Willoughby: 508 E. Cooper — longtime location for food and fun | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: 508 E. Cooper — longtime location for food and fun

508 E. Cooper in 1973 housing King George’s Restaurant
Aspen Historical Society, Mary Eshbaugh Hayes Collection

The building that currently houses Brunello Cucinelli on 508 E. Cooper was in the news recently because it secured approval for a future restaurant in its basement. The building has housed an odd assortment of businesses, including many food establishments. The following illustrate the point.

When I was young, the building housed Grant and Gordier Plumbing and Heating. At the time, my father worked for them. The business was growing, so it had more than one site. We lived in the Cowenhoven Building, and, on the backside of the building, next to our back yard, they built a building to house their materials and to service their trucks. The Cooper Building was a showroom and business office.

At that time, the lot to the east was empty until the bowling alley was built, but a large space was still open between the two buildings used for parking and to store septic tanks.

Businesses had to diversify to make it, so Grant and Gordier used the office building showroom for appliances. They had few to view, but you ordered your washing machine, and they installed it. In the late ’50s, they added a new product — televisions — when Aspen first connected to KREX in Grand Junction.

Ed Gordier was a member of Aspen’s city council during those years, and Dale Grant resided in Basalt. After retiring from the business, he was an Eagle County commissioner.

The top floor of the building was rented out as apartments for many decades.

In that same era, Al and Alma Barbier operated a dairy ranch in Woody Creek. In 1958, they opened the Aspen Sweet and Snack in the Cowenhoven Building, right next to my home. They sold their ranch eggs in the new shop, but it featured fresh doughnuts, candies, ice cream, sodas, and malts. In the winter, coffee and hot chocolate were popular. I indulged in their ice cream.

They did not advertise them, but, if you asked, you could get fresh rabbit. At the time, my sister and I had a pet rabbit, so when my mother served Babier rabbit, “tastes like chicken,” we declined.

They moved the business to 508 E. Cooper about a year later and broadened the business to include burgers, hotdogs, and fries. It was an order-at-the-counter-and-eat business, making it less expensive than Eddies, the White Kitchen, and the bowling alley sit-down restaurants.

In the back room, they featured the first pinball machines. That, along with a jukebox, made it a popular teen hangout.

In 1960, the basement was leased for a new restaurant, The Steak Pit. Chuck Rolles and Paul Raugust modeled it after their restaurant in Honolulu, featuring steak, lobster, and beef kabobs. They billed the basement location as “secluded hideaway atmosphere.” 

A couple years later, Peter Guy took over as the new owner and ran it for 42 years, and it lasted another eight years under new ownership and, like many Aspen restaurants, changed locations several times.

The ground floor has been the location for several other restaurants, including King George’s and the very popular Cooper Street Pier. Those competed with basement-level restaurants in the new building that was built next door, like the Magic Pan that opened in 1970.

The building has been remodeled and refaced many times, disguising the fact that it is a mining-era remnant.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.


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