Linda's Bistro is located in a relatively nondescript brick building just off Grand Avenue. Owner Linda Little recently came before the Paonia town board for the 21st time to renew her liquor license. She thanked board members for their service and announced she is retiring and selling the business and building. It's a special building, she said. "Stepping inside is like stepping back in time."
About three years ago, Little learned from the county assessor that the building is among the oldest in Paonia, predating the Bross Hotel and all of the churches. Built in 1898 of triple brick construction, it originally housed Miller Mercantile Company Dry Goods & Dept. Store.
Little hails from Connecticut. In the 1960s she "ski bummed" all winter and spent summers on Cape Cod. In 1968 her life changed when she took a ski trip to Aspen and fell in love with the skiing and the mountains. She ultimately fell in love with the son of bakers Bill and Ruth Little, who ran Little Cliff's Bakery in Aspen for 25 years. They had a son, and are long since divorced.
She enjoyed all of the good food Aspen had to offer, and ultimately taught herself to cook. In 1986 she opened Linda's Kitchen, a Mexican restaurant at El Jebel, specializing in her famous chili rellenos, which she sold for years at the Carbondale Mountain Fair.
When it came time to move on she tried to open another restaurant in Redstone in 1996 but it didn't pan out. She'd heard about Paonia, drove over the hill, "and this place was for sale," said Little.
The long, narrow building was a shell, but it had its original elm wood flooring and a huge basement that runs the entire length of the building. Above the drop ceiling she discovered the original ornate tin ceiling fully intact.
She installed a French kitchen and pizza oven and decorated with Belle Epoch furnishings: comfy velvet chairs, a Melville Clark player piano, purple felt 9' slate pool table, and the countless antiques -- artwork, Western and Native American memorabilia -- that she'd collected over the decades. On Valentine's Day, 1997, Linda's Bistro opened its doors.
"Bistro," she said, means fine food, cabaret-style ambiance, good music. The Bistro has been referred to as "Paonia's Paragon," after Aspen's restaurant and bar of the same name opened in the 1960s by a famous French chef.
"I had such treasured times here," said Little, sitting at the bar surrounded by pink French lamp shades, tapestries and stained glass. "My clientele has always been great."
For several years the Bistro was the only bar in town. Little hosted countless celebrations and New Year's Eve parties. Some 25 posters represent the bands and musicians that have entertained over the years. Among her collections are piles and piles of cabaret-style clothing, costumes, hats and lingerie she uses to dress her customers for her famous theme and bachelorette parties.
"I did it all," she said, and now it's time to let go. While she can't control the future, she hopes someone will buy the building and furnishings and pick up where she'll leave off.
Many of the antiques are for sale. She's contacted American Pickers, and imagines Danielle picking through the costumes and descending into the basement for an archaeological treasure hunt.
The Bistro is still available for private parties, and on Friday nights Linda serves her tapas and signature margaritas. If she could find the right person to work for her, she would begin serving meals again, she said.
And she still imagines hosting a few theme parties, perhaps a "High Tea on the Titanic," before she closes her doors for good.