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The last free keg

Cassie Pence
Shane Macomber/Vail DailySundance Saloon
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LIONSHEAD – If only these Sundance walls could talk.They might tell the tale of two hot lovers making use of a dark corner. Or give names to the anonymous artists who have carved proverbs into the barn boards and stalls. They might chuckle about the antics unfolding behind bathroom doors. But given the chance, the walls would probably just talk about all the relationships bonded during the saloon’s 24-year history. Because when I asked the loyal patrons about what they’ll miss most when the Sundance Saloon closes its doors Thursday forever, everyone answered the people.

“I’ll miss the friendships that are here. The Sundance is like an extended living room for some people. People come and go year after year, but you can come back here to catch up,” Tom Olsen said, who with Ralph Dockery owns the bar.Dockery and Olsen opened the bar in 1981. Vail Resorts has always talked about tearing the building down, but it took the resort 17 years to compile a plan, Dockery said. Vail Resorts will tear the building down after the ski season, along with the Gondola building, as part of the redevelopment project in Lionshead.”I’d love to have another Sundance in Lionshead, but at what price? I like to sleep at night,” Dockery said. “They haven’t raised my rent in 17 years because I sign a year-to-year lease.”Dockery recalls many nights of unbridled revelry at the Sundance, but names the Great Race Days’ post-parties as his favorite memories. Hundreds of people would funnel down from the mountain and into the bar.

“It was unbelievable. Just nuts. They would drink the bar dry. Everyone would be drinking and partying hard. I guess it was too much fun because the powers that be shut it (the Great Race Days) down,” said Dockery.It isn’t the barn-board walls, pool table in the corner, sticky floors or lack of fur that gives the Sundance its undeniable personality. Although those traits help. What makes the Sundance the Sundance is the collection of eccentric local characters that fill the barstools, from senior ski instructors to authentic unemployed ski bums to lifties to waitresses to the occasional wayward tourist.”The real people, the heart beat of the mountains, come here to unwind. This place makes the mountain move. It’s the behind the scenes crowd,” said Paul Buckley, aka 592, a longtime local who was in charge of lift maintenance for five and half years.”Tourists are afraid to come here,” added Tilly Sailer, a massage therapist at Aria Spa who has been coming to the Sundance for seven years.



It’s true. The Sundance is “the last of the real ski bars,” and it’s off the beaten path enough that you won’t find many tourists. The lack of glitz and money clips, and the fact that everyone really does know your name, creates the bar’s allure.”I think everyone who comes here, comes here because of the long-term friendships, local atmosphere and a history unlike any other place in Vail. What I will miss the most is the people,” Colby Scudder said, who used to be a ski instructor. “It gives locals a vacation or time off from the tourist industry, something which is appreciated, but again something which locals need a little time away from.” Scudder is one of the many valley ex-patriates who flew in just to celebrate the final weeks of the Sundance. Last week the Sundance’s original house band Emersum Bigguns played, and Thursday marks the last free keg the bar will tap. Since 1981, the Sundance has drained 1,248 free kegs. And since the bar stays open 375 days a year, Thursday will mark its 8,760 straight day of business.”You know that Toby Keith song ‘I Love This Bar,’ he wrote that song about this bar. It’s for this bar. There’s not a living soul I don’t know here – and I don’t live here,” Jeannine Ard said, who’s been going to the Sundance for 18 years this month. When she arrived in the valley fresh out of college, it was the first place she came to. Now, she teaches in New Orleans and is using her spring break to enjoy one last beer at the Sundance. “It’s not so much the structure I’m going to miss, but the inner feelings.”

The question looming over every loyal Sundance fan’s head is where to go when the doors close. The common answer is there is no place left to go.”The Sundance has character and characters. It’s a dive bar. Anything goes, and what happens here stays here,” Ron Kitchell, a ski instructor of 30 years, said.There are four days left to experience the Sundance Saloon in Lionshead. “People who haven’t been here have missed out. No one ever wants to leave. It’s more like a family than a bar,” Ard said.



Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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