Fort Collins nightlife: Ace Gillett’s is aces

Fort Collins nightlife went up a few notches when Ace Gillett’s came on the scene. Entering the sophisticated, swanky, subterranean supper spot, cocktail lounge and jazz venue located below the Armstrong Hotel is like taking a step into the past. The chic late-night spot in the city’s Old Town is reminiscent of a time when three martini lunches were de riguer, women wore gloves and cigarette smoke filled the air. Sip handcrafted cocktails, local brews or wine and dine on small plates seven nights a week. From Wednesdays through Saturdays enjoy the sounds of live jazz.


Ace Gillett's Lounge, Armstrong Hotel Fort  photo Steve Collins

Ace Gillett’s Lounge, Armstrong Hotel Fort photo/Steve Collins

Ace Gillett’s specializes in handcrafted cocktails, designed by Bar Manager and ace mixologist, Ray Harvey. You’ll also find traditional favorites, but even those might have a twist. On the night we were there, the Bloody Mary came with a pickle instead of the traditional cucumber, but it might come with a piece of pickled asparagus if the chef made some that day. It’s a place that makes you want to order a dry Martini or other retro libations, even if you don’t usually drink them. Signature cocktails include The Ruby Soho, a concoction of grapefruit, elderflowers and vodka; Apple Whisky Old-Fashioned; and various version of the classic Sidecar.

Another retro drink served here is absinthe. The bar prides itself on its list of the notarious green spirit. The drink, a bohemian favorite of people such as Hemmingway, was banned in 1915. Today, la fee verte (the green lady) is legal and in demand. Harvey says that over the last four years, the demand had grown. “People are calling for it,” said Harvey, “and people are buying it. You might say; I didn’t choose absinthe — absinthe chose me.”

Ace Gillett’s ace mixologist experiments with exotic ingredients such as elderflowers and squid ink and unusual spirits including salmon vodka in the Gutted Salmon Cocktail and pear cognac in the Misconstrued Cocktail.


Lobster and corn fritters at Ace Gillette's at the Armstrong Hotel photo Steve Collins

Lobster and corn fritters, small bites for four photo/Steve Collins

Of course, you need a bit of food to go with these chic drinks. The kitchen, under the helm of Executive Chef Troy Heller, is turning out an eclectic selection Mediterranean-inspired small plates. The fusion fare uses seasonal using fresh and local ingredients when possible. Signature dishes include the Crab Mac & Cheese, and hand-rolled gnocchi. The night we stopped in, young, talented Sous Chef Cameron Mills, whose kitchen credits include a stint with Chicago celebrity chef Grant Achatz, brought us petite lobster/corn fritters on tantalizing tomato reduction. It was subtle and didn’t overwhelm the delicate lobster. We finished with a brilliantly executed decadent dark chocolate crème brûlée. Ask the bartender about cocktail pairings. Both the food and drink menu change frequently to keep things interesting.


The Subterraneans playing Jazz  at Ace Gillett's at the Armstrong Hotel Fort Collins photo Steve Collins

The Subterraneans playing Jazz at Ace Gillett’s, photo Steve Collins

Ace Gillett’s was created as a jazz club highlighting the sounds of the 40s through the 60s. The house band, The Subterraneans, play five nights a week (Wednesday through Sunday) starting at 8pm and going until midnight (Sunday hours are 7 until11pm. Occasionally, guest musicians sit in. The evening we were there the music was mellow featuring retro torchy standards. We were able to converse easily. This is more background than performance as lounge music, befitting a bygone era should be. They are largely a house band, but we always have featured guest-musicians.

Who was Ace Gillett?

Ace (Asa) Gillett was a business man who, according to the club’s website, “greatly influenced the development of downtown Fort Collins.”He moved to the city from Fort Morgan bought the Great Northern Hotel, opened in 1905, in 1940. He later purchased The Armstrong and even lived in an apartment on the hotel’s second floor. Fort Collins was a dry town into the 1960s. Gillett was known to provide a discrete cocktail or two in the Great Northern’s restaurant, famous for its domed leaded glass ceiling. He had a special box built for his black Ford coupe that he could hide cases of liquor in for transport. When current owners, Steve and Missy Levinger, decided to open the basement lounge, they wanted to pay homage to this Fort Collins hospitality pioneer. They sought the Gillett family’s approval to name the club for him and got a resounding, “Yes.” Not only did they approve the name, they helped with historical details “in order to create a lounge worthy of the Gillett name.”

Armstrong Hotel, photo Steve Collins

Armstrong Hotel lit up at night, much as it was in Ace’s day, photo/Steve Collins

Spend the night

Want to have a relaxed evening of cocktails and jazz but don’t want to drink and drive? Book a room at the Armstrong Hotel and just climb the stairs at the end of the evening.

If you want to go back to an era when men wore hats, women donned gloves and the three-Martini lunch was the norm on Madison Avenue, head for Ace Gillett’s. You’ll feel like you’re in a stylish time warp. Cheers!

What’s your favorite spot to head for Fort Collins nightlife?

Author’s note: We were guests of the Armstrong Hotel for part of our stay there. We paid for our drinks at Ace Gillett’s; the food was a generous gift. Our opinions are all our own.


8 Responses to “Fort Collins nightlife: Ace Gillett’s is aces”

  1. Helen Peak
    September 29, 2019 at 11:34 am #

    Well written, and very informative. Glad Tim and I were with you at Ace Gillet’s. Tasty drinks and delicious food! Best desert ever-thank you Cameron Mills. I highly recommend Ace Gillet’s.

    • Billie Frank
      September 29, 2019 at 2:53 pm #

      Thanks, Helen! Wasn’t that a fun evening. We should do it again next time we’re up.

  2. Ray Harvey
    September 29, 2019 at 2:52 pm #

    Beautiful article, Billie. Thank you. Thank you very much indeed.

    • Billie Frank
      September 29, 2019 at 2:54 pm #

      Thanks, Ray and thanks for all your help about the handcrafted cocktails. Next time I’m putting myself in your hands.

  3. Missy Levinger
    September 29, 2019 at 3:41 pm #

    What a wonderful article. I’m glad you were able to enjoy both the Armstrong and Ace Gillett’s. I hope you have the opportunity to return some day. As you mentioned,food and drinks change often enough to experience something new every time. (If not they’re happy to make it up.) I love them for that!

    • Billie Frank
      September 29, 2019 at 4:24 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words, Missy. What a great place you have! We’ll be back.

  4. Agness
    October 1, 2019 at 8:51 am #

    This place is so amazing, cozy and so romantic. Perfect for a dinner for 2 :).

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