Aspen has a new pub in town beginning today.
Finbarr’s Irish Pub, located at 415 E. Hyman Ave., opens today in the space formerly occupied by Mustang restaurant.
Longtime locals Kelly and Denis O’Donovan bought the space in February with an idea for an affordable, local’s place with a sophisticated pub environment.
After nearly nine months of renovations, Finbarr’s is now open for aprés skiing and dinner serving pub food in the price range of $8 to $20.
’Walking into Finbarrs, visitors are hard pressed to find any remnants that resemble the former establishments that have occupied the space. From the rectangular bar and windows made of recycled bottles to the bathrooms, the interior was completely remodeled.
“We wanted to create an elevated pub experience,” said Denis, whose middle name is Finbarr. “Being Irish, it didn’t make sense to do anything else.”
Denis moved to Aspen in the early ’90s from Ireland. His first years in Aspen he was a self-proclaimed ski bum, riding 80 to 100 days a year. Denis recalled working in the service industry and running out of work to ski while his boss yelled after him.
“In those days all roads led to highlands,” Denis recalled.
Since, Denis met and married his wife Kelly, and the pair own and operate the Nugget Gallery, which is located above the Finbarr’s space. Dive bars were appealing to him when he was younger, but now that he has a family and a business he is looking for something different, he said, adding that his friends have matured too.
“We’ve grown up a bit,” said Denis. “And our tastes have changed.”
Although town has dive bars and plenty of high-end restaurants, the Aspen scene lacks a place that is affordable but elegant, said Denis. Hopefully Finbarr’s will fill that niche, he said.
Dorothy M. Atkins/Aspen Daily News
Two customers sit at the bar watching football highlights during a soft opening of the new Finbarr’s Irish Pub on Friday.
Because of their Aspen roots, the O’Donovans want the restaurant to be more of a local’s place, they said. They hired longtime locals to fill their staff, many who they think are untapped talent and have worked in Aspen bars and restaurants for years.
For example, their chef, Joe Flamer, has held stints in restaurants all over town including Pinions, Takah Sushi and Syzygy.
Finbarr’s already has attracted interest from groups wanting to rent out the space for private functions, said Denis. One group of 180 people tried to rent the bar for a night, but Denis turned them away because it would conflict with what he expects to be a busy football night with locals.
“It’s the locals that keep us riding in the off-season,” said Denis. “We plan to be there for them.”
When asked whether the failure of the restaurants previously in the space affected how they planned the business, Kelly and Denis said it is a difficult town to operate a restaurant in and they suspect the restaurants’ failures were not due to the location.
“There was never anything wrong with the space,” said Kelly.
Finbarr’s has a better chance at lasting, partly due to the fact that the couple bought the building where the restaurant is and are not at the mercy of landlords, they said.
The O’Donovans recognized that with the recent wave of bar closures, including Bad Billy’s and the Wienerstube restaurant, attempting to create an affordable eatery that lasts will be no easy feat.
“A lot of the great watering holes disappeared, sorry to say,” said Denis. “It can be daunting, knowing the history of the town.”’
Still, on Friday night during the soft opening, more than 100 people interested in walking into the new restaurant were turned away and invited to come back today for the official opening.
One woman walking a large poodle stopped to chat with the doorman and possibly get a glimpse.
“It looks nice,” she said. “Hopefully it’ll make a go of it. But you never know with the fickle finger of the mob.”