Taking away the blues

Comedy club, piano bar opens in old Wolf Den

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Take a deep breath.

"Don't you just love the smell of a new bar?" said Sabre's Comedy Den owner Michael Aumock.

As soon Aumock and his business partner, L. Dale Walter, signed the lease for 703 Lincoln Ave., people started asking them how they were going to get rid of the smell left by years of late-night cigarette smoking in the former Wolf Den Tavern.

They did.

Take a deep breath. It smells like steam and soap and fresh paint. It smells like new hardwood floors and the efforts of six men -- Aumock, Walter, Scott Drebus, Will Daugs, Don Wick and Kevin Nerney -- to change the space from what it was to what it will be.

Aumock and Walter signed the lease Oct. 21 and began the renovations Oct. 22. They stripped the floors down to the concrete and scrubbed the concrete with acid before laying down new hardwood.

They replaced the bar and steam-cleaned the walls before painting.

They converted the former Wolf Den smoking room into a piano bar called The Blue Room.

They tore out a stage near the front door and built a new one at the back of the room.

"We've been down here 18 hours a day, seven days a week, getting this place ready," Aumock said.

Walter and Aumock brought Drebus to Steamboat from Michigan, where he has been running an improv company in Detroit.

During November, they auditioned talent with plans to form a Steamboat improv company.

Scott Parker, Brian Sharp, Lia Kozatch, Ben Kim and Michael David will be acting with Aumock, Walter and Drebus three nights a week at the new comedy club, performing a style of comedy that has become popular across the country.

Improvisational comedy is a form of unscripted theater. Actors may have concept or a punch line already in mind, but the dialog and action is created spontaneously as they perform.

The basis of the performance is audience interaction, asking for suggestions from the audience and using them to create a skit.

One of Walter's specialties is the Shakespearean Life Story scene wherein he asks an audience member to tell him his or her life story.

"Then we re-create it on the spot into a Shakespearean tragedy," Walter said. "I want to move away from the sit-quietly-and-listen kind of theater.

"We use the life experiences of our audience to create something on stage, but we don't embarrass anyone or belittle them, no matter how absurd their life story may seem."

As people laugh with the actors on stage, The Blue Room next door will have a completely different feel than the comedy club. Bob Meder and Paul Potyan were hired to play piano at least three nights a week. The Blue Room is a place to relax and unwind with a martini or designer cocktail.

"The Blue Room is my tribute to some of the big-city swanky bars I've been in," Aumock said. "It's cozy and comfortable. It's a sexy little room."

Walter and Aumock moved to town a month ago to start Sabre's Comedy Den, but Walter has been coming here since 1973 to visit his grandparents.

"We've discussed doing something in Steamboat since we were 8," Walter said. (Walter and Aumock grew up in the same neighborhood in Michigan.) "At first, we were going to be ranchers, but those were childhood dreams. Then we started talking about opening a theater."

The problem was finding the right venue. The two men came to Steamboat in the first week of October to look at buildings. They chose the former Wolf Den Tavern, despite its faults, because they felt they could create an intimate atmosphere, perfect for improvisational comedy.

With help from Braun's Bar and Grill, the restaurant upstairs, Walter and Aumock developed two menus for Sabre's -- one for the comedy club and one for The Blue Room piano bar. They will serve food until 1 a.m., the only place in downtown Steamboat to do so.

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