The Brass Parrot: ‘The last real bar’
A moment of silence, please, for our soon-to-be-departed Brass Parrot. After 20 years of slinging brews and cornering the market on “dive bar and proud of it” in Avon, the Valley landmark full of recognizable friends, locals and well, brass parrots, will shutter its doors for good. ZZ Top won’t play on the jukebox, the clinking of glasses will quiet and the Budweiser on tap will stop flowing. OK, now that the sad stuff’s over with, let’s raise a glass.
“We survived 20 years in the food-and-beverage business, and I think that’s quite an accomplishment,” said Kenny Dahlberg, who took over the Parrot in March of ’87, back when it was still called The Penalty Box. “It wears on you after all those years, but it’s been a great run. We’ve met so many great people who worked here, visited and lived here over those years. About two or three years after we started, The Vail Daily called us the Cheers of Avon, because literally everybody knows your name.”The Parrot survived season after season on the backs of loyal locals who called the Parrot ‘headquarters’ and made sure to stop by pre-game, post-game, pre-ski, post-ski, pre-concert, post-concert and any old time at all.”It’s such a locals’s spot,” said co-owner Kris Miller. “A girl can walk in by herself and not be freaked out, and people can stop in and know they’ll be surrounded by friends and people they know.”Tom Brokaw, Pat Riley and musician Dave Mason have all dined and drank at the Brass Parrot, content to fill in as local pals for an evening. Construction worker Bill Hendryx has been coming to the Brass Parrot for over 15 years.”You can always come in and find someone you know, and the food’s good,” he said. “It’s going to be a real bummer when they’re gone. It’s been way cool, and full of memories – some of which I don’t remember.”When asked his favorite memory, Michael “Foot” Schlict gets off his bar stool and proudly points to himself in a picture on the wall taken outside the bar in 1987 and says “this.” Schlict reclines on the grass surrounded by other smiling Parrot-heads who still haunt the place.”I don’t need phone numbers because I can come here and see my friends,” he said. “Now I’m starting to make a phone list for the first time. It was a great time, ’cause it was just us. It’s always been us.”Piece of the ParrotDahlberg already took down most of the bar’s massive collection of namesake parrots for fear that wistful patrons might make off with a permanent memento.”A few days after we announced we were closing it, a few things started to disappear,” Dahlberg said. “I have everybody asking, ‘hey, can I have that? Can I have a parrot?’ I use to think we had too many, and now we’re not going to have enough to go around. So the stuff that meant a lot I took down.”
Bar regulars have donated parrots from all over the world; Dahlberg hopes to return those to their rightful owners. But he plans to distribute the original parrots among staff and owners, so everybody can “have a piece of the Parrot.” But one lucky customer – known only as Cosmic Dave – bought the entire bar and plans to install it in his basement.”He’s in construction, and asked if he could have it,” Dahlberg said. “So he’ll come and take it out of here and put it in his basement. That’s quite a tribute, that the bar gets to live on.”Dahlberg and Miller kept a bar journal that every bartender wrote in every night for legal purposes, but on the Parrot’s final night, Dahlberg and Miller plan to read select entries from the journal to reminisce.”Everybody asks, ‘did I make the book?'” Dahlberg said. “I say, ‘well, what did you do last night to get in it?’ But we’ll get it out and laugh about it on Saturday night.”Hendryx made the book – but only once, he’s happy to say.”I’ve only made it into the book once, but that was self-inflicted,” he says. “I’ve got a reputation to keep.”Final nightEmployees from near and far are making their way to the Brass Parrot on Saturday; one former bartender is flying out from Oklahoma for one day just to pay her respects.”We want everybody to come by and raise a glass,” Dahlberg said. “There’s a bazillion stories to remember. This’ll be the time to talk and remember it all.”The Parrot will open for final celebrations at 3 p.m. and go until close. Dahlberg says they plan to feature food and drink specials as well as an appetizer buffet. Regulars can look forward to possibly getting their hands on the Parrot’s famous tacos, wings and salsa.
“I’m going to miss the salsa, but I’m lucky because I get to take the guy who invented it with me,” Miller said, referring to Dahlberg, her husband.Budweiser has been the staple of the Parrot through its 20-year history, and that won’t change on the final night.”It’s a shot-and-a-beer kind of place – not a lot of frou-frou drinks go over that bar,” Dahlberg said. “The second year, I got rid of the blender – it’s not a blender type of place. I can’t tell you how many bartenders thanked me for not making them use the blender.”Other than fatigue, the Parrot is closing because of lease issues; the bar might’ve weathered a few more seasons, but Dahlberg felt it was a sign that closing time had come.”It’s maybe not the way we planned or envisioned to go out, but it feels right,” Dahlberg says. “I’m probably going to miss all these people more than they missed me.”For the future, Miller and Dahlberg plan to take some time off before planning their next move. They won’t leave the valley, but they don’t know if they’ll enter the bar business again. Miller plans to write a book based on the shenanigans and memories recounted in the massive bar journal.”It’s tough, we’ve had a few tears,” Miller said. “But I’m going to write that book. Heck, Kenny and I are married because of the Brass Parrot.” Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado