Saddle Sore: Tony Vagneur
July 24, 2010
The entrance was about the most unappealing in town, and nobody cared. At least not those who went inside. The others didn’t know about the world that existed within and that’s the way everyone seemed happy.
The door, always locked, stood about 3 feet above the Galena Street sidewalk and was accessed by climbing three or four concrete steps up to a tiny landing not much wider than the door itself. There were no windows and the recessed outside wall was painted a flat white. Over the door, right angled to the building, was a tiny blue sign that simply said, “FOE #184.” A tiny button to the left activated a buzzer behind the bar which alerted the bartender to “ring” the door open, for whomever.
It was an ingenious system – rather than check identification to ascertain membership, the clientele inside was alerted every time someone entered and God help those who thought they might “sneak” in. If you weren’t a member, you weren’t welcome in that rowdy environment, no matter how “cool” you thought you were, but almost any unknown person of any description was courteously allowed to have one drink, on the house, but beyond that you’d better have legitimate business or get your ass out the door.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the place was generally packed. The juke box always competed with the television; a dice game or two involving half the patrons might take up most of the long, wooden bar and laughter and shouting played out everywhere. Somebody’d be making a 50-point run in a heavily bet game of bottle pool, likely a woman. If there was a Saturday night dinner and dance, couples slipped in the nondescript front door wearing nothing but their finest, ready to get it on.
The old Eagles Club (that’s what you’d call it), the precursor to Andre’s, Planet Hollywood and now Prada, housed a personality that is strong still, 30 years after it moved over to Bleeker Street. They probably still have Freddie Fisher’s Sullivan-Considine award hanging behind the “new” bar, like he’d just won it a few months ago, even though it graced the old Aspen Aerie for many years before it closed.
Lenny Thomas, creator of Aspen’s first public swimming pool, hung his plethora of mounted deep-sea fishing trophies all around the high-ceilinged old Club, giving it an appearance no one particularly appreciated, but accepted with a philosophical, “Lenny did give ’em to us, you know.”
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Tending occasional bar there was a privilege I endured for several years, a tenure that gave me a lot of experience about this and that. Helen couldn’t get you more than once, but she had a unique approach to initiating new bartenders on weekday afternoons. She’d order a drink, and then make a big deal about a hurt arm and finding her money. Eventually, she’d give you the big doe-eyes as she started to unbutton her shirt, saying, “Just reach in here and grab it, will you, honey?” No sooner did you reach than Helen’s little Chihuahua, a trained killer, would jump up from deep inside her blouse and try to take your hand off. Helen, who seldom had anything to say, would laugh like hell.
It wasn’t a fancy place, more likely strange, but it was the smoke-filled, whiskey-smelling joint to get the low-down on local happenings, and for many of us, was a gyroscope of sanity in a rapidly changing town.
Where else could you be on a Saturday night, standing wobbly in the midst of people you’d known a lifetime, your date turned on by the realization she could actually talk to these people. From deep within the dance hall, Dubby sang the stage, wringing the depths of a lonely heart breaker while Glenn flawlessly pounded out the bluesy, country bass like it was his eternity, just before the end.
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