The return of the Red Onion

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenJuly 12, 2010

Co-owner Tom Colosi greets a hungry and thirsty crowd at the Red Onion's grand peeling in June.
Five years before Samuel Langhorn Clemens famously wrote “the report of my death was an exaggeration," the Red Onion was born in Aspen in 1892.

Much like the tale of Mr. Clemens, aka Mark Twain, modern-day reports of the Red Onion's demise were also off the mark. But they were not so much exaggerated, as they were shortsighted. It was presumed when David “Wabs” Walbert shuttered the venerable institution in March 31, 2007, that the Red Onion was dead. There was a huge sendoff, complete with the first wet T-shirt contest that Aspen had seen in years.

Then, the marquee spot in the 19th-century building on Cooper Avenue sat dark for three years.

Local and national restauranteur Scott DeGraff made a run at the empty space with hopes of launching “Junk at Red Onion” but financial troubles derailed his plans long before they ever came to fruition.

Life didn't return to the space until earlier this summer, when Tom Colosi stepped in with his sister and officially resurrected the Red Onion. Colossi, a former proprietor of the popular but now-defunct Blue Maize, and his sister have preserved many of the best aspects of the old Red Onion — the gorgeously historic bar, ski passess under table and the same laid-back but lively vibe — and brought it into the twenty-first century with multiple flat-screen TVs, a remodeled interior and flashy new sign.

Now, the famed Red Onion is back and as spicy as ever.It's back on the radar for late-night and day-time revelers who regularly rotate from watering hole to the next. They come for the history and stay for the $3 pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The menu boasts an eclectic selection of sliders (BBQ pulled pork, meatball, teriyaki chicken, spicy shrimp or vegetarian) for $4, a mountain of nachos for $8 or a smaller plate for $6, grilled brie and mango quesadillas (an old Blue Maize staple) for $8, a Mexican hot dog (all beef weiner wrapped in bacon and fried) for $8, Southwestern Cobb salads for $7 (small) and $12 (large), or Colosi's grandfather's meatball sub for $10. Burgers begin at $6 with a fried egg, roasted beef, sauteed mushrooms, grilled onion, jalapenos or guacamole a dollar more. Add bacon or another patty (beef or vegetarian) for $3.

The Red Onion is back.

"I think it is a big responsibility to take on the Red Onion — that’s why my sister Jennifer and I really wanted to take it over,” Colossi said. “We saw what was happening to the town, people were taking over properties without even understanding what Aspen is about. I have a reputation here and don’t want to see this turned into just another place in town. It’s not just another place in town. It’s the Red Onion.”

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