Silver anniversary crystallizes 50 rowdy years | AspenTimes.com

Silver anniversary crystallizes 50 rowdy years

Joel Stonington

The Crystal Palace buzzes with activity during Saturday night's first seating. (Joel Stonington/The Aspen Times)

Even though the two seatings at the Crystal Palace on Saturday night were closed to the public, the dinner crowd packed the place, and belly laughs overflowed into the street. The audience was all people who have been in the other position at Aspen’s dinner theater spot: singing, dancing, lying on the piano, twisting dirty lyrics through tired tongues.All the former employees and their families had traveled from the around the country to come to a weekend of festivities celebrating 50 years that the Crystal Palace has been entertaining people with dinner theater.”It’s very remarkable,” said Mead Metcalf, the founder and owner of the Crystal Palace. “There are a lot of faces I haven’t seen in a long time.”Indeed, the employees walked around with name tags and their years, “’68-’74,” “’57-’76” and so on, showing how long the Palace has been around. “It was a wonderful place to work,” said Dottie Wolcott, who is now the office manager of The Aspen Times. “We’d go skiing all day, go to work at the Palace, have breakfast at the Red Onion at 2 a.m., then wake up and go skiing again.”After dinner Saturday, Mead Metcalf, the founder and owner of the Crystal Palace, sat down behind the piano, to cheers in the dining room. It’s the piano he’s sat behind for 50 years. And the employees who once bustled about during dinner, then sung their songs, were all sitting at the tables.

“Good evening and welcome to the 50th year of the Crystal Palace,” Metcalf said.

Then the staff members started in on their repertoire, going from song to song as Metcalf played on, changing costumes and keeping the show rolling as the laughs bubbled forth.”We formed a camaraderie that so few businesses have, as you can see by the reunion,” Wolcott said. “We have a bond that goes forever and a lot of laughs to boot.”After the main performance finished, Michael McAssey, the other current piano player, stood up.

“We would like to welcome you all home,” he said. “Please welcome to the stage the man whose fault this has been for the last 50 years, Mr. Mead Metcalf.”And there Metcalf stood as the cheers poured forth. Then he sat down to play a few encores, including “Peanut Butter on my Chin.”Earlier in the day, Metcalf stood at the Wheeler/Stallard Museum in Aspen during the opening of a new exhibit, “Crystal Memories: Fifty Years of Palace Shenanigans.” The first floor of the museum feels quite a lot like the Palace: It includes walls of the same color, various stained-glass pieces that have graced the Palace, costumes, waitstaff outfits and albums with original music.

“I would do it for another five years if we had the business,” Metcalf said. “Business has gone down.”The Palace used to do two seatings a night; nowadays, it’s only one. “Aspen has changed a great deal,” Metcalf said. “People are building higher in downtown. It’s a whole different town. The more big houses, the less people live in them. That’s a problem. The people who work in Aspen live downvalley.”Indeed, Aspen has changed much since 1957, when the Palace opened. It’s those changes and the classical music concerts that have depleted business.

Even so, the Crystal Palace still showcases songs and great food. It’s one of the longest-lived businesses in Aspen for good reason. “What Mead has created in Aspen is unique,” said Nina Gabianelli, the Crystal Palace general manager. “I’m so happy we’ve been able to honor Mr. Metcalf in this way. He’s been doing it every day for 50 years.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com