Ute City comes back to life in Aspen
September 7, 2009
ASPEN – In these times of economic unrest and a myriad of restaurants closing in Aspen, one longtime restaurateur is ready to open a moderately priced bar and grill on Hopkins Avenue.
The 16-month-long La Cocina building redevelopment is nearing its end, and Walt Harris, part-owner of the building, said the new Ute City bar and grill will be open by the end of the month.
The roughly 3,000-square-foot bar and restaurant will serve up menu items that are priced between $15 and $20. Bar menu selections will be under $15.
Harris has said in the past that he wants the place to be reminiscent of some of Aspen’s favorite watering holes, specifically Ute City Bank and Smuggler Land Office, which closed years ago.
The space will be on the ground level of the three-story building, with open doors leading to a patio and a bar looking out at Hopkins Avenue, now known as “Restaurant Row” between Mill and Monarch streets.
The teak-wood ceilings are designed in the shape of waves, and the atmosphere is intended to be casual. Live music will be held there on a regular basis, Harris said.
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Ute City will be the first to open in the 20,000-square-foot building, which takes the place of the old La Cocina restaurant – housed in a building that was taken off the historic list because of a loss of integrity.
In the building’s basement, a large space is being built-out for Harris’ longtime restaurant Syzygy, which had been located in an upstairs spot across from Little Annies on Hyman Avenue.
Harris said the high-end restaurant will likely open in December.
“We’re planning to raise the bar from what we did in the past,” he said of the restaurant’s food and atmosphere.
Gary Wesley, superintendent of the project, said the Syzygy space, designed by local interior designer Sophie Harvey, will have a massive fireplace, a leather-lined ceiling that reaches as high as 12 feet and ebony finishes around the room.
“This is going to be the hot spot,” he said. “It’s going to look really cool down here.”
Two separate kitchens on different floors will serve Ute City and Syzygy.
On the second and third floors are unfinished residential housing units – two free-market, high-end condos that are still on the market and three affordable housing apartments that will be inhabited by Harris’ employees.
The penthouse has a massive deck that looks out to Aspen Mountain, and the second condo below has similar views.
On the exterior of the building – which was designed by local architect Charles Cunniffe, who also is a partner in the development – great pains were taken to create an “old Aspen” feel.
That started with an entire brick facade, with the work being done by longtime mason company Rudi Britvar Stone.
About 44,900 bricks in three different variations will have been laid and stacked once the project is completed, said project manager Tom Clapper.
Because the building is located in the commercial core historic district, the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission and staff have had oversight of the project since its inception in 2006.
The commission had purview over the building’s design, height, mass, scale, view plane intrusions and what materials would be used.
“It’s a typical type of building found in the 1900s,” said Sara Adams, the city’s preservation planner. “[The commission] took a cue from other buildings in the area. So far, it looks good.”
Clapper agrees that the building blends in with the architecture and style of others in the downtown core.
“There are a lot of beautiful brick buildings around,” he said, adding the laying of the bricks has been a nearly eight-month project. “They wanted it to look old.”
Wesley said the building’s exterior has a lot of character, thanks to Cunniffe’s design, the mason’s work and the overall effort led by John Olson Builders, the general contractor on the job.
Brick is twice as expensive as using traditional siding, but there are great environmental benefits to using it.
“There’s no maintenance, and it soaks up the heat and transfers it into the building,” Clapper said.
Harris, along with his business partners, Cunniffe, John Provine and Jim Farmer, bought the property a few years ago and entered the city review process in 2006. The project gained Aspen City Council approval in 2007.
The proposal was submitted when the city government relaxed the regulations on development to promote infill in the downtown core in an effort to revitalize the economy.
Standing at 35 feet tall, the new building impedes the Hotel Jerome’s view plane by a little more than 3 feet. The proposal originally called for a taller building, but at the Historic Preservation Commission’s request, Harris and his partners dropped it by several feet.
Before voting to approve the project, council members said the project is beneficial because it adds vitality to the area, is a local-serving business and adds affordable housing downtown – all goals of the Aspen Area Community Plan.