Former employees, fans of the Inferno reunite in Steamboat
March 19, 2010
■ Happy hour with the shot wheel, from 3 to 6 p.m. today and Saturday: A few times each afternoon, an Inferno customer would spin the shot wheel to choose a price for a selection of three shots for the next 30 minutes. ■ The wheel makes an appearance at Ptarmigan Inn for a reunion happy hour for spins at 4, 4:30 and 5 p.m.
Inferno sit-in, 5:30 p.m. Sunday: Past employees and customers are invited to wear an Inferno shirt and sit on the deck above the old Inferno location in Gondola Square.
■ Old West Steak House happy hour, 7 p.m. Sunday: There will be appetizers and drinks in the upstairs bar. Call 879-1441 for more information.
■ Disco Inferno, 9 p.m. Sunday: Former Disco Inferno DJs will be on hand for this revival of the weekly dance event that became an Inferno staple. The party is at Ghost Ranch Saloon. Call 879-9898 for more information.
Steamboat Springs — Former Inferno co-owner Jan Levy remembers explaining to bar newcomers that no one was spitting on them — those drops of moisture from up above were just stuffy-room-induced condensation dripping off the pipes.
Former Inferno manager Michelle Petix remembers the music venue floor's unique ability to reach "a level of stickiness that any fraternity would envy."
But what past employees and customers remember most about the bar, restaurant and music venue that occupied a basement space in Gondola Square from 1984 to 2000 is the effect Inferno co-founder Marty Levy always intended: that The Inferno would be Steamboat's version of Cheers.
"My best description is it was like Cheers," Petix said. "It was a place where everybody knew your name."
It was the sort of place where a customer never had to worry about knowing anyone else in the bar, Petix said. And for the five or so years Petix worked there and all the years after, the place provided a kind of extended family, she said.
Starting with a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. today at Ptarmigan Inn, that family will have a chance to celebrate and remember the Inferno. Happy hour continues from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday and features the bar's shot wheel, offering mixed shots for as low as 35 cents. A revival of the club's popular "Disco Inferno" dance night is at 9 p.m. Sunday at Ghost Ranch Saloon.
The weekend is a chance to celebrate the legacy of the Inferno and pay tribute to original owners Marty Levy and Gary Lash, Jan Levy said. Both original owners died in the past year. Life-size cardboard cutouts of Marty and Gary will be in attendance at reunion events.
"I think this reunion probably speaks greatest to what it was, because people are flying in," Petix said. "I wouldn't have gone to my high school 20-year reunion, but I sure would have flown in for this."
The Inferno concept was born when Jan Levy decided to take some time to be a ski bum. Her father, Marty Levy, came to visit her in Steamboat Springs and saw a place that was going to be big. He packed up in California, grabbed his buddy Gary Lash, and jumped on a chance to take over a restaurant in Gondola Square.
When another bidder on the space — that person happened to be named Dante — lost out, Levy and Lash kept the last part of their competitor's bar name, calling the spot the Inferno. Jan Levy joined the team soon after, and the Inferno lived on through varying stages until its doors closed for good in May 2000.
During his 10 years owning The Inferno, Marty Levy was the first person in the bar and one of the last to leave, showing up for work between 7 and 8 a.m. and staying until the place closed, Jan Levy said. While he was there, he tried to make everyone feel comfortable, she said.
When the Inferno started booking bands, the idea was to share acts on a rotation with three other area venues. In the late 1980s, Jan Levy hoped to attract interest to the Inferno stage with bigger acts.
From 1991 until 2000, Levy has records of about 265 bands that played at the bar. With a dining capacity of about 215 and a ticket sales potential of about 400, the Inferno brought in now-big-name acts including Dave Matthews, Arlo Guthrie, Parliament Funkadelic, String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic, Phish, Sublime, Bela Fleck, Cake, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Gov't Mule, Low, Guster and moe.
The whole operation was "a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun," Jan Levy said. The reunion is a chance to remember that without the context of all that work, she said.