‘Stube owners set sights on Tavern | AspenTimes.com

‘Stube owners set sights on Tavern

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

WOODY CREEK Will actor Johnny Depp buy the Woody Creek Tavern? Will the defunct and recently torched Mustang Ranch be reincarnated here? Or, will Kevin Willson and Laura Wren, longtime co-owners of Aspen’s Wienerstube Restaurant and now its Basalt outlet, add the tavern to their growing list of local eateries?That list of possibilities reflects two rumors and one very real story that have been circulating around Woody Creek.

Tavern co-owner Shep Harris confirmed Monday that Willson and Wren have made an offer on the business. Willson went public about the impending purchase in a column the Denver Post published April 29.The tavern, a popular watering hole and eatery that will celebrate 27 years in business this year, is along Upper River Road next to the Woody Creek Trailer Park.According to Harris, negotiations for the tavern’s sale have been under way for a while. Harris wouldn’t disclose the asking price for the business and said questions remain about Wren and Willson’s ability to come up with the necessary financing.”We’re still in limbo here,” Harris said. “They’re still having to pull their act together.”They’ll have to commit themselves in the next couple of days,” he continued, explaining that the pair is expected to put down a nonrefundable deposit of “earnest money” soon. Harris seemed amused by “rumors” that Depp might step in to buy the restaurant, or that the tavern could become the new Mustang Ranch, a famous Nevada brothel that closed several years ago and was burned to the ground a few weeks ago in a firefighting exercise.”Those are wishes,” he remarked.

Depp was a close friend of Hunter S. Thompson, a Woody Creek resident and a regular at the tavern. Thompson killed himself in February 2005, and Depp ponied up a reported $2.5 million or more to blast the writer’s remains skyward through a “cannon” at an extravagant memorial ceremony in August 2005. A jar perched on the bar at the tavern calls upon patrons to “Help Johnny Depp buy the Tavern for the Tavern employees.”The Mustang Ranch rumor, according to waitress Diane Redfern, actually came from a male customer she declined to name.”People were saying what different things our tavern could become,” she recalled, “and one guy said, ‘Well, it could become the next Mustang Ranch.’ I think it was just wishful thinking.”She said the appeal to Depp for help is “very serious … we’re hoping he’s been e-mailed.””I mean, look what he did for Hunter. He could do this for us,” she said, noting that Depp “hung out in here quite a bit when he was learning to be Hunter, to portray him in the movie [“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, released in 1998], and he loves our cheeseburgers.”

She said the staff doesn’t necessarily oppose Willson and Wren being their bosses, but added, “They would have some very hard shoes to fill” because “Mary and Shep have been, like, golden. They have treated us like family.”If Depp does step in and buy the place, Redfern said: “We can pay him off slowly, and preserve it. We’ll make everyone proud, including Hunter.”As for the current negotiations, Harris declined to corroborate Willson’s prediction, as the Denver Post quoted, that the sale is expected to close in May.”Shortly, it’ll be closed or it won’t be,” he said.Willson was not available for comment Monday, but according to Al Lewis’ column in the Post, Willson pledged, “The plan is to run it just exactly the way it is. … We have not changed the Wienerstube, and that’s our guarantee that we are not going to change Woody Creek.”John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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