Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
It comes up all the time, mention of the “old” Eagles Club, the one that existed in the brick building where Prada hawks its wares, across the street from Kemo Sabe. There is the “new” Eagles Club, down at the end of Bleeker Street, but that’s not where we’re going with this.
Freddie Fisher, icon of the middle-Aspen era (sandwiched between quiet and insane), mentioned the Eagles Club with regularity in his leisurely letters to the editor. The letters, found in “Fisher the Fixer” by Su Lum and the late Barbara A. Lewis, are worth a look. Actually, even though everyone seems to know who Freddie Fisher was, there aren’t many who can say they personally witnessed the man’s visage. And it wasn’t a pretty one, either. The visage, that is.
Live music isn’t all it once was in Aspen, and today it would be tough to pull off standing ankle-deep in a tub full of synthetic women’s breasts, blowing on a homemade bass clarinet of exquisite, rumbling racket, while soaking up the adulation of a half-inebriated apres-ski crowd.
For Fisher, and countless others, it seemed like a visit to the “old” Eagles Club always started with good conversation, maybe the thought of having only a couple, and ended with wonderment at how such simplicity inevitably led to a hangover of memorable proportions.
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To me, part of the ski-bum mystique said bartending was one of those gigs that provided much of what it takes to live in Aspen. Women hang around, waiting for you to lock up (sometimes), good booze is on the house (always), the tips are better than wages (depends), and the clientele is amazing (at least that’s what the clientele thinks).
Dance nights at the Eagles Club were big, anticipated for weeks at a time, and a working man’s best was what he wore. One night I had a new helper, a big, tall dude reminiscent of Wayne Newton, fresh out of Miami, whose first words were, “I’ll show you now to rake in the tips.”
Sure enough, as we counted out, our stash contained about three times what I normally took in. The anger didn’t hit for three or four days, but honest people aren’t quick to make accusations. It was the ’70s and folks were in the habit of leaving their cash on the bar in anticipation of the next round. Apparently, when they weren’t looking, my “assistant” had scooped much of it into the tip jug.
No one had seen the actual crime, but many, after experiencing the hangover mentioned above, were concerned that their wallets had turned up a little thin. There was talk of firing him, but it became a moot point when he turned up with a broken arm and couldn’t work, anyway. Honest people understand coincidences.
The Eagles Club is private, and in its old location the entry consisted of a locked, windowless wood door under a white light, a very obscure sign and a buzzer for entry. If not for the absence of a red light, there was little to distinguish the place from a whorehouse in the Nevada desert or a jive joint in Denver’s Five Points, and some late-night troublemakers were offended to discover we were neither. A heavy-duty billy-club, readily accessible, was enough to put an end to overzealous drunken strangers who thought they might reorganize the place. We never called the law.
It took 13 cases of Coors bottles to fill the cooler under the bar. I carried 12 at a time from the cold storage rack in the rear, and always had to go back for one more. Oh, I could carry 13 all right, but couldn’t set them down on the floor without exploding three or four in the bottom case.
As my doctor said last summer after I complained of some gnarly muscle spasms, “You ranch boys sure are tough on your backs.” I don’t think it was the ranch, Doc.
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