One more for the road
One of the last ski bars left in Vail is about to be no more.It’s been speculated and foreseen for years now, but this really is the last season for the Sundance Saloon (no, really, it is).It’s funny how many of these clubs on Bridge Street change their names annually, and one of the only so-called “dive” bars in town has to have its building torn down before it’ll change. Even with a location that is farther off the beaten path than any other bar in town, the Sundance has endured. The same lack of visibility that kept tourist traffic to a bare minimum brought a loyalty from locals who wanted their own spot to visit.This may sound hard to believe, but there are still a few people out there who just go out to a bar to socialize. They don’t go out to dance with the best looking stranger that they can find. Or to gyrate on a stranger’s hips, down in some dimly-lit place, where blasting music interferes with conversation, anyway. Some people don’t like hanging out in basements, getting their ears yelled into over the booming bass of whatever the hell happens to be on TRL this week.That’s right: some still hope to find a jukebox. Some think it’s the cat’s pajamas when they see an air hockey table. And there are still people who just go out to visit with their friends. In Vail, these people are rare. They are characters. And they are going to be lost without a compass when the Sundance closes down.The Sundance as it is today opened in 1981. Prior to that it was a disco that had been shut down for alcohol and drug violations in 1978. Ralph Dockery got a 15-year lease on the place and, with help from Tom Olsen, the Sundance was opened in October of ’81.For years the Sundance was the kick-off bar of “The Great Race.” I have only heard about the great race, so for me to say anything is hearsay. But from what I can gather, it sounds like some sort of Footloose-style counsel got together and put the kibosh on a really good time.In recent years the Saloon has become an unofficial headquarters for lift-ees and ski instructors, as their lockers were moved right beneath it.About 13 years ago Vail Associates bought the building that the Sundance is in and, ever since the original lease ran out, the bar has been on a year-to-year lease. This uncertainty prompted little enthusiasm to renovate other than the essentials (i.e. new carpeting), but that is what gave the Sundance its charm. There are years worth of memories hanging on those walls, and when you walk in you feel like you’re part of them. There are photographs all over the place, and the background looks the same in all of them.My friend Ben met his wife at the Sundance. He was working the door and got a little carried away stamping hands. He stamped a poor girl named Wendy all over her face and then he married her. Their wedding party also happened to wander over to the Sundance after their reception.Tom Meyer, doorman and employee for six years, reminisced with me back to a time when a fight broke out between several patrons on the dance floor. Tom stepped in to break it up and when one man hit the ground, Tom added insult to injury. “I stepped on his gut and the dude sha* his pants.”That sounds like pay-per-view to me.If I had to guess, I would bet locals’ night has been the biggest draw for the Sundance; a night that entails a free keg tapped at 9 p.m. and a band coming on around 10 p.m. (at least in the ski-season).Nearly every local musician or band has played at the Sundance at one time or another, and plenty of road shows have come through as well.Paul Galaxy and the Galactix, a Denver-based three-piece surf-a-billy band, has been playing at the Sundance every year for the past four ski seasons. Paul, lead vocal and guitar, has played at the Sundance in one band or another for closer to eight.Paul told me that they play a lot of mountain bars and the Sundance really stood apart from the crowd, mainly for the warm reception. Paul, Chopper (bass), and Mad Dog (drums) have already played the Sundance once this year and they will be returning on Feb. 17.After that I’m not sure where they ought to play here in town. With the loss of the Sundance, and 8150 facing a similar fate when the Crossroads project gets under way, Vail is in danger of seeing far fewer musical acts next year. We’ll see if Sandbar can pick up the slack (which they’ve been doing nicely so far).Even I, myself, have played the Sundance once upon a time. I was in a duo called “Psycho Billy Cadillac and the Cottonmouth” with Dave Perron, currently lead singer and guitarist for the Laughing Bones. We played there a couple of times back in the season of 2001-02. As I recall the room was packed with friends. I remember either having a blast, or at least being told the next morning that I had a blast.The good times aren’t over for the Sundance Saloon, not yet. There will be an official farewell party at the Sundance on March 31st. People from all over the country and all over the world are expected to attend. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few warm up shindigs before then.This is the end of an era. The Sundance Saloon is one of the last bastions of ski-bummery and its fate is sealed. The Sundance will leave some big shoes to fill, and more likely than not, whatever replaces it will have some little feet. VTBill Davis is a local guitar man and filmmaker who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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