Sunday in the Park
In September 1978, I drove on the first of what would become hundreds of road trips, on my own. I went to Jackson Hole and Sun Valley and Park City. After staying in Sun Valley and then loving Jackson Hole, knowing not a soul in either town, I called the only person I knew in Park City, who told me to get to town by 6 p.m. He was hosting a "fam" tour for American Airlines at a restaurant on Main Street and I would meet interesting people. Craig Badami was right — I did meet interesting people at The Claimjumper that night. Enough to convince me to sell my children’s clothing store at Lake Tahoe and move here with two small children and no job.
A "fam" tour I learned, meant familiarization and as the vice president of the Park City Ski Resort, Craig was in charge of entertaining sales and marketing folks from magazines to airlines. And The Claimjumper was his favorite location. The bar underneath the street-level restaurant was known as the Down Under and it had low ceilings and low lights and loud music. That night was my first introduction to the infamous baseball steak and salad with one dressing only. And after the meal, as the night grew later, we went Down Under where airline pilot Cap’n Bob Powers played piano and sang R-rated songs. When two o’clock came around, owner Lloyd Stevens declared the whole thing a private party (thereby keeping with the strange Utah liquor laws) and we stayed and sang and lifted a few for a while longer. Harry Reed was there and Hank Verrone and Jimmy Dalton and Laura Thomas.
Six months later when I moved to town and started working at the Timberhaus ski shop (now Buona Vita) and writing this column for The Park Record, I learned all things that mattered took place at the Down Under. It was the only center for the performing arts and Kat and Mickey were the favorite house band. Which, on occasion, meant David Fleisher, my colleague at the paper, would play the tambourine, usually to the song "Rocky Top." Father Pat Carley would hear late confessions from a booth not serving dinner and, at tables all around, folks were dividing up the real estate (even then) on cocktail napkins. On Thursdays, the city council meeting would last about 15 minutes regardless of the topics. Then the real meeting would reconvene at the Down Under. Mayor Jack Green and City Manager Arlene Loble and Councilman Bob Wells and Council Woman (yes, we did call them those gender-specific names) Tina Lewis would huddle together and welcome guests at their table. As the press, we could, of course, insist on a literal place at the table but there was no need for that, they offered to pull up chairs for us.
It was an exciting time to be in a town that had been asleep for so long. None of us were from Park City there was a handful from Utah but most had their version of running away from someplace else and ending up here. And such energy then. We really thought we could dream anything and make it happen. Move the Miners Hospital from up at the Resort down to City Park and make it a library no problem. Re-do the old elementary school and turn it into a City Hall, no problem. Stay up until to 2 a.m. at the Down Under and think you’re still spouting great ideas? No problem.
In those days, located just up the street, was the worldwide headquarters of a funny little film company called Sunn Classics. And they often used Main Street and the surrounding areas as backdrops for their films. Films like "In Search Of Noah’s Ark" or "In Search of Abe Lincoln" or, as we soon called them, "In Search of a Plot." Still, it was fun on occasion to see some slightly known actors end up Down Under. Like the night Dan Haggerty of "Grizzly Adams" fame took the flaming brandy and lit his beard on fire.
I was there for that. The night Burt Reynolds and Sally Field had dinner in a booth there. The night, well, you’ve got the idea
So when it came time to find a location for the reception for my second wedding, which took place in the courtyard of the Kimball Art Center, with Father Pat Carley officiating and Craig’s dad Nick giving me away, the best location we could think of was The Claimjumper. After the ceremony, we paraded up Main Street with a Dixieland band, no need to ask for a permit or stop traffic — it was May in a ski town after all, and we headed to the restaurant for a great party in the afternoon that ended before the dinner rush.
About 10 days ago I came home from work and found stuck in my door an invitation that read, "Where were you after 4 p.m. during the ’70s and ’80s?" I was beyond thrilled. I had heard the building had sold and the final days were upon us. Former bar wench (yes, we said things like that in those days) Debbie Hansen was organizing a wake at the Down Under on Sunday night with about a hundred folks. When she told longtime owner Dick Ringwood about it, he offered to host the evening.
When I arrived Sunday night it was noisy and dark and the music was loud. The place was packed. Adolph was there and Hans and Harold, the Park City immigrant population of the ’70s. Kat was mingling, as was veteran bartender Karen Warren, and Richard Scott, actor and former director of the Egyptian Theatre Company. Randi Shellenberger/Calmes/something/Tonnessen from the old Main Street Deli days was there. Harry and Syd Reed. Jonny Totten. Becky Stedman. Dixie Geisdorf. Betty Brown. Steve Dering. Rob and Faye Slettom and Walt and Heidi Bishop and Lloyd Stevens, who flew in from Texas, and Jerry and Judy Hanley and and and the ghosts of those who played hard and sang loud and made deals and made love and made Park City enjoy a Renaissance amid those renegades. It was the right way to toast the end of an era, a respectable way to spend a Sunday evening in the Park
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