Rebel with a blender
The salutatorian of Battle Mountain High School’s class of 1986 takes trips all over the world, but he always returns to Minturn.
Bruce Plummer has been behind the bar at The Saloon of Minturn for 14 years. He dishes out drinks, jokes and a bit of crap with alacrity, his colorful arms and legs an unstopping blur.
“The art of mixing a drink is telling a story and still moving your feet,” he said. “All great bartenders are great storytellers.”
“I have lots of stories about Bruce,” said Mark “Boule” Windell, one of the bartending legends Plummer learned from. “But none we can print in the paper. But just look at him – he’s a classic.”
Plummer looks the part of a motorcycle bad ass – long hair tied back, full beard, head-to-toe tattoos, a Harley in the driveway. It’s not as easy as it used to be, getting a tattoo – first he has to find a space on his body. He got his first one at 18, an itty bitty cobra nobody sees on his back. He gets one or two new ones every year or so.
“It comes down to deciding on an artists style, and what I want based on that,” he said.
On his forearm is an absinthe bottle, with the phrase, “Drink to forget.” (Fitting for a bartender.) It’s a classic tat, reborn in a new style. He currently favors graffiti artists.
As backcountry trekkers make their way down the Minturn Mile, they persevere through “the luge,” knowing one of Plummer’s margaritas are waiting for them at The Saloon. Despite the fact he’s mixed hundreds of thousands of the tequila-rich drinks, they’re still his favorite cocktail to make.
“Because you know it’s going to mess them up,” he said, cackling, then leaning in close. “Most people are drinking because they want a buzz. They’re lying if they say they’re not.”
And at The Saloon, it’s always straight-ahead, no-frills drinks. Famous for refusing to make anything John Wayne didn’t drink, those seeking Purple Hooters or Sex on the Beach can just walk on by. Plummer and his cohorts feel no compunction about laughing at the uninitiated when they request frou-frou shots.
“At the Saloon, I’ve always been free to give people crap,” said Plummer. “People want to get hassled – especially drunks. They’re looking for any kind of contact.”
And Plummer is quite willing to give that contact. By his own admission, his customers want him to be a character. Despite his ability to lay down the law – gruffly – those who know Plummer know he can be a softy, too. He seems genuinely pleased when regulars meander through the door, and has a good memory for faces, as well as the respect of his peers. When people get out of hand, he won’t take any crap from them; but he doesn’t hold it against them, either, chalking it up to the foibles of humanity. It’s these qualities that would have stood him in good stead had he pursued his original plan when he packed off to college.
Plummer attended Ozark Christian College for two and a half years. He aspired to be a teacher or youth minister. He’d had a taste of teaching when he arrived at Battle Mountain High School. An Air Force brat until he was 9, he’d lived all over the place. He liked computers and sciences, and when the school bought computers, he helped the teacher write the programs, as he’d studied them previously.
Plummer’s mom moved to Vail from Colorado Springs, and let him decide if he’d come, too. He drove up in his Camaro and watched football practice – a bunch of yuppies, he thought. But it was too beautiful to pass up, so the rogue rider cut his hair and moved in.
“It was like heaven here,” he said. “All of a sudden I could be a big fish in a small town. I still love it.”
He quit college after breaking up with his girlfriend, another student. He worked a season at Burger King – back when there was one on Bridge Street – and saved for a trip. He and his cohorts spent 31 days abroad, and he came back a big believer in traveling as much as possible. He stays at The Saloon because he likes it, likes Minturn, and loves the off season when he gets to indulge his traveling habit.
“I really do have the perfect job,” he said. “It’s easy, it’s fun, and most every local in town stops by. We get the informed tourist, people who are friends of locals, used to be locals themselves, or people who hear about us by word of mouth.”
He compares himself to the grasshopper in the old parable, the one who jumps around all summer, having a ball, while the ants store up food for the winter. If he didn’t enjoy his life so much the way it is, he’d change it. But he’s too happy working five months and taking the sixth one off.
He is just a little bit more settled these days, as he’s living with his girlfriend, Alison Kabel.
“I tried to stay out of the whole having-a-woman thing,” he said. “We met at Jimmy and Rachel’s wedding party at State Bridge. We just hung out, watching the moon. She was leaving town, so I thought it was safe to spend lots of time with her.”
Eight months later, Kabel came back to town and back to Plummer. He acts disgruntled, as if it weren’t his fault they hit it off then, and still do. They’ve been together for almost two years. Plummer is discovering that living with a woman can be a whole different world.
When he’s not working, traveling or snowboarding, he can be found on his motorcycle, flying down the road. It’s another reason he stays in Minturn; Highway 24 is a biker’s paradise. With those huge handlebars, he likens his bike’s comfort level to sitting in a lazy-boy. He feels more out of control snowboarding than he ever has on his hog.
“We all love speed, don’t we?” he asked. “And bikes are so free, too.”
He’s traveled the States on his bike, and stops at out-of-the-way places on his journeys. Inevitably he meets some straight-laced farmer who once owned a bike and dreamed of riding it to the horizon and back.
As for Plummer, he’s living his dream right now. He keeps it simple: whiskey, woman and his bike.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.
Participants attached protest signs to ski poles and hockey sticks in Vail Saturday at the 2020 Women’s March.