The Village Cafe Makes its Last Call

The last dive bar in Teton Village shuts down for good

Nuff said. PHOTO: Matt Hansen
Nuff said. PHOTO: Matt Hansen

The Village Café, a hole-in-the-wall dive bar at the base of the Jackson Hole Tram that’s been serving ski bums for nearly five decades (under one name or another), made its last call Monday night. It marked the end of an era, as the building—originally built in the late 1960s—will be torn down to make way for a luxury development.

No more Egg McCollisters, Thai Peanut Wraps, or slices of greasy pie that served as the perfect pick-me-up during a big powder day. No more walls covered with every deadbeat ski bum sticker imaginable. No more funky reggae in the background as legendary ski stories (and plenty of lies) get swapped at the bar. No more click-out-of-your-skis and leave-them-where-they-lay. No more watering hole so close to the tram for people whose only desire in the whole goddamn world is to ski, and ski well.

R.I.P. V.C. PHOTO: Matt Hansen
R.I.P. V.C. PHOTO: Matt Hansen

It was a sad night, but like many funerals, the event started mellow before picking up steam as darkness fell. Peter “Chanman” Chandler and members of his Tram Jam supplied the tunes, while longtime bartender John Verdon and Co. served drinks and slices of pie from their dank quarters beneath the stairs. By 9:30, a makeshift counter had been set up outside on the deck, where an impromptu Summer Gelande Quaff served as the final toast for the last dive bar in Teton Village.

Numerous appearances by Jackson Hole Air Forcers, wearing their venerable denim jackets, were complemented by several generations of VC fans from all walks of life: infants and toddlers, moms and dads, newly christened skids and crusty old timers, patrollers and guides and snowmakers, ski techs and rental monkeys and shop managers, worldly filmmakers and professional skiers, and yes, happy dogs playing fetch out back. The crowd gave the VC’s final night a familiar scene—one that will be sorely missed at the base of the tram.

Long live the Shotski! And dive bars, and reggae, and... everything that has soul. PHOTO: Matt Hansen
Long live the Shotski! And dive bars, and reggae, and… everything that has soul. PHOTO: Matt Hansen

A Village Café Timeline, as described by Benny Wilson:
So go way back to the original opening of Teton Village in 1964-65. The building was called the Seven Levels: three mountain side, four on the valley side, like opposing stairs in an Escher drawing designed by Bob Corbet (no relation to the famous climber and cinematographer Barry Corbet, who Corbet’s Coulior is named after). I digress.

The original space was called the Rendezvous Bar: three levels deep from ground floor down to the existing VC and into the bowels of Wilderness Sports’ ski check and rental area. There you could find pingpong and billiards, and beer storage near where the bathrooms are located. It was also the home of the Ski Patrol for many years, but they eventually moved their headquarters to The War Room, in the Sojourner (which is now the Snake River lodge).

PHOTO: Matt Hansen
PHOTO: Matt Hansen

A dingy corner of a bar, it also housed Rosie’s Cantina, who I raced for in the 1977 Bartender’s Cup and we went to the National Finals in Steamboat…Back to the Seven Levels…The bar maintained occupancy for the better part of almost 10 years. Soon a transformation of the Seven Levels took place, with a restaurant called the Atrium being set up one floor up from ground and looking over the commons area. (This would later turn into TGR world headquarters, where they would be for more than a decade). The Atrium changed hands into a Pizza Hut with 5-cent beers. The store downsized into the south end and a small restaurant took over the north end.

Eventually Tom Gridley bought the lease of the space now called Desperados from John Siracuso. The original cost of 10 grand was too high for Tom and his partner Gary, so they settled on eight or nine grand. There was never much in writing, and he brokered a deal for two payments of three thousand and started the Bear Claw in 1981. After a couple of weeks, John came to collect the last payment and headed for Aspen with a kinky girlfriend and $2,500 from a bounced bank check, a new set of tires from the Village gas station, and a head full of zombie dust never to be seen again. Tom soon sold the Bear Claw to Howie Henderson in 1983-84. Howie ran the Bear Claw Gelande Quaffing and began with 78 varieties of beer around the world drinking challenge. His dad ran the ski storage one flight above till 1989 and then transferred ownership to another guy. The building’s owner didn’t like the dude and cancelled the lease and then sold it to Dom Gagliardi. Dom has run the VC since 2000.