Wienerstube owner hoping it’s not auf Wiedersehen
ASPEN – The Wienerstube Restaurant is throwing a closing party Jan. 29-31, but owner Harald Neuweg hopes it’s not good-bye for the 45-year Aspen institution.
Neuweg said Tuesday that he will submit a proposal to the city of Aspen for the lease for the restaurant space now occupied by Bentley’s in the Wheeler Opera House.
“The future would be interesting if we get the space in the Wheeler,” Neuweg said. “For me, it would be natural to have a Viennese restaurant next to an opera house.”
Neuweg said a lot of great restaurants are located next to opera houses in his native Austria. He envisions offering special dinners that match specific types of events at the famed venue.
“I don’t see that a burger joint is what’s supposed to be there,” he said, adding that he understands the interest of Bentley’s in staying there.
The Wienerstube building will be demolished to make way for the new Aspen Art Museum. Neuweg said his lease runs through March 31, but his landlords have asked him to vacate early, and he intends to comply. Neuweg said he has looked at other commercial spaces in and around the downtown core, but they are unaffordable for his establishment, which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner at prices intended to be affordable for locals.
He hopes the Wheeler space is the solution to his dilemma. The city leases the Bentley’s space at below-market rates with the specific intent of maintaining “an affordable eating and drinking option at the Wheeler,” city documents say. The current lease is for $8,500 per month, according to the city.
Bentley’s has been in the Wheeler space since 1984, with its lease being renewed multiple times. The city will renovate the site in summer 2011. It will be closed during the construction and reopened around Dec. 1. The renovation spurred the city’s decision to open the lease up to any interested restaurant operators.
The city put out a request for proposals this winter. About 20 restaurateurs participated in a walk-through at Bentley’s on Monday to let them see all the facilities, city spokeswoman Sally Spaulding said.
Proposals are due Jan. 21, and the city intends to award the lease Feb. 11. A review committee comprised of city staff, private citizens and people in retail and restaurants will sort through the applications. The City Council will make the final determination of who gets the lease. No one has submitted a proposal yet, Spaulding said. Whoever earns the lease will be able to offer input on the renovation, she said.
Bentley’s owner Andrew Petrillo couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday on his intentions. He told the Aspen Daily News last month that he wanted to remain in the Wheeler Opera House.
Neuweg plans to mount a publicity campaign to go along with his proposal. He is circulating a “Keep the Wienerstube in Aspen” petition in his restaurant at 633 E. Hyman Ave. About 680 patrons have signed it in two weeks, he said. He intends to submit the petition to the city before the decision is made on the lease.
In addition to the petition, the Wienerstube is collecting comments from patrons on its Facebook page. “No schnitzel = no fun,” said one comment. “Some things must remain. We are losing too many of our special places,” said another.
Neuweg, who has lived in Miami for 30 years, visited Aspen in April 2008, teamed with the then-owners of the Wienerstube that summer and bought the establishment in September 2008. He is widely credited with restoring the restaurant’s traditional Austrian flavor.
Neuweg added dinner and re-emphasized quality, authentic Bavarian food. The success he has enjoyed is due to putting a personal stamp on the restaurant, he said. “You put your heart and soul into it.”
In his proposal for the Wheeler space, Neuweg will plan to continue offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. He said he would like to keep the upper level of Bentley’s as a bar and enlarge the lower section with a retail space currently occupied by Valley Fine Art gallery.
Bentley’s current footprint is 1,850 square feet; Valley Fine Art’s footprint is 1.025 square feet for a total of 2,875 square feet. The city said in its request for proposals that it will consider reconfiguring the space.
The Wienerstube has been at its current site for 25 years. It was on Cooper Avenue for 20 years before that.
The closing party is being billed as “the end of an era” in fliers. Neuweg has three afternoons and nights of parties planned this month just in case it is the end of the Wienerstube. He said he will clear out tables in the main section of the dining room for dancing. Saturday, Jan. 29, will feature T.A.G. – Those Austrian Guy’s – at 7 p.m.
Sunday will feature an Austrian apres ski party with D.J. Alex, a Bavarian-oriented fellow.
The closing day blowout on Monday, Jan. 31, will feature Helmut Fricker of Beaver Creek.
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