The National

A craftsman works in what will, by mid-December, be The National, a new restaurant owned and operated by chefs Erich Owen and Ross Martin. Three vertical beams on the back (north) wall will hold one the restaurant’s two wine walls. To the right is the early stage of what will be the bar. (Photo by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

The building on the southeast corner of South Pine Street and East Colorado Avenue likely has a dozen stories for every 120-year-old brick in her walls. In her first heyday, she was called The National Club, and was, according to legend, one of the most popular sporting establishments of Telluride mining era. Billiards, cigars, whiskey, card games and dancing girls were hallmarks of the place. At the turn of the last century, the owners had a telegraph installed so the latest boxing and baseball results could be directly wired in, and before too long, electric lamps further illuminated the lively social hub.

Prohibition brought the fun to a screeching halt and the building took on several other guises before morphing into the Last Dollar Saloon in 1978.

Buck denizens know that their beloved saloon takes up only the north two-thirds of the historic building. The back portion — currently the site of keening saws, banging hammers and blueprint-wielding supervisors — will, before long, resurrect the missing piece of the building L.L. Nunn built in 1899.

The National restaurant, slated to welcome its first customers in mid-December, is the creation of two of Telluride’s most acclaimed chefs, Ross Martin and Erich Owen. Their goal is to not only to repeat history — the back part of the building was historically exactly where The National Club restaurant was located — but to contemporize it to suit a modern clientele.

Inside the space, which is accessible from the west side, diners and bar patrons will be unable to take their eyes from the north and east walls, where LED-lit, temperature-controlled wine storage will cascade from the ceiling. Staff will climb rolling library ladders to reach the highest bottles. The bar is nestled on the north part of the east wall, and tables and cocktail seating will fill the remaining space. The approximately 1,800-square-foot space will accommodate 65 people, including the lounge and bar area.

Natural light pours in from the west wall, about half of which is glass, and the floors will be stained a rich, dark brown. Aura Zink and CC Rocque of Zinque Design — who will be creating the coziness of the interior with banquettes, lounge furniture and brass dome lighting — are waiting for completion of the construction to work their magic.

Owen and Martin gaze around the space, describing where their future customers will dine and imbibe. Their excitement is palpable. Having worked together before, they know not only what they’re getting into, but also how to realize their vision.

“This will be where old meets new,” Owen said. “It will have a city feel.”

Their shared history began in 2000 at Allred’s, where Martin was head chef and Owen his sous chef. From there, Martin went to the New Sheridan Chop House, where he worked for several years. He also counts on his resume stints at 221 South Oak and the Lumiere Hotel’s Bijou Restaurant. He offers private chef services and is a three-time winner of the annual One To One Mentoring Top Chef competition.  

Owen, too, has headed up the kitchen at the Chop House, and in 2015 purchased Honga’s in the Roma building until the infamous Telluride AIDS Benefit White Party that took place there a few years ago.

“Instead of raising the roof, the party dropped the floor,” he said.  

That structurally catastrophic incident ended that project for Owen. The pair eventually worked on “getting the band back together.” Eyeing the massive remodel the Buck building was undergoing, they hatched a plan to go in together on The National.

Their passion for the hospitality business is evident. They see The National as a bustling, lively social hub — much like its predecessor of the early 1900s — served by the best front and back of the house professionals they know.

“We’re looking to create a lively atmosphere,” Owen said.

“We want to build a family of professionals,” Martin said. “We want to regroup with people who’ve worked for us before.”

Hospitality, Owen stresses, will be The National’s stock in trade.

“It’s part of our mission statement,” he said.

Martin agreed. “Hospitality is the soul of what we really do.”

What with wine storage capable of caching around 250 bottles, Martin said that while the menu is a work in progress it will definitely be “heavily wine-driven.”

Between now and sometime in mid-December, the two will be creating the menu, receiving delivery of the kitchen appliances and overseeing the interior design installation. Once they open the doors to The National, their shared hope is that the new establishment will echo its namesake’s longevity and popularity.

“We want to be a mainstay in Telluride for the next 40 to 50 years,” Martin said.