Marolt: Deed-restricted hamburgers |

Marolt: Deed-restricted hamburgers

Roger Marolt
Roger This

Who cares about the price of fish — or hamburgers?

The cost of hamburgers is not driving locals away from Aspen. Getting charged extra for bacon and cheese is not destroying the feeling of community. The cost of steak is not the reason anyone has pulled stakes.

I think the idea of deed-restricted restaurant meals is silly. You know what I mean: employee hamburgers, affordable hamburgers, any kind of hamburger whose price is limited by law — call it what you will. There’s a perpetually vacant restaurant space below what used to be the Cooper Street Pier sports bar that agrees with me.

Some of you know the space as “where Lucci’s used to be.” Lucci’s was an Italian restaurant existing during the La Cocina era that never garnered iconic Aspen status. It wasn’t because it was expensive. It wasn’t because the food was bad. It was the location. They pretty much had to beg people to go there.

Lucci’s was in an old, stuffy, windowless basement below a favorite local Aspen bar that has since been converted into a new, stuffy, windowless basement below an expensive clothing store where I would have to ask what the prices are, so I don’t. I couldn’t tell you the name of the place even though I walk past it almost every day.

The basement formerly known as Lucci’s is still there, except brand new. The problem is, when they tore down the old building and replaced it with a fancy replica, they slapped a deed restriction on the subterranean space to make up for the loss of Cooper Street Pier. The legal documents state that the basement is restricted for renting only to a restaurant agreeing to sell price-controlled hamburgers. As so often happens in Aspen politics, we punished the developer with this maneuver but failed to reward ourselves.

I’m sure this idea came from the experiment the city performed when it turned the restaurant in the Wheeler Opera House into a deed-restricted burger joint. Lots of people think the idea has worked there, but I’m going to give credit to the people at Justice Snow’s rather than to the social engineers. I think they recognized a great restaurant spot offered at a great price, and realized that the profit margin on hamburgers is pretty small, so agreeing to deed-restrict them was nothing.

If you go to Justice Snow’s, you’ll see what I mean. It serves a great hamburger, one of the best in town. I’ve always felt like it was a fair price, too, but when I got the bill, I’ve never said, “Oh, my gosh! This is so unbelievably cheap. I think I won’t move to St. Louis.”

I had actually forgotten that Justice Snow’s lease with the city depended on it agreeing to serve cost-controlled hamburgers. To me it just seemed like Justice Snow’s priced its delicious burgers low enough to attract a vibrant crowd that is not in the mood to spring for the pretentiousness of The Little Nell tonight.

What I’m saying is that the deed restriction on Justice Snow’s is a waste of red tape. I don’t think the pricing of its food would be that much different without it. And, even if it was, I don’t think Aspen would lose any character because of it.

In fact, I’ll argue that a lot of our character has to do with good food. We’ve had it since the discovery of skiing in America. It’s a lot better than most places, and most of us are glad to pay more for many good options. I may not be able to afford a house on Red Mountain, but it’s nice to splurge now and then and eat out at one of our world-class restaurants just to continue feeling part of the program and not just like a sorry person.

Another thing: It’s not that hard to get a reasonably priced meal at most restaurants in town. If they are smart, which most that survive are, they offer great deals on their bar menus, including nightly specials. Order well, stay sober, skip the dessert, and your Adam’s apple won’t bob when the bill comes.

As for the new, old Lucci’s space on Cooper Avenue — let it go. Let it go free market, and any restaurant that might open up there will probably not end up in competition with Pinions. More likely, it will end up being a funky, weird spot that has to entice customers with great deals and live music. In the meantime, let the science center use the vacant space.

Roger Marolt thinks the brewery is ending up where the science center should be because the brewery couldn’t be where Lucci’s used to be. Email

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