Fish tacos keep Aspen’s offseason afloat
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Aspenites can’t help but dine out with friends these days.
With many restaurants closed for the offseason, and the population reduced to anyone who hasn’t fled for a spring vacation, popular lunch spots are filled with familiar faces.
And, the weeks after the lifts close bring the long-awaited local’s specials ” drink deals, discounts and multicourse dinners priced to entice working residents who might never set foot inside the resort’s upscale restaurants during the height of the winter and summer seasons. As an added bonus, parking spaces are as easy to come by as reservations.
For restaurateurs, the two months between the end of ski season and the arrival of summer’s crowds is either time to close for an extended hiatus or stay open for business ” often on a reduced schedule ” and hope the operation doesn’t run too far into the red.
“Gone fishing” reads the note on the door at Texas Red’s B-B-Q, which reopens May 15. “Gone to the Beach” announces the sign on the darkened door of The Big Wrap. Boogie’s Diner will close from May 14 to May 23 for remodeling, but other restaurants won’t reopen until sometime in June.
Little Ollie’s closed altogether, but a new awning at the restaurant hints at what’s to come: China Thai Asian cuisine.
This offseason may be even more off than usual, thanks to the closure of the local airport for runway work. With Highway 82 over Independence Pass closed until late May and no air service until Sardy Field reopens in June, Aspen is truly a dead-end town.
Offseason is a brief respite that many locals relish, but the lull each spring, and again in the late fall, is an additional challenge for business operators in a seasonal resort economy.
“I’d lose less money closing than I do staying open,” said Mary Lynn Casper, owner of Su Casa, a Mexican restaurant that closed for two weeks after Saturday’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, but remains open five nights a week for most of the offseason.
Casper keeps the doors open to retain her staff, she said.
But for Greg Topper, owner of Topper’s, a cafe that serves lunch and dinner, closing is not an option.
“I need to be open,” he said.
Business was really slow for a couple of weeks right after the lifts closed in April, but since then, locals have trickled back to town ” and back into Topper’s.
“Not everybody gets to take a six-week vacation,” Topper said.
Blue Maize also stays open for the offseason. In fact, its offseason half-price fajitas special has become something of a local tradition, and the mahi-mahi tacos only find their way onto the menu when offseason arrives.
Ask co-owner Richard Chelec if it’s worth staying open in May and he reasons: “You can lose less by staying open than by being closed.”
Plus, there’s a certain vibe to the offseason that makes it enjoyable, he noted.
“Everybody seems to know everybody,” Chelec said. “I like it.”
The Hickory House, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, responds to offseason by closing on Mondays and Tuesdays. Lunch is fairly busy, but only half of the Main Street eatery’s dining room is open at night, and the restaurant gets by with half the staff at this time of year, said Michael Kollman.
On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, the Hickory House serves a full rack of ribs plus sides for $12.99 (the regular price is $18.29). Diners have to bring in the newspaper coupon to get the deal, and they do, Kollman said.
At Jour de Fete, it’s 25 percent off the daily specials after 2:30 p.m., while L’Hostaria offers a three-course deal for $28 and Rustique advertises three courses for $38.
At other local establishments ” Bentley’s, Little Annie’s Eating House and Cooper Street Pier among them ” it’s simply business as usual. They’re open seven days a week for their loyal regulars.
Count New York Pizza among the mainstays of the offseason dining scene. The popular by-the-pie-or-by-the-slice eatery is open six days a week through the slowdown, though owner Kevin Jones admits it’s not worthwhile, financially, to stay open.
“It keeps people employed, and it’s a local place. I gotta stay open,” Jones said.