Tavern changing hands, but that’s it | AspenTimes.com

Tavern changing hands, but that’s it

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

WOODY CREEK If Thursday’s farewell party for the owners of the Woody Creek Tavern is any indication, nothing’s changing at the popular spot.Despite the departure of longtime owners Shep and Mary Harris and the impending sale of the 27-year Woody Creek institution – the closing is set for Friday – everything from the kitchen and waitstaff to the menu and the tavern’s cast of characters is staying much the same.”It’s the end of our era; it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the era,” Harris said. He and his wife plan to stay in their home near El Jebel but will to take time to “travel without a timetable,” he said.The tavern has played host to an eclectic mix of “Woody Creatures” since opening in 1980, and its list of notable area residents who’ve sipped, supped and sang includes the late writer Hunter S. Thompson, movie and television star Don Johnson, and singer/songwriter Jimmy Ibbotson of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame.During Thursday’s farewell party, Ibbotson crooned Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” to a circle of some regulars, and the party spilled out onto the street, with old friends catching up and bidding Shep and Mary goodbye.Asked what they’ll change Saturday, when they take over the Woody Creek Tavern, Kevin Willson and Laura Wren, longtime co-owners of Aspen’s Wienerstube restaurant, spoke in unison: “Nothing.”

“The staff is brilliant. The food is brilliant. It’s a unique place and we’re going to keep it that way,” Wren said.The couple fell in love with the restaurant the first time they went, and Wren said, their hope is in six months nobody will even know the place changed hands.”It’s a unique, funky place,” Willson said, adding that his first duty at the restaurant was taking Biff, the restaurant cat, to the veterinarian. “It’s such a wonderful turnout for them,” Willson said of Thursday’s sendoff.Connie Bruce, a three-year tavern employee, will take over as manager. “We might change our underwear; that’s it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she said.There will be a staff meeting Saturday morning to cover details, but Bruce said there are no surprises or big changes in the works.

“It’s good to change hands now and again,” said George Stranahan, a former owner of the tavern and longtime Woody Creeker. “It’s not going anywhere.””It’s the only local hangout … the people’s choice. The No. 1 tavern in Woody Creek every year,” joked local attorney John Van Ness, a longtime Woody Creeker.Tom Isaac, Pitkin County’s assessor, said the Harrises have worked hard to make the place what it is and earned a break. But he said he plans to continue going to the tavern for the good food and great service.”They deserve it,” said Mark Bedell, who lives over the hill from the tavern with Jeanne Cancilla. “We’re happy for them to go because they’ve worked so hard to make this business successful. It’s a great community gathering place and I hope it stays one.””They’ve been great landlords,” said Larry Lefner, owner of the Woody Creek Art Gallery next door. “I’m sure there’ll be some changes; there always are,” Lefner said, but he’s met the new owners and is confident about the change, adding, “We’ll see.”

“I’m staying here,” said Mo Ferrer, a nine-year tavern waitress. She called her former employers wonderful but said she has bright hopes for the new management.Ferrer was quick to point out all staff will stick around, including the longtime kitchen crew.”It’s going to be difficult. It’s a big change. … I’m going to miss having them around,” said Jose Cardenas, the cook for 16 years. But he likes the new owners, he said, and plans to use the same suppliers and keep turning out the same menu.Neither the longtime owners nor the soon-to-be owners would share the price of the transaction – the figure should be available at the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office Friday.It will be business as usual – not one minute of closure – during the handover.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.

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