Red Banjo celebrates 50 years
When the Egyptian Theater performed melodramas a few decades ago, Mary Lou Toly, part-owner of the Red Banjo, remembers the villains sneaking into the back of her Main Street restaurant for a drink. The villain-less scene went on inside the theater while a black-clad, mustached actor sipped on a beer next door. That was another Park City, an earlier version of what it has become today.
The Main Street business turns 50 years old on Sunday, adding another year to the Red Banjo legacy. Toly, a born and raised Park City native, is chalked full of stories about the old building and her family spending the past five decades under that timbered roof.
"We are the oldest restaurant by now," Toly said. "We first opened in June of 1962. We’re old-timers."
Toly now owns the business with her son Scott Toly and her daughter-in-law Jane Toly, and the three are planning on celebrating the anniversary of the business with a birthday party complete with cake and pizza this weekend.
"People like the fact that they can find something that they can remember," Toly said.
"I hope fifty years from now it’s the same place."
On its first Fourth of July holiday, the business pulled in $400 selling pints of beer at 10 cents a glass. That was a time when the saloon placed tuna cans for ash trays at the tables and spittoons at the bar.
When Toly first bought the building with her husband, it was strictly a saloon. Pizza was not added to the menu until almost 10 years after the Tolys took ownership. The bar was still there and included a cash register with convenient buttons that read pint and quart.
Originally built in 1900, those who know where to look can see the war scars of the old building. Cigarette burns on the old wood floors are the remnants of the saloon’s former purpose as a gambling hall, the only evidence since government raids confiscated the blackjack table and slot machines.
A half wall once separated the bar from a row of booths. The double doors, a recognizable feature of the old building, were to allow men entrance to the bar and women could enter on the booth side. That wall was one of only a few features to change in the past 50 years.
"We wanted to keep as much of the old as we could," Toly said. "That’s why we kept the double doors. This place just has lots and lots of history."
"When we change anything, the locals come in and get angry with us," she added. "I remember one year there was graffiti in the men’s restroom and I painted over it. One customer got after me for doing that. It is almost like the building belongs to the town. Everyone feels like they’re a part of it."
Scott Toly said one of his favorite nights at the restaurant was when two different couples got engaged on the same night.
"It was weird," he said. "It’s not something that really happens too often here, but two in one night. and I remember those tables coming in for years after."
Still, there have been odder sights, including brides and grooms maneuvering in between the checker-top tables heading for the bar.
"We have people come in here with their wedding clothes on," added Jane Toly. "They’ll come in and say that they’re starving. That kind of stuff just seems to happen here."
The restaurant boasts its fourth generation of customers, that includes great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and children all stopping by to grab a bite together.
Traditions continue to crop up as the years pass. The dollar bills crammed onto a single wall started as origami napkins. When the Olympics came into town, dollar bills replaced the paper napkins, creating a new tradition.
"This is a place where people can grab an inexpensive bite," Jane Toly said. "They can relax and know that they’ll be in good company."
The 50 Year Birthday Party is scheduled for this Sunday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 322 Main Street. There will be food and prize drawings. For more information, call 435-649-9901.
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