“I don’t believe in curses,” declared Matt Arnold on Friday. Arnold — owner and general manager of the soon-to-open Wood Ear Whiskey Lounge & Noodle Bar in downtown Telluride, was referring to his location at 135 East Colorado Ave.: When it opens to the public Sunday, June 24, Wood Ear will become the fourth restaurant in the Roma Building since 2015.
After the shuttering of Honga’s Lotus Petal, Honga’s Japanese Steakhouse and Roma Bar & Grill, Arnold and his employees “have resurfaced every inch except for the original walnut bar” (which was crafted by the Brunswick-Balke-Collener Company in 1860).
While aware of his predecessors’ failures, Arnold also notes that the building “has housed a bar for 100 years, so how jinxed could it be?”
(Actually, a tavern called Roma opened 121 years ago in the space.)
Wood Ear aims to “shoot past” any jinx by staying open year-round, with the exception of a week each off-season, and by becoming “a place where everyone can afford to eat,” Arnold said. “People will be shocked by our prices.”
Indeed, Wood Ear’s preliminary menu reveals five items priced not in dollars but cents.
Along with a 25-cent nori sheet or 50-cent pickled carrot, diners will savor $2 charred corn, $4 wasabi potato salad or $5 shrimp tacos.
Since bar manager Alvin Davis, head chef Kevin Bush and Arnold all hail from Texas, they endeavored to incorporate Hill Country flavors in the menu, meaning warm potato salad, cucumber salad and all kinds of smoked meats, whether brisket, pork shoulder or Asian-barbecue-style porkbelly.
“We’re trying to bring our own touch to ramen,” Bush said. Lots and lots of ramen, that is: According to Arnold, Wood Ear will boil 200 pounds of bones per day to create broth for all the ramen entrees on the menu.
That process will take two days to complete, in order to intensify flavors, as will the smoking of Wood Ear’s brisket.
Like neighboring restaurants La Cocina de Luz and Butcher & Baker, Wood Ear will operate as a counter-service joint. That way, Arnold said, he can save on employee costs and pass down the savings in the form of, well, 50-cent pickled carrots.
In early March, Arnold imagined Wood Ear as a “cocktail lounge that serves Japanese-inspired drinking food.” The more the three main players tinkered, though, the more “we amped up our food” offerings, said Arnold. He now describes Wood Ear as a “Texas Hill Country-inspired ramen joint.”
Wood Ear is still obtaining whiskey from the East — just not the Far East. Bar manager Davis has stocked the bar with libations from Vermont’s Whistle Pig distillery instead of the major Japanese exporter because “Suntori is currently the most sought after brand of whiskey, and it rarely makes it off the coasts.”
Wood Ear’s new look will surprise those familiar with its predecessors’ gray-and-black hues. Arnold pointed to an Oregon artist’s fabulous new mural — in which bears snarl as long-stemmed chanterelles stretch for the horizon — and said, “We’ve started calling our motif ‘psychedelic hunting lodge.’”
That sounds about right, given the new wooden paneling: a lively interplay of beetle-killed blue pine, aspen and white pine.
The mural surrounds the traditional stage of the Roma. The stage, Arnold said, will hold music acts during both Ride Fest and the Telluride Jazz Festival.
On Friday, there was no jinx in sight. Still, Arnold admitted, “We inherited many problems with such an old building. Every solution can open up four new problems. I’m starting to gauge progress not on how soon we can open but on how calmly I can manage delays.”
The majority of those delays, Arnold was happy to report, are now behind Wood Ear. Both his plumber and his electrician still need to install a single part, Arnold said, but “We’re so excited and itching to open.”