"Treat everyone right, because you never know who's sitting at your bar," says barman Joshua Smith, who currently commands the beverage program at TAG in addition to slinging drinks at Williams & Graham a couple of nights a week. That lesson was hammered home for him a few weeks ago, when he scored a big opportunity after impressing the right person with his skills behind the stick.
Smith was waiting on a New York-based architect, a regular patron of such hot spots as Milk & Honey and PDT, who was in Colorado to work on a special project: building out Justice Snow's, a bar going into the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. But after the architect saw Smith in action, he put in a call to Justice Snow's owners -- Michelle Kiley and Marco Cingolani -- and persuaded them to hire Smith as their head bartender.
"They were looking at different guys in New York City, and they'd gone so far as to promise a guy a job," Smith explains. "They were going to move him out. But their architect said 'You have to have him,' and they called the other guy and told him they'd decided to go a different direction."
Kiley and Cingolani, who owned a specialty cheese shop before deciding to work on a bar, met with Smith in Denver, where they were just as transfixed by his skills and asked whether he'd be interested in opening a place with them. Smith jumped on board as a partner, and put in his two weeks.
Of course, given the space, it was an easy sell. Justice Snow's is going into the Wheeler Opera House, an address that held Bentley's for 25 years. Since that closed two years ago, eight restaurateurs have been fighting for the space -- but Cingolani and Kiley prevailed, naming their forthcoming bar for Justice Snow, the justice who served Aspen in the late 1800s, when the opera house was built. They've preserved the history of the building in the redesign, too, with a mahogany bar and copper rails and finishes that recall the late nineteenth century.
The goal, says Smith, is to create a bar that caters to the locals -- but not in the typical beer-and-shot kind of way. "The vision was to give something that Aspen didn't have yet," he explains. "It's not only an amazing cocktail venue that steps it up beyond what everyone else has done there, but it's a little more local-focused. Everyone that actually lives there is pretty much in the industry, and it's hard to go anywhere that's not just beer and shots because cocktail menus are priced at $12 to $15. Ours will be $9 to $12, and hopefully it will be better than everyone else's."
His cocktail program will combine what he does at TAG and Williams & Graham -- and go beyond, too. "We'll do great, fresh craft cocktails, which I didn't really see anywhere else in Aspen," he says. "I'll be playing with a lot of smoked stuff, canisters of foam, reductions and a few more molecular things. But there will also be a full classic section and things that are classically based. There, I'll be paying homage to the creators and the year they were created." He's also geeking out about the ice program, which will include housemade block ice, Kold Draft ice and crushed ice.
The beverage board, which is the focus of the spot, will be paired to a menu available from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. that's "comfort food-based," Smith says. Offerings will be more extensive than just bar snacks, but not as expansive as a regular restaurant roster.
Above all, Smith says, he's looking forward to helping Cingolani and Kiley put Justice Snow's -- and Aspen cocktails -- on the map. He'll head to Aspen on January 16, and Justice Snow's should open January 27, the same weekend as the X Games.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.