, “The boxing pictures at least do belong to Wabs,” referring to numerous photos of boxers that had once adorned the wall next to the bar’s front window, and asked Garfield to elaborate on his concerns about the artwork.Garfield’s return e-mail stated, “The owners before our group sold all the artwork and photos to Wabs. We had told Wabs we were interested in buying back all of it, having the important pieces restored and reinstalling in Red Onion when it reopens next winter.”But, Garfield continued, he had heard second- and third-hand that “Wabs has decided to sell off the artwork and photos piecemeal for whatever he can get.”
Iggy Walbert, however, denied the suggestion.”That’s not true,” she said flatly. “We have not decided that.”In fact, she said, Wabs is planning to talk with the Aspen Historical Society about turning the material over for historical preservation.But, she added, “If it stays The Red Onion, obviously we think the historical memorabilia belongs in The Red Onion. We’ll see.”Iggy also said she had never heard of any offer from Garfield and Hecht to buy the photos, although she admitted that perhaps her husband knew of it and had neglected to inform her. Wabs was not available for comment at the time.
She said the artwork was up on the walls until recently, when “We did catch some customers with that intent [making off with artwork] in mind. We moved them for safekeeping. They’re in a safe place.”In his e-mail to Johnson, Garfield wrote of hearing there is considerable interest among potential buyers of the memorabilia, and remarking, “I had hoped Wabs would either sell it all to us or donated it to the Aspen Historical Society.”Johnson, who wrote that he is on the historical society board, added that he believes the society does have “some of the cartoons that hung there [in the Onion] for years.” He offered to act as intermediary to see whether that or any other relevant material could be loaned out to the Onion, “perhaps [as part of] a rotating exhibit partnership w/ the AHS?”Garfield and Hecht have not responded to repeated requests for interviews with The Aspen Times.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org