Bell hits right note as owner of Pour House |

Bell hits right note as owner of Pour House

Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff
Post Independent Photo/Kelley CoxThe Pour House owner Skip Bell has a colorful history in the Roaring Fork Valley.

CARBONDALE ” He’s the tall man with the smooth head, ready grin, wire glasses and just a hint of a beard who greets diners at The Pour House ” his restaurant of more than 20 years on Carbondale’s Main Street.

Skip Bell, one of Carbondale’s leading men, is quick to make everyone who steps into his brick-walled restaurant with the bumpy wood floors seem like an old friend.

“Skip is so generous,” said architect Olivia Emery, Carbondale’s First Lady. (Emery is married to Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig.) “He’s such an integral member of the community.”

Out West for good

Bell, 64, was born in Chicago, where he grew up skiing at Midwest ski areas in Wisconsin and Michigan.

After spending time in Korea with the Air Force, he returned to the Windy City and worked in a ski shop for awhile.

He discovered Aspen on a ski trip in 1961.

“We came out on the train from Chicago to Glenwood,” he said.

Bell returned to Aspen every year after that, and in the meantime, opened and operated two bars in Chicago. But he couldn’t forget Colorado.

“After that first trip to Aspen, that was pretty much it,” said Bell. “After Aspen, Chicago totally lost its charm.”

Still it took Bell nine years to make the move out West for good. He packed up for Aspen permanently in 1970, and he took a job as a busboy at the Red Onion, one of Aspen’s oldest watering holes and restaurants.

Aspen in the ’70s was a far different place than it is today, Bell said. He remembers skiing 75 to 100 days a season ” even if a ski day meant “just going up to Gretl’s (on-mountain restaurant) for a strudel” ” and working nights.

“I worked the late shift, from 9 at night until 3 in the morning. The Onion would fill up with bartenders and waitresses coming off their shifts. It was wild,” he said with a mischievous grin. “It was wonderful.”

“Back then, we were all proud to work in restaurants,” Bell said. “We were having fun, and getting paid to make people happy.”

A shift downvalley

During more than a decade in Aspen, Bell worked at a number of popular Aspen bars and restaurants including the Aspen Inn, The Pub, The Mother Lode, and Galena Street East, making a network of friends, many of whom left Aspen years ago. Bell said he still keeps in touch with many of those friends who now live across the country, and the world.

“It was the best of all possible worlds,” Bell said.

But Aspen started losing its allure for Bell in the early ’80s.

“I think it was around the time that stars who expected a lot of special treatment started coming to town with their entourages,” he said. “Before, stars like John Wayne and Lucille Ball would come to town, but they were down to earth, and didn’t expect to be treated any differently than anyone else.”

Bell was turned off by the new crowd.

“I didn’t like the direction the town was going,” he said.

In 1980 he bought The Pour House building, which at the time was operating as Kenny’s Pharmacy, a drug store and soda fountain. He leased the building for two years to a restaurant called the Dusty Rose before he and his business partner Billy Graham (no, not the minister) took over the space and opened The Pour House.

Some well-earned time off

Some mementos of Bell’s old Aspen days are at The Pour House. Several of the dining tables in the restaurant are from Galena Street East, the bar and back centerpiece are from The Pub, and the big round table that sits in the front window of the bar is from Aspen Chart House, all since closed down.

He’s seen changes in Carbondale too, from the days when coal miners from the Mid-Continent mine used to come off the swing shift and end up at The Pour House with the hippies, bikers and cowboys.

“It was real eclectic,” Bell said. “The festivities would really kick in when all of them would get drunk. We broke up a lot of fights.”

After years of working six to seven days a week, for 12-13 hours a day, Bell is easing off a bit.

“I’ve got a great staff so I can do that,” he said. One of his most loyal employees, Midge Wampler, has worked at The Pour House for 16 years. Chef Chris Anderson has also worked at the restaurant for years, and is, as Bell puts it, “outstanding.”

Time off gives Bell a chance to ski ” down to 12 to 15 days a season, mostly at Sunlight ” and ride his Harley.

“I’ve been riding since I was 24,” said Bell, who’s been going to the famed Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota ever since “you’d hear gunfire every night. You’d sleep real close to the ground.”

Love is in the air for Bell as well. He and Kay Lemire, a Glenwood High School special needs teacher, are planning to get married next spring.

“Kay’s son, Rory Mesner, just got married a few weeks ago, and her other son Parker Lemire is graduating from high school this month, and Rory and his wife Shannon are expecting a baby next month, so we thought that was enough for this year,” Bell said.

In the meantime, Bell is happy to be where he is, doing what he loves.

“I couldn’t conceive of living anywhere else,” said Bell. “And The Pour House is the place I’ve wanted all my life.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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