VAIL, Colorado - The last thing you think you're going to see while enjoying dinner in an elegant dining room at Restaurant Kelly Liken is a big black bear wandering into the building and nearly into the restaurant.
That's what happened Wednesday night around 10 p.m., though, as two tables finished their meals and the restaurant began to close down for the evening.
"It was kind of late at night and we had two tables left, and it sauntered into the lobby when we weren't looking," Liken said. "Lisa, our sommelier, and Ben, our bartender, were at the bar and Ben looked over Lisa's shoulder and said, 'Oh my gosh - bear!'"
Liken's restaurant, in the Gateway Building on the southeast side of the main Vail roundabout, has a lobby-like entryway. When you walk inside, the hostess greets you and you turn left to enter the actual restaurant. Luckily the bear didn't make it very far inside.
Liken said it was a hot night and the lobby doors to outside were propped open. The bear had a clear shot to the inside of the building - something Liken said will never happen again.
"I was really shocked," Liken said, referring to her restaurant's location as being pretty far removed from where she would expect to see bear activity. "We learned our lesson (about leaving the doors open)."
She was definitely impressed with Ben Pliska, the bartender that evening, though.
"Ben was very brave and ran out into the lobby after it," she said.
Pliska laughs about the incident, saying it was a "different" kind of evening at the restaurant.
"A little different clientele than we're used to, I suppose," Pliska said.
When he initially saw movement near the lobby, at first glance he just thought it was a large dog. Then he did a double take and realized it was a bear.
"(Lisa) freaked out and ran the other way - she grabbed all our guests who were still there and they all ran toward the kitchen," Pliska said. "My only goal was to close the door (between the restaurant and the lobby). My goal was to get to that point first to prevent him from coming into the restaurant."
By the time Pliska approached the restaurant door, he had made some loud noises that got the bear to head outside. And while he's never seen a bear near the building before - only foxes - he remembered to close the doors as the sun set during his Thursday evening shift.
Liken and some of her staff suspect the bear was actually drawn to trash from the residential side of the building. They think a guest in the building may have unknowingly put their trash into the recycle bins.
"We had building management take care of it immediately," Liken said. "... It's perfectly safe to eat at Kelly Liken - (the bear) was just a little lost."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.