Red Onion signs on for another year
Dave “Wabs” Walbert and his version of The Red Onion restaurant and bar have signed a lease to stay in the 113-year-old building for another year.This is the second one-year lease extension for the business, one of Aspen’s oldest. The red-brick building on the Cooper Avenue mall was built in 1892 by Tom Latta, and has predominantly operated as a restaurant and bar since.Last summer, Walbert’s 20-year lease on the space ended, and the building owners signed a new one-year lease with him, saying eventually they might like to see a new restaurant fill the space.It’s a similar story this time around for The Red Onion, a business that specializes in Mexican food, lunch specials, burgers and beer.”He’s been a wonderful tenant, and this will be his 22nd year in the building,” said Charles Israel, who owns the building along with six other investors. “We wanted to give him some lead time and us some lead time to look around and see what he can do in life besides be our tenant. Maybe we can find another restaurant to improve on the lease and the food.”Walbert moved to Aspen in 1976 with his wife, Ellen, and operated a Mexican restaurant called Pablo’s in the garden-level space beneath Kemosabe. In 1984 Israel offered a 20-year lease for the space in The Red Onion building, and Walbert brought his casual, part-Mexican menu to the venerable establishment.The Red Onion building hosted a gambling establishment during the silver boom of the late 1800s, and the old saloon was remodeled in 1947. It became one of Aspen’s first venues for après-ski and late-night entertainment, once hosting a performance by Billie Holiday.In the early ’80s around five operators tried business in the space, including national hamburger chain Red Robin.The one-year leases don’t bother him, Walbert said.”I had a lot of worries when my 20-year lease was up that I might not be there anymore, but I have less worries than that now,” he said, adding that Israel for now seems to want to keep him on shorter, year-long leases. “He treats me well.”The new lease is from Oct. 1 of this year to Sept. 30, 2006.”Business has been great this summer, and I’m looking forward to a good winter,” Walbert said. “Friends ask me all the time about the future of the business, and I’m very honest with them.”Israel said he and his fellow investors are exploring the idea of another format for the space, although he’d like to see it remain a restaurant.”Many restaurants that have opened in this town do much more business than Wabs, and can afford to pay more rent than he does,” Israel said. “His choice of menu limits the volume he does.”The Walberts also own the Old Dillon Inn, a historic restaurant and bar in Silverthorne.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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