If you were lucky enough to be a Buffalo – it would be a University of Colorado Buffalo – in the 1970s, 80s, or 90s, up until 2018, you undoubtedly knew the saloon at 11e and Walnut in Boulder called The Walrus.
One of the best dive bars in any college town, The Walrus was opened in 1972 by Frank Day, a legendary Colorado restaurant entrepreneur with close ties to Aspen. It was a place where fans gathered after football games, students met future life partners, and graduates toasted their accomplishments. And that marked the start of Day’s five-decade (and counting) career in the hospitality industry.
Today, August 4, is Frank Day’s 90e birthday, and those who know him will not be surprised if he celebrates it while working.
“I still go to work every day,” said the hospitality innovator, who has opened more than 80 restaurants in Colorado through his Boulder-based company, Concept Restaurants, and owns the Boulderado hotel since 1980. “It’s a retail business, and you have to pay attention to the details. I’ll sit in the bars in our businesses and talk to the bartender. That’s how we know what’s going on. pass. “
In the past 50 years, arguably few people have sweated the details or served as much beer and wine to Colorado diners and customers as the Concept Group that Frank founded. It all started with The Walrus, but grew into an empire that included breweries (The Walnut Brewery, Boulder Beer and the Rock Bottom Brewery chain), steakhouses (Frank’s Chophouse and LoDo’s Chop House & Brewery) and pizzerias ( Old Chicago and Filmore Pizza). Its outposts changed the way Colorado and America eat and drink. The Rock Bottom Brewery helped nationalize the craft brew culture that is ubiquitous today. And on August 22, in keeping with the ongoing work ethic theme, Frank and his wife and business partner, Gina Day, will open Boulder Social, another Concept Restaurant that will operate the home-brew beer and pizza concept in Boulder.
But the crown jewel and legacy property of the Days might just be that Boulder institution, the Hotel Boulderado.
“I bought the Boulderado because it had three cool bars, it was the right price, and the other group wanted to turn it into offices,” he told me as we sat down. under the hotel’s famous stained glass ceiling.
What Day Bought was a piece of history that, although modernized in 2017 with a luxury renovation by Aspen-based architectural firm Rowland + Broughton, still offers the ambience and character of the last century. The Boulderado opened on New Years Day in 1909 and has been part of the community ever since. It’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and you can still ride the original 1908 Otis elevator, with an operator, up to your floor if you’re staying in the historic main building. For a combination of nostalgic charm and modern comfort, Hotel Boulderado is unique and special.
Those “three cool bars” that Day spoke of in the Boulderado also have historical precedence and serve all customers today on a daily basis. Few people know that Boulder was a “dry county” from 1907 until 1967, when Boulder County voters ended the 60-year ban. The best you could do at the hotel was 3.2 beers.
Today, that story is immortalized in the basement, or “catacombs,” of the hotel in the multi-room License No.1 cocktail bar, so named because it received the first liquor license. after the repeal of the Boulder Prohibition. On the front patio of the hotel is the airy and cheerful Corner Bar, Boulder’s quintessential “meet for a beer” spot, and inside the lobby, diners revel in the laid-back atmosphere. , but refined, farm-to-table from Spruce Farm & Fish.
While Frank has a history with beer and brewing, it is Gina who manages the wine programs and selects the wines at all Concept restaurants, including Spruce, which offers a global list of affordable and thoughtful wines, at glass and bottle. .
“When we opened the Walnut Brew Pub in 1989, I thought we should also have a good wine list to give people a choice of what they want to drink. And besides, I like to drink wine,” Gina said with a laugh.
Spruce’s list reflects the philosophy that Gina brings to all the lists she curates.
“A wine list says a lot about a restaurant. If it is too expensive and does not create value for customers, it creates a negative perception of the restaurant,” she explained. “We try to have different price points so that our customers get good wines at all prices.”
A look at the Spruce list shows a number of wines by the glass under $10, including a $9 Côtes du Rhône Famille Perrin Reserve White Blend and a $10 Charles Smith ‘Substance’ Cabernet Sauvignon. glass.
“I try to look at our listings as if I were a customer, with their eyes. What wines would I like, and how much do I think they should cost?” she says.
Gina also shared a test that she gives to all the selections by the glass that she makes.
“Wines are sold a lot in bars, especially wines by the glass. Every time I consider a wine to add to a list, I open a bottle, taste it, then re-cork it. And I will do the same for the next two days. I call this a “three-day test”. If a wine does not hold water, it will not appear on the list.
August is a busy month for Frank and Gina. In addition to the 90e anniversary and debut of the Boulder Social Club, the month began with a celebration on August 1 of their 40e wedding anniversary.
“Gina arranged the wedding a few days before I turned 50.e anniversary, so she could tell her friends she was marrying a man in his 40s,” Frank said with a laugh at the memory.
Although the Days never had a restaurant here in Aspen, their history dates back to the early days of the venerable ski resort.
“I’ve never been involved in hospitality in Aspen, but I’ve been a loyal visitor,” Frank said.
His roots in this city are deep.
“My parents brought us over Christmas in 1949. They knew an artist who worked with Herbert Bayer named Paul Gallagher. So my senior year in high school, we went out and I learned to ski. My parents bought an old miner’s cabin for $1,500 on the 1st and Hopkins,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “Some say they overpaid.
His mother, Margaret Day, owned the vacation home in the 1950s, and Frank and Gina still have a townhouse here on Roaring Fork.
“I love restaurants in Aspen. We go to Jing and Cache Cache – Jodi (Larner) does a great job – and we love Acquolina,” he said. “Of course, I remember when Steve Knowlton managed the former Golden Horn. I don’t think I had any trouble getting served.
Looking back at his career in hospitality, the Harvard Business School graduate – class of 1956 – thinks he made some good choices.
“It’s 110% people business, and the people who get into it are lucky. I had the opportunity to hire and mentor great people. When I started, I thought the company was like a mountain, that we kept climbing. Now I know it’s more like a hill of sand: you rise, then you fall. You just have to keep moving. He paused, then added, “The hospitality industry is like graduate school for life. I would recommend it to anyone.
Thanks for the advice, Frank.