Jay Meehan: Pete’s Rock-N-Rye in Evanston is an oasis straight out of a Western
“Everything changes and nothing is more vulnerable than the beautiful.”
~ Edward Abbey
The interior of Pete’s Rock-N-Rye saloon up on the outskirts of Evanston has always presented itself to the eye as if cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond had shot it using one of his leftover period lens filters from “Heaven’s Gate.”
Not that the in-your-face Old Western authenticity and grittiness of the scene is anything less than pleasing to the cultural sensibility or, on the other end of the scale, possesses a “Hollywood” texture. Not by a long shot. This is a fabric that warms and shields during a time when comfort and protection are in short supply.
For many of the Utah persuasion, Pete’s has long been the flickering light at the end of that tunnel that is Echo Canyon. Over time, a deep need of peace and erudition has nudged pilgrims northward to the promised land of whiskey and enlightened discourse. It’s like a massage parlor for the damaged psyche. No appointment necessary.
You see, the entirety of the West, historical, geological, geographical, biological, political, literary, and cinematic, is embodied both in the now nondescript (exterior-wise) former jewel of the Old Lincoln Highway and the humble encyclopedically-minded saloon-keep behind the bar.
And that would be Stan Taggart, one-time teenage documentary photographer, rocket scientist, bodybuilder, “Mr. Utah” titleholder, and candidate for Sheriff of Morgan County turned amateur paleontologist, ethnomusicologist, historian of the macro-discipline, dispenser of libations, and mentor to all.
Over St. Paddy’s Day weekend, a couple of us requiring just such therapy partook of the pilgrimage to Pete’s. We took in the eye-candy splattered across the walls including the Richard Avedon gallery within the ladies’ powder room.
It seems Mr. Avedon, in lieu of his share of the overhead while embedded at Pete’s during his shoot of what was to become “In the American West,” passed on to Stan a sort of “greatest hits” sheaf of prints from his golden-era.
The men’s room at Pete’s plays host to, bar none, the most interesting frontier history photo gallery in existence. There are so many clippings crammed into such a perfectly intimate and well-suited space that it takes a whoppin’ thirst or impatient knock at the door to nudge you back out to the bar.
Then there is the rest of the saloon with its gallery of larger-format eye candy, from bare-breasted beauties to photos taken at the afterparty for the driving of the Golden Spike up at Promontory Point back in 1869. Butch and Sundance would love this joint.
But it’s within the whiskey and the proprietor that reside the relevant cruxes of the matter. Not that Stan partakes of the former while tending his flock these days. That particular chore is left up to us on the other side of the forehead-furrowed slab of timber running the width of the cultural pantheon itself.
Stan’s abstinence from firewater is not due to a bout of late-onset maturity or anything but, more to the point, the matter of him putting in eleven-miles of running with pronghorn antelopes each morning. The pronghorns, being the fastest land animals in North America, would pick up on any cloudiness in either his vision or his stride immediately.
We of the clientele persuasion, however, assumed duties for the evening that were much more concerned with the total depletion of the Jameson Irish whiskey stock Stan kept on hand. A mission we successfully accomplished. Not that our collective stride went unaffected.
In case word got out about our chicanery and there just happened to be a posse chewin’ our dust the next day as we hightailed it back to our hideout in Utah, we attempted to give them the slip utilizing the legendary Wanship loop and Woodenshoe-cutoff. We shook ‘em off our trail soon enough.
The luck of the Irish remained with us when we caught sight of the “open” sign out front of the William J. Kranstover Gallery in Peoa. The day, being colder than both a well-diggers posterior and a witch’s augmentation, soon had us scrambling through the front door.
Kranny’s natural warmth and glowing smile awaited the faithful within. You’ll have that. The dude has long been a renewable resource and a most wonderful and creative fine-artist. Going back to he and Kubie’s “There’s no ballin’ like pin-ballin’” mantra during a golden age on historic Main Street, Kranny has been a treasure.
But that’s a topic for another day and another column.
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