Sean Beckwith: Advice for handling Aspen’s IP
It’s no shocker (to me, at least) that once Marvel — and now Star Wars — allowed the people who love their stories the most to cultivate its content, the work excelled. You have writers, directors and producers who are Star Wars/Marvel fans first, and writers, directors and producers second.
The detail and reverence, combined with evolved storylines, led to adept adaptations, which led to the MCU as we know it and the monster that is Disney+.
What does this have to do with Aspen? Well, the culinary, on-mountain and nightlife equivalent of Star Wars and the MCU are all undergoing (or hopefully will undergo) transitions.
The Woody Creek Tavern was just purchased by local restaurateurs Samantha and Craig Cordts-Pearce; Aspen Skiing Co. is in its first year running Gwyn’s High Alpine; and the Red Onion is in a COVID-induced coma.
Visitors’ and locals’ adoration of those three establishments is almost as great as their desire to see these places remain unchanged.
So let’s rundown an approach that would improve upon each without ruffling the feathers of the people who think “Luke Skywalker would never do that.”
The Woody Creek Tavern
First order of business is to accept forms of payment other than cash. If you want to keep it reservation-less, that’s fine. No reason to open Pandora’s box of birthday party reservations.
That said, no one carries cash anymore other than my dad and the people who listened when their dad told them to always carry cash in case of emergency. If you want to establish a one card per check rule, that’s fine. There’s a thing called Venmo that everybody should be using to avoid giving servers math problems at the end of meals.
I guess my other suggestion would be a deep clean. No, you don’t have to take down the pictures of the patron saint of cocaine, but core shots need to be filled. You give dive bars a pass on cleanliness because they’re rarely busy.
WCT is never slow, so while dim light is the requisite ambiance, it’s not hiding anything.
Gwyn’s High Alpine*
Even though Skico technically is in its first season of operations at Gwyn’s, impacts of COVID won’t allow it to operate normally. So, assuming all these processes and protocols won’t be in place next year, let’s see what their best path forward is.
The main issue is they’re not/can’t bring back the same staff. Replacing the family in a family-run business is impossible. So, how do you circumvent that?
They need to identify the longest tenured bartenders of on-mountain restaurants in Snowmass and move them to Gwyn’s. If you’re a regular at Sundeck at Aspen Mountain, you probably recognize the rotation of bartenders. If Skico does the same thing at Gwyn’s, that familiarity will eventually produce that on-mountain “Cheers” feel.
The luxury of the remodel at Gwyn’s is the guys running the show can dial-out the sit-down experience because it’s not established yet (other than some breakfast staples). If you’re into sit-down lunches, I would trust the new guys (shout out Jim Butchart and Andrew Helsley, hopefully I didn’t put my Timberland in my mouth this time around) over any chefs on- or off-mountain in the Aspen area.
I have equal confidence that Gwyn’s cafeteria staples will remain (because I overheard such last winter) but will be elevated (that’s an educated guess). I’ve spent enough New York Giant Sundays with Chef Helsley to know his ability to routinely take average game day food and turn it into a second half food coma. I can only imagine what he can do for the simple — yet comforting — cuisine at Gwyn’s.
Let’s be honest, the appeal of Gwyn’s for locals was the staff, happy apres hour and its accompanying leftover food giveaways. Keep those and the rest will take care of itself in due time.
*—Can we just call it Gwyn’s? Everybody else still does.
The Red Onion
This one isn’t that difficult: Red Onion should embrace the Zane’s business model. If they want to throw some bear meat on the menu because we’re in the mountains, go for it. Salads should be the only non-deep-fat-fried veggie offerings.
Plaster TVs in the dining room like it’s a sports bar, buy NFL Sunday Ticket and reap the benefits of people drinking and eating for four-hours straight on the weekends. Also, try putting a satellite bar in the dining area because no one wants to sit there during drinking hours due to the swarm of people at the bar.
The Red Onion is and hopefully always will be a bar first, restaurant second. Make it easier for Broncos fans to watch the game and buy another round — and for the kitchen to fill tickets — and you’ll be printing money.
Handing the keys over to precious IP can be difficult, but if the people pouring the drinks, making the food and, most importantly, writing the checks share the same enthusiasm and love that locals and tourists have for these places, capable hands the future is in.
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Aspen’s summer Sister City, the Hamptons, had its woes summed up in a recent Vanity Fair article, “Rich People of the Hamptons Have a New Headache: Even Richer People.”