Upgrade in works for Little Nell restaurant in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Upgrade in works for Little Nell restaurant in Aspen

Andre SalvailThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado

Courtesy of the Aspen Skiing Co.This artist's rendering depicts a more casual dining-room atmosphere at Montagna restaurant in The Little Nell Hotel & Residences. The restaurant and its bar will close Sept. 10 for a $2.5 million renovation.

ASPEN – A $2.5 million renovation of Montagna restaurant at The Little Nell Hotel & Residences is set to start on Sept. 10.The restaurant and its bar will be closed for about 10 weeks, reopening by Nov. 22, the Thanksgiving holiday. The project aims to create more synergy between the dining area and the bar and a casual atmosphere for both, according to Sally Spaulding, public relations manager for the hospitality division of Aspen Skiing Co., which owns and operates the upscale lodging property.The renovation is the final step in a trio of recent upgrades, she said. The hotel gave its Living Room section a makeover last fall and redid its guest rooms in 2009.”When you go into the space now, a lot of times the bar will be going crazy with this mad, energy and then sometimes the restaurant will be very quiet,” Spaulding said. “This is something we want to change. We don’t want it to seem like you’re leaving the activity of the bar to go into the restaurant. We’re hoping to provide an easy flow between the two.”The Little Nell has hired restaurant design firm Bentel & Bentel, of Nassau County, N.Y., to spearhead the restaurant and bar project. The firm recently won the 2012 James Beard Award for restaurant design for its work on Le Bernardin in New York City. The stronger connection between the bar and dining room will be accomplished by eliminating the doorways. Other changes will include large-scale artwork, contemporary furnishings and a glass wall to hold wine bottles. The dining area’s white tablecloths will be scuttled. Sabato Sagaria, food and beverage director at The Little Nell, said the menu format will change, as well, with an a-la-carte style substituting for the current prix-fixe offerings.”It really gives the diners more versatility in their options,” Sagaria said. “There’s less commitment on their part, so if they want to come in and just order some snacks and that grows into dinner, so be it, but if they just want to come in and have drinks and appetizers with friends, it’s more conducive to that.”The new wine wall will hold about 800 bottles. The Little Nell currently has a selection of about 1,500 different wines from a total inventory of 15,000 bottles, he said.”Every time our guys sell a bottle of red wine, they have to walk four flights down, then four flights up,” he said. “They have the biggest calves in the wine business. So this is going to be more functional for them.”While the restaurant’s menu will highlight sustainable food sources from the area, the bar will emphasize Colorado beer and spirits.”In the past few years, the number of distilleries in Colorado and the quality of their products has increased tremendously,” Sagaria said. “In our kitchens at The Little Nell, we have always tried to highlight local and regional products, so carrying that vision into our bar program was the next logical step.” For instance, with regard to well liquors, the bar will pour Mell Vodka, made by Peak Spirits in Hotchkiss; Spring 44 Gin from Loveland; Montanya Rum from Crested Butte; and Fireside Whiskey by Mile High Spirits in Denver. The cocktail menu also will reflect this transition, with Colorado spirits at the foundation for all the restaurant’s signature drinks.For beers, the bar will always feature four drafts brewed in Colorado with a mix of offerings and niches depending on the season. The bottle and can selections will also be solely Colorado-based. “If a guest is looking for a Corona, for example, we could offer them a Ska Brewing Co. Mexican-style lager, which is a delicious alternative brewed in Durango,” Sagaria said. The project was originally slated to begin in April. “We just wanted to make sure we did it right without rushing into it,” Sagaria said. “We had to have a lot of people on our end sign off on it.”Though Montagna is closing for the fall, the hotel’s other restaurant, the Ajax Tavern, will remain open during the offseason for breakfast, lunch and dinner, he added.asalvail@aspentimes.com