Owners of “The Riv” Make an Old Song New Again
Jonathan Gorst hasn’t had a day off since June 17 of this year.
“That’s when we re-opened the Riviera Supper Club after the previous owners decided to sell,” he says. “And things have been a bit of a whirlwind since then. I guess being so busy is self-inflicted, but what can I say? I love what I do.”
Gorst, an accomplished pianist who has worked with multiple Broadway national tours and other high-profile productions, moved to Glenwood Springs with his wife Marisa in 2014. He quickly established a reputation as the town’s beloved “piano man” and has since found himself involved with numerous performance groups throughout the area: the Theatre Aspen Conservatory, the Vail Valley Theatre Company, Stage of Life Theatre in Carbondale and many others. Gorst also inhabits one of the most visible spots in the community as musical director of the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, performing for houses filled with folks who would likely agree that the show just wouldn’t be the same without him. These theatre-goers attend the vaudeville performances not only to be entertained, but also to be transported in time via the musical experience of a bygone era.
Now, as new co-owner of the Riviera Supper Club, Gorst hopes to transport his restaurant patrons to yet another period in US history—the 1940s. Operated since 1947 on 7th Street in downtown Glenwood, “The Riv” opened its doors during an era when chi-chi supper clubs rose to popularity throughout the country as establishments where diners could eat, mingle and be entertained in style.
“They were much more than just a place to dine—patrons had an expectation that an evening at a supper club would always include live performance as well,” Gorst notes. “And we have free live music starting here at 7 p.m., seven days a week. There is really nothing else like it within a 150-mile radius, and we are honored to bring this type of experience back to life in Glenwood Springs.”
Gorst’s commitment to his mission is honorable, as he himself takes a seat at the restaurant’s Steinway piano to play on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. As downtown pedestrians promenade after dark, they often pause to take a peek through the glass as he performs in The Riv’s large streetside window.
“I mostly do a lot of show tunes and numbers from the Great American Songbook,” he says. “But with the other musicians who play here, you might hear ragtime, jazz, fusion. It just depends on the night you end up coming here—and that’s part of the fun. It’s never the same thing twice.”
Gorst welcomes requests from patrons, and will even pull up sheet music on his iPad if he doesn’t already have it on hand. Although the dinner hour typically remains quieter, anything goes after 9 p.m. when sing-alongs spontaneously erupt inside the restaurant.
“Impromptu singing starts up when a bit more wine has been poured and everyone is more relaxed,” Gorst says with a laugh. “One night recently, we had about 10 performers, a full patio and bar, and we even got a standing ovation—in a restaurant! For us, that was like pure magic.”
Soon Gorst hopes to experiment with different types of experiences for diners, including a Sunday jazz brunch and an evening competition where patrons can step up to sing their favorite tunes for a chance at winning a free dinner. He would also love to see The Riv become a casual performance destination for professional musicians near and far.
“We have so many incredibly talented musicians living in this valley,” he says. “Plus, frequently there are performers who pass through the area on their way to Denver or Las Vegas, and we would love to host them here as well. We are exploring a lot of possibilities for future entertainment right now.”
There are a lot of hats for Gorst to wear in his new role as the supper club’s co-owner and lead musician. One hat he is happy to place on the head of his business partner, Travis Owen, however, is that of executive chef.
Owen, who has worked alongside some of the biggest culinary names in the valley, has a long history in Glenwood Springs. As a teenager, he even worked for The Riv’s building owner Tony Rosa, washing dishes next door at now-closed Italian restaurant Peppo Nino. Owen agrees that he and Gorst make a great team. “His skill set and mine don’t overlap much at all, but they are extremely complementary,” he says. “When the restaurant went up for sale earlier this spring, Jonathan came to look at the place and we accidentally crossed paths. He told me his vision and we decided that we could both bring something very useful to the table, so to speak.”
Owen is passionate about seasonal cuisine and plans to debut a new winter menu starting October 1. Although the summer menu was dotted with creative fusion dishes such as Korean beef tacos and chicken tikka masala, the chef says that the winter menu will feature heartier selections that deliver a more classic supper club experience—including one favorite that many locals consider synonymous with the restaurant itself.
“Lots of people who come here absolutely love Mabel’s Prime Rib, which has been on the menu at the Riviera for decades,” he notes. “It is part of our story as a restaurant, so we want to include it on the regular menu—it’s just all-natural beef that we treat with respect so the quality can shine through.”
Many locals also know that the Riviera has long been the best place in town for a beautiful glass of wine. Owen plans to keep it that way. “Great beer is well covered around here, so we are continuing to offer our selection of 40 different wines,” he says. “Perfect for dinner or just sipping at the bar after the music starts.”
As Gorst and Owen turn a new page in the Riviera Supper Club’s songbook, they are helping define the new spirit of downtown; nodding to the traditions of the past, they work a kind of alchemy to infuse their legacy with vitality and modern taste. In this way, the restaurant is representative of the very essence of Glenwood itself: a place where what’s old is new again, and perhaps even better than before.