Opening a restaurant and music venue in any year is a challenging feat: there are health codes to clear, menus to design, lineups to prepare, floor plans to arrange.
Opening one in 2020? Well, it might sound darn near impossible. The COVID-19 pandemic sacked Aspen’s restaurant industry this year, leaving some searching for solutions to capacity restrictions and others (like the beloved Red Onion) locking the doors for the time being.
But that hasn’t discouraged the team behind Firefly at Here House, a new restaurant and live music venue that debuts with a soft opening Dec. 11; the grant opening is slated for next week. The restaurant will operate at 25% indoor capacity, per Pitkin County Orange-Plus COVID-19 guidelines.
“We’re definitely doing against the grain with the timing of what we’re doing, but we see a lot of real benefits” said Harrison, the live music program director at Firefly.
The singer and saxophone player said there is immense value in a new live music and dining venue for local musicians and the Aspen community at large after a particularly quiet year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Themed nights at Firefly will feature a variety of genres, from Latin to jazz; musicians perform from 6-7 p.m., 7:30-8:30 p.m. and 9-10 p,.m., with curated playlists between sets. In addition to coordinating the lineup, Harrison will also perform regularly at the restaurant.
There was a point during the early stages of the pandemic this spring when Harrison wasn’t sure if he would ever perform live again. After those “dark days,” Harrison said, he’s embraced the opportunity to perform again and sees Firefly as an asset for other local artists too, “especially during this time.”
“I’m just so very excited to bring (live music) back to Aspen,” Harrison said. “The feel of the place is really exquisite.”
Harrison also expressed his “deep, deep” gratitude for the team of valley locals bringing Firefly to life. Candice Olson and Michaela Carpenter co-own the restaurant; the two also co-founded and own Local Coffee House and the co-working space Here House, which occupy the Firefly space during the day.
Hospitality veteran Jeremy Parker takes the lead on guest experience; he also manages member services and events at Here House. Harrison, a longtime musician in the valley, directs the live music program.
Jeremy Caplan is the executive chef, a title he also holds during the day at Local Coffee House.
“It’s just incredible, this guy’s imagination and creativity,” Harrison said of Caplan’s work in the kitchen. ““It’s unbelievable what he has been able to create.”
The menu offers “really exquisite food,” said owner Candice Olson. Among the menu items are salmon crudo, an adobo chicken skewer, seared cauliflower steak and lavender cheesecake; all told, there are six starters, five small plates, three entrees and five deserts. A curated selection of craft cocktails and wines will also be available.
“Sometimes you go hear music, you sacrifice the food,” Olson said. “We’re not doing that.”
Olson is optimistic about the opening of Firefly, which she calls a “COVID baby” born out of a desire to revive live music in Aspen and introduce a new dining option to the local restaurant scene. Several members of the creative and management team also participate in a profit share program, part of a broader goal to “create businesses where locals could really build something without a lot of capital,” Olson said.
“There’s always a positive in crazy timing,” she said; her aim is to establish a restaurant that is as much a local’s favorite as it is a visitor destination, filling what Olson sees as a community need for togetherness and comfort.
“What can we do for this community to cheer us all up?” Olson said of the spark that ignited the Firefly concept. “Music is such a great equalizer — everybody loves great music.”
With some restaurants in town already booking up at limited capacities, the demand for dining options in Aspen has already brought Firefly a flood of reservations.
“I think people need to be able to go out at night and feel 100% safe,” Olson said. “People really miss live music so much, but how do you do it safely?”
Extensive COVID safety measures — from socially-distanced tables and plexiglass shields near the stage to temperature checks and a “state-of-the-art” ionization technology in the HVAC ventilation system — aim to mitigate the spread of the virus.
The founding principle of a welcoming music and dining venue will likely remain a throughline in Firefly’s operations, but the concept is likely to evolve in the coming years, taking on a “life of its own,” Harrison said.
That’s part of the point, Olson noted: to listen to feedback and adapt to the needs and desires of the community. Right now, the strategy is “to put in enough to get it rolling,” Olson said, and “let the community embrace it and decide to support it.”
“We’re hoping to do this for 20 years,” she said. “How does the community want to help us shape it?”
Firefly at Here House (614 E. Cooper Ave.) is open Thursday through Sunday, 5-10 p.m. To make a reservation, visit fireflyaspen.com.
Email Kaya Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.