Coalville bar remains a treasured relic
To Andrea Hewson and her regulars, Bunny’s Club is much more than it appears to be.
To outsiders, it may look like a regular small-town bar, a local watering hole where a good time is a few cans of Bud Light or a round of Jack Daniel’s away. But Hewson and those who frequent her club know that’s not the whole story. To them, the saloon is a relic of Coalville’s past. It’s a treasured spot that that many locals consider a second home.
"I think everyone comes here to have a sense of family," Hewson said. "That’s how it is. It’s a great place. People don’t have to even be drinking the whole time, but they come together."
Bunny’s Club, which Hewson has owned for 15 years, has a colorful history in Coalville. It was created by a business man named Kenneth "Bunny" Downs, who also owned a restaurant, hotel and liquor store in town. Hewson has heard various stories about the early years of the club, but the exact date of its opening has been difficult to pin down. She believes it has been around for more than 80 years and has survived ownership turnover — it has passed hands several times since Downs’ death in 1979 — and even a fire that charred much of the club around the 1950s.
"It definitely has a long history here in town," she said.
James Spriggs, who was raised in Coalville and still lives in town, has been frequenting the club for about 40 years, ever since he could legally drink. He has witnessed the bar go through many changes over the years.
He said the history of the club has largely followed that of Coalville itself. At times, the town has been vibrant, aided by a strong mining or oil industry presence. During down periods, the town’s economy has sagged and the bar has stagnated.
"It’s been boom or bust," Spriggs said.
The club was in a period of sluggishness when Hewson became involved with it, she said. At the time, she had recently moved to town from Alaska and was working in Park City. She was looking for a job closer to home so she could spend more time with her son, so she began running the grill part of the club. But it lacked vitality.
"It needed more something — more action," Hewson said. "It wasn’t very busy. The gentleman who owned it, his friends would come in between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., and that would be the main busy part of the day. There would be maybe five to seven of them. And later in the day, sometimes people would come and sometimes not."
Hewson bought the bar about a year later and began the long process of injecting life into it. She began hosting events such as karaoke nights, pool tournaments and live music. During Mardi Gras, the bar hosts a large bash, complete with crawfish, music and — of course — plenty of drinking.
But the process was slow. Hewson said it took about 12 years to fully revive the bar’s atmosphere.
"I struggled for a long time and now I’ve kind of got it down a little bit," she said. "I can honestly say it took a long time."
Now that the bar has begun to take off, Hewson is looking to capitalize on the momentum. She is exploring getting a restaurant business license so she can operate a full kitchen. And she wants to continue amassing local historic artifacts to decorate the club. Since it is such a large part of Coalville’s past, she wants it to be a celebration the town’s history.
"I think it’s a weakness of mine," she said. "I’m working at always collecting stuff that’s from here. I’m working toward having a historical décor that’s accurate. I think that would be neat."
Hewson is getting close to retirement. There are times she thinks about selling the bar but wants to hang on for another decade to reach 25 years of owning the club. That would be a nice number at which to call it quits, she said.
But in the meantime, she will do her best to make the club the best it can be. It means too much to the people of Coalville to do anything less.
"I want to make sure this place will remain the same for the people that love it and for people to experience here," she said. "I want everything here exactly as I imagined it."
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