Business Monday: Penthouse owner thwarts new Aspen business’ bid to serve booze

Operators of a recently opened gathering space in the heart of downtown Aspen hit a snag last week when the Local Licensing Authority rejected their bid to serve liquor at special events.

The business, Hunter Loft, is located on the second floor of the 535 E. Hyman Ave. structure nicknamed the “Lego building” because of its exterior design.

The 3,700-square-foot space opened in December to host special events, be they corporate functions, fundraisers, fashion shows, weddings, bar mitzvahs and other occasions, said Marcy Kneiper, who was hired by Hunter Loft, comprised of the Dallas investors who also acquired the commercial part of the building for $28 million in February 2018.

At Tuesday’s LLA board meeting, however, Hunter Loft’s effort to secure a lodging and entertainment license in order to serve booze met resistance from some members of the board, as well as an Aspen attorney representing NZC CO, a Delaware-based limited-liability company that bought the Lego building’s top-floor penthouse for $25 million in November 2015.

It was the first time the LLA has reviewed a lodging and entertainment license, which allows a facility to sell drinks by the glass so long as the establishment is a lodging facility, entertainment facility or serves liquor on site provided it has light snacks and sandwiches.

Yet Thomas Todd, counsel for the NZC CO penthouse owners, argued property covenants don’t allow cafes, restaurants and bars in the building.

“The goal was to try to prohibit these types of nightclubs in that space,” he said. “It was that pure and simple.”

However, because Hunter Loft doesn’t serve in any of those capacities — it’s a meeting space that would host roughly 20 to 30 events a year — made it eligible to serve liquor, countered Joe Krabacher, the Aspen lawyer representing the applicant.

“This is not an open venue for people to stop by whenever they want,” he said. “What they want to do is have fashion shows, fundraisers for local nonprofits, that type of thing.”

Krabacher said the penthouse owners’ attempt to block the liquor license is another example of the “sterilization of downtown Aspen by wealthy residential owners who don’t want to be bothered.”

LLA board members voted 3-1 against the license on the grounds that they didn’t believe it fit the definition of a lodging and entertainment license.

Hunter Loft could appeal the LLA’s decision to Aspen City Council, but following the meeting, Kneiper said it will likely not do that and instead apply for special-event liquor licenses on a case-by-base basis.

“It’s a space we really, really need in town,” said Kneiper, who has career in event planning.

She added that “we’re trying to be partners with the community and with our penthouse owner.”