Touches of Aspen’s old Red Onion will shine at ‘Junk’ |

Touches of Aspen’s old Red Onion will shine at ‘Junk’

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Bar exam

ASPEN ” When Junk at the Red Onion opens this summer in the old Red Onion space on Aspen’s Cooper Avenue mall, locals will find at least something of the old watering hole in the new establishment.

The floor, for starters. And the bar itself, though historic preservation efforts have given the furnishings a new luster after more than a century of wear.

City of Aspen staffers, members of the Historic Preservation Commission and a few elected officials toured the building Tuesday for a glimpse of the renovation and preservation efforts that have been under way since the old Red Onion was shuttered two years ago.

The bar itself, stripped and refinished, shows a design of inlaid wood on its front face that Onion patrons may not have noticed before.

And the thousands of small tiles in cream, blue and brick that made up the distinctive barroom floor have each been carefully removed, cleaned and, in some cases, replaced with replicated pieces ” a project that has been in process for two years.

After Tuesday’s tour, Mark Mace of Carbondale was ready to finish grouting the tile. After a shellac coat, the Red Onion floor will be ready for another century, he said.

Mace and his crew specialize in “crazy masonry problems” and Mace was well acquainted with the challenge presented by the floor. Not only had he been frequenting the Red Onion since the ’70s, he helped Aspen’s historic Hotel Jerome refurbish a floor accented with similar tiles several years ago.

The Red Onion’s original tiles were made by an Ohio company that went out of business in the ’30s, according to Mace, who found a man in Texas to make replacement pieces of the exact size, shape, thickness and colors of the originals, with identical beveled edges, so they could be set into place alongside the salvageable original tiles.

There are a “bazillion” new tiles in the floor, Mace said. Some have been roughed up to look old.

“There are still a bazillion of the original ones, too,” he said, thanks, in part, to a supply of extras from the original batch.

“They found buckets and buckets of old tiles in the basement,” he said.

The tiles have been painstakingly placed back in the original pattern, but getting them out of the old floor intact and cleaning them was a bigger challenge than putting them back, Mace said.

Just inside the front entryway, a tile sign embedded in the floor design spells out the name “LATTA” ” for original owner Tom Latta ” a signature piece of the old floor that was delicately removed as one entire block.

“It took us a day and a half to jackhammer it out as one piece ” it had six inches of mortar stuck to the back,” Mace said.

With new subflooring beneath the tiles, and new floor joists to supplement originals that have been left in place, the rebuilt bar floor should handle the feet of as many patrons as the old Onion saw in its 100-plus years of business.

“This will last a long, long time,” Mace declared.

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