Cosmo

The recently completed Cosmo Backyard offers guests a warm respite. (Courtesy photo)

Anyone who has spent a certain amount of time in Telluride knows that the happy hour at The Cosmopolitan is a must-do. The menu features sushi and drink specials, including the popular pink Cosmo cocktail, and the ambiance is relaxing, yet refined. All of that, plus the fact it’s located mere steps from the gondola plaza, makes it the perfect après ski spot. 

The popular restaurant is celebrating its 25-year anniversary this month with a special giveaway, as well as the recent opening of a new outdoor space — the Cosmo Backyard — across the way from the restaurant, which is in the Hotel Columbia.

The Cosmo, as it’s affectionately known as, will be giving away 25 gift certificates of $25 until the end of the month. To enter, share a story about a Cosmo experience from the past two-plus decades and tag the restaurant on Facebook or Instagram. The deadline is Feb. 28, and the winners will be announced shortly after. Gift certificates will be good for the remainder of the 2021 ski season.

Owner and operator Chad Scothorn thanks previous property owners Jim Lincoln, and Marty and Jeff Campbell for the opportunity to open a restaurant in Telluride, as well as the employees he’s had over the years who truly make the guest experience one of the best in town. He shared the story of how Lincoln suggested the name as The Cosmopolitan used to be a restaurant in Telluride during the 1800s.

“They were searching for an operator, and they were calling me, courting me, I guess you can say,” said Scothorn, who has been in the restaurant business his whole life, including previously owning an establishment in Beaver Creek and a bakery in his hometown of Oklahoma City. “Jim Lincoln called me one day and I said, ‘How about the Cosmopolitan? It used to be a restaurant in the 1800s and it’s historic. We think that would be a good name.’ That was their first stab at a name, and I thought it was a perfect name for it. I didn’t even think about the cocktail. It was strictly historic that there was a restaurant and saloon on Main Street. We actually keep a picture of it behind the bar, the original Cosmopolitan.”

Scothorn shared some interesting historical notes about the former Cosmopolitan, which seemed like a must-visit in its own right, and the restaurants of that time. 

“The Cosmopolitan in the 1800s was an amazing restaurant. They had a live trout tank where miners could come down from Tomboy and choose the fish they wanted to eat that night, which in the 1800s was unheard of,” he said. “We found a lot of interesting advertisements in the newspapers of the 1800s for the Cosmopolitan, as well as the New Sheridan and the National. The National, the Cosmopolitan and the New Sheridan existed simultaneously in the 1800s. When we were searching through the archives of the newspapers, we’d find a page with all three advertisements on the same page. It was really interesting. Here we are in 2021 and those three restaurants still exist.”

Of course, without that historical context, many associate the name with the popular vodka drink. Scothorn recalled a funny story about the grand opening, and how when the cocktails were requested, he had to figure out how to make them. 

“The funny thing is when we opened we didn’t even think about the cocktail. We weren’t ready to make them,” he said with a laugh. “Personally, I had never drank a cosmopolitan in my life. When we opened, it was like we need 50 cosmopolitans, and I was like, I don’t even know how to make that.”

It’s safe to say that Scothorn and his staff have since figured out how to craft a cosmo. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve also had to adjust to the changing public health orders, including the current ones that limit indoor dining to 25 percent capacity.

“The overused word during the pandemic has been the word “pivot,” and I’ve been pivoting since March. It seems like we’ll pivot again this spring, and we’ll pivot again this summer. We’re constantly listening to the guests and figuring out what they want and realizing that restaurants are pretty important in this town,” he said.

Last April and May, when the Cosmo was open for takeout only, Scothorn developed an outdoor dining area across the street, with the assistance of the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, which oversee and own the land, respectively.

“The weather this past April was unbelievably warm and I saw that piece of land across the street and thought, ‘Gosh, let’s create an outdoor venue.’ So that was one of the first or second things we did right off the bat. I kept telling everyone we’re going to go down swinging. We’re going to keep doing this if we have to. It wasn’t so much about making money as much as it was keeping as much of my staff employed as possible,” he explained. “Literally every day in April and May, I would just stand out in front of the restaurant, and as people were coming to pick up their takeout food, just talk to people and listening to people and making them feel like the sky isn’t falling. The food is still here. The drinks are still here. Walk across the street, sit and eat and drink. Just giving them a sense of normality.”

The bar and restaurant industry has been one of the most negatively affected business sectors throughout the ongoing pandemic. Scothorn commended the work of his staff and peers in town, as everyone is doing whatever possible to remain open in a safe way.

“Right now, like most restaurants in town, we’re three restaurants right now. It’s equal parts takeout, outdoor dining and indoor dining,” he said. “When we’re trying to do all three of those things like takeout; ninety percent of us have never done takeout in our lives and it is an absolute different business model than indoor dining and not all that profitable, by the way.

“To be simultaneously doing takeout and outdoor dining in the snow when it’s less than 25 degrees out you’re asking your staff to stand out there in the cold to serve food and then simultaneously you’re at 25 percent capacity indoors trying to make that work. I have seven air filtration devices running while cracking all the windows, while making sure my staff is wearing masks, while making sure customers are wearing masks, which is not easy by the way. Restaurants are really working their butts off.”

The Cosmo happy hour is currently 3-4 p.m. The Backyard outdoor space opens at 3 p.m. on a first-come-first-served basis. The area includes 10 fire pit tables, a dozen heaters and special lighting. For more information, visit cosmotelluride.com.