The Tavern’s been sold! Long live the Tavern! | AspenTimes.com
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The Tavern’s been sold! Long live the Tavern!

If you were to take a casual poll of the Woody Creek Tavern faithful about what concerned them the most – the war in Iraq, global warming or the sale of the Tavern – there is little doubt that the sale of the Tavern would dominate.Since it became known a month ago that the Tavern might change hands, Woody Creek has been awash in questions regarding the sale, the new owners and possible changes. Phone calls and e-mails came in from just about every nook and cranny in the country; many former residents wanted to know what the hell was going on. Considering the fact that my main function with the Tavern is to make the hot pickles that go into the bloody marys and to design an occasional T-shirt (and to enjoy a cocktail now and again), I’m hardly part of the management team and certainly not privy to any business secrets. So I wasn’t much of a source for inside information, although I was happy to pass on any rumors I had heard, no matter how spurious.But now everything is pretty much public. We know that Kevin Wilson and Laura Wren, longtime co-owners of the Wienerstube restaurants in Aspen and Basalt, will own the Tavern. They seem very likable, and they have maintained that they plan no major changes to the 27-year-old Tavern. Such statements were greeted with sighs of relief from Tavern regulars. There will be some changes of course. It’s inevitable! We will probably see a few new faces among the staff and they may tinker with the menu, but most of us are trying to take a positive approach to all of this. They also seem to have an appreciation for the fact that the Tavern really is a unique and often quirky place, with some rather unique and quirky regulars. George Stranahan is the man who had the original vision for a little watering hole in Woody Creek that the residents could call their own. He wanted a place that was casual and inexpensive. If you wanted a drink or a burger in Woody Creek in 1980, you had to drive to Aspen, Snowmass or Basalt. It was a glorious thing to be able to socialize and imbibe with friends without being forced to drive Highway 82, which in those days had the ugly reputation of being “Killer 82.” I worked at the Tavern for approximately 10 years, bartending, managing and then hosting, but it turned out that I was lacking something as a manager and the more I hosted, the surlier I became.As the years passed, the clientele began to change, and it seemed to me as if they were becoming too pushy and too demanding. So I took a leave of absence to write a book with the late Kathy Krieger Daily. That took three years and I knew I could not return as an employee at the Tavern. By the same token, I found it impossible to escape the place. One of the more intriguing aspects of the Tavern is that from the very beginning it was not ruled by some overriding and artificial theme. It became what it became as a result of everyone who worked there and a great many of the local regulars. It simply evolved into a rather chaotic but inviting place.Somehow Mary and Shep Harris, who ran the place for something like 23 years, managed not only to maintain the Tavern’s rather strange ambiance, they enhanced and improved it. The walls in the rear of the Tavern once contained a collection of photos, mostly of locals, but in time Mary managed to cover every wall in the place with photos, magazine and newspaper articles and paintings by some very respected artists. But it was Mary’s penchant for those strings of decorative lights that hang everywhere in the Tavern (including outside on the patio) that may have been her most distinctive touch. Regulars would start a casual pool each time she added another light, betting on whether or not the latest string would finally blow the entire electrical system. I’m happy to say that never happened.In truth, just about every employee and a good many customers have contributed to the idiosyncratic nature of the Tavern. It would be impossible to name everyone, all the waitresses, bartenders and cooks, who left their own distinctive marks on the Tavern, but be assured it is such an eclectic and unconventional place because of them. And because so many individuals have contributed to the Tavern’s unusual nature, it was understandable why there was so much concern about “changes” possibly coming with the new owners.But there is a curious irony here. The very individuals who were worried about changes are likely to inundate Laura and Kevin with suggestions about things that they would like changed. If that isn’t human nature, then I don’t know what is. We don’t want the Tavern to go through any radical changes, but we will be quite willing to badger the new owners with our own ideas of how to make the Tavern “better.” I’ve already heard a bunch of those suggestions, and I would guess that Laura and Kevin have as well. Frankly I’m rather comfortable with things as they are – although having something other than a steady diet of vegetarian soups would be rather nice. See, we just can’t help sticking our noses into other people’s business.Frankly, I will be happy to return to worrying about the war in Iraq and global warming. I’ve already proven I don’t know how to run a tavern. This is the 341st article in a two-part series devoted to the community of Woody Creek, a place where the residents are more than happy to tell you how to run your own business.


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