Steamboat Springs The Tugboat Grill & Pub escaped the wrecking ball in 2008, and now it enters a new chapter with the sale of the iconic ski town pub from longtime owners Hank Edwards and Larry Lamb to Steamboat man Jim Beatty. Beatty promised Tuesday to carry on almost four decades of tradition at the Tugboat.
The exit of Edwards and Lamb from the bar that serves double duty as a museum of local sports and culture, was celebrated Tuesday night with a rollicking party of generations of Tugboat graduates. They packed into the bar that stands alone where once a row of ’60s- and ’70s-era wood-frame buildings were the liveliest après ski strip in Steamboat.
“We’re still here, and we’ll still share friendship and love with you,” Lamb promised a cheering crowd. “This is your home. We love you guys.”
But the night was dominated by Tugboat loyalists, each of whom had a story to tell. Take Steamboat’s favorite longtime musician, Randy Kelley, who was recruited at the last minute to play his first gig in the Tugboat on July 4, 1976.
“I played fiddle at a festival in Craig on July 3 and met a guitar player, and we jammed all night,” Kelley said.
That same night, a band named Fingers Akimbo was playing at the Tugboat. A patron threw a firecracker on stage, and the band walked out on its gig.
Larry, or maybe it was Hank, asked Kelley and his new partner if they could fill in that night.
“I said, ‘Sure!’ and we rented a public address system and performed together live for the first time that night.”
The set list included a lot of Eagles songs.
Edwards urged his loyal patrons to be good to Beatty with the understated sarcasm he’s become known for.
“Take it easy on the new guy for the first few weeks,” he called out from the bandstand. “After that, we don’t give a (bleep).”
Beatty said he gets it. He has managed a lively bar (Joe’s Brewery) in his favorite college town, Champagne, Ill., and also has worked as a health care consultant. He taught skiing in Steamboat for seven years and worked as a line cook at The Tap House Sports Grill downtown.
“I came to Steamboat with my buddies from Champagne to ski in February 2004, and we came right down here on a Wednesday night and started having a blast in the Tugboat,” Beatty said.
He thinks the management and people skills he learned in his varied career will serve him well in his new role, but he’s also hiring a consultant to guide him.
“I don’t plan to make changes to the Tugboat, but I realize that I don’t know everything,” Beatty said. “Before very long though, I’ll be adding Guinness on tap.”
The Tugboat opened on New Year’s Eve 1972 with a different set of owners — Carl Schuck, Carl Farnham, Bill Gardner and the late Tex McGill at the helm. Lamb began working at the Tugboat in 1973. Lamb and Scotty Forbes bought out the two Carls in 1975, and in 1977 Edwards, a Steamboat Ski School supervisor, bought out the remaining partners. Jack Doyle is the longtime manager of the Tugboat.
The other buildings on the north side of Ski Time Square were torn down in 2008 in anticipation of a major redevelopment project that stalled in the midst of the national recession.
Change is a constant, and the Tugboat will remain open, but the departure of Edwards and Lamb marks the end of an enduring chapter in the history of Ski Town USA.
What locals had to say
Among the tall tales and yarns told at Tuesday’s going away party for Hank Edwards and Larry Lamb:
■ Former ski patroller Jack Romick recalled how his son Jace, who would grow up to be a U.S. downhill champion, was a feared foosball player in the Tugboat at age 10. Jace recalled how the great Olympian Gordy Wren paid him 25 cents a bag to pick up trash from the ski area parking lot.
■ Irene Nelson recalled how when she came to enroll in the ski instructors clinic in 1970, Jack Romick picked her out of the bunch for a hands-on CPR demonstration. “He gave me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation!”
■ Liza Scudder remembered Kathleen Kane riding her cow pony into the Tugboat on the Fourth of July and ordering a drink.
■ Ben Gonzalez, who had hair down to the middle of his back in the old days, recalled riding a chopped 1968 California State Patrol Harley Davidson into the Tugboat for his first visit.
■ Ed Callahan remembered his St. Patrick’s Day tradition of skiing down Ski Time Square Drive on flaming skis.
■ Vicki Hanna said she once walked into the kitchen of the Tugboat with a $100 bill stuck to her forehead in a successful attempt to lure a cook into streaking through the dining room to honor a friend on her birthday. The tradition continues to this day. The date is a secret.
■ LD Shoffner screened a super 8 movie (transferred to DVD) of the 1979 Tugboat River Race and wore the commemorative T-shirt from that year to prove he can still squeeze into it.
■ Former City Council President Kevin Bennett dated himself by walking up to the Tugger on Tuesday and proclaiming: “I was here on opening night!”
■ A well-known local nature photographer who used to work for the ski area and has a reputation to uphold, recalls the night that country western star Tanya Tucker stood on a table in the Tugboat wearing impossibly tight pants and shook her booty while photographing contestants in the Cowboy Downhill.
■ Gary Crawford met his wife, Kim, at the Tugboat in spite of a lame pickup line. It was fate: He was headed home from work when the stoplight at Fifth Street turned red and he decided to head to the mountain for a beer. She was on the way to party in Vail when something told her to persuade her girlfriends to turn right at Silverthorne.
■ John Vanderbloemen still remembers the wild Halloween party of 1980 when he donned a tweed jacket to impersonate third-party presidential candidate John Anderson. He mystified revelers by sitting at a table with campaign buttons and literature.
Hey, even attorneys have to let their hair down once in awhile.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com