There's a hidden gem in Keystone right across from the Peru Express lift in the Mountain House base area. The Last Lift Bar opened in the 1970-71 season and has been a favorite among local residents and visitors for the past 40 years, keeping a cozy and friendly atmosphere where everyone knows one another, including the bartenders and a resident band.
"They just don't build 'em like this anymore," said bandleader Dennis Reifsteck, of The Swing Crew, which has been playing at Last Lift's apres ski for more than 20 years. "It's like a neighborhood bar - Randy knows where they're all from; I know where they're from."
Though there are many bars out there that you can call your own "Cheers," part of what makes the Last Lift Bar unique is the longevity of its staff. Bartender Lesley Davis has been there for 11 years, and bartender Randy Jorgenson has been there for almost three decades. It's a rarity in an industry characterized by high turnover.
"Our clientele makes this place special. The band - we know their families; we know everything about them. There are also ski groups that come here every year, and they've been coming for over 20 years," Davis said. "There is a family vibe that makes it more than your regular bar; they take such good care of us. It is more of a friendship than a customer-bartender relationship. ... There are customers that come here every year, since they were kids, and now they bring their own children and grandchildren - so there is a generational thing here that's really cool."
Dividing its time between Wisconsin Dells, Wis., during summer and Keystone in winter, The Swing Crew takes its "interactive acoustic fun" to the Last Lift Bar on Fridays and Saturdays, plus extra evenings during the busier days of the season, from
The band moved to Colorado in 1980 and started playing at the Keystone bar in 1981.
"We went to Aspen, then to Vail. ... I'd never even heard of Keystone at that point in time," Reifsteck said. "The manager told the carpenters to stop working and my partner and I played a couple of songs and he asked us to get back on Jan. 2."
The group's concerts are characterized by strong audience participation and feature a variety of genres, including rock, country, pop, swing and island beat, in addition to jokes, stunts, cornball humor and toasts. Suitable for all ages, its performances cover music from the '40s to the '90s, from Garth Brooks and Van Morrison to Jimmy Buffett and The Clash.
"The Swing Crew does a lot for the bar; it's pretty awesome," Davis said. "They have this interactive show, so people love to bring their friends to the bar when they come here and get them hauled onstage; nowhere does it anymore."
Band members include Reifsteck, Chris Utley, Dave Harlan, Richard Wiegel, Chris Doszak, John Baldus, Ryan Rausch, Roy Bloomfield, Jimmy Lewis, Scott Staten, Joe Caploe, Steve Crain, Thad Eldridge and Mike Fauth - and, of course, anyone who wants to participate in the concerts.
Some of the musical instruments used by both the band and the audience during The Swing Crew's performances are an attraction in and of themselves. An oversized, W-shaped wooden knocker called "Wisconsin Knockers," a beep-beep horn, an old-fashioned washboard and scrub brush, a jingle bell-laden big stick and the "belly bongo," a small wooden box with a bell, are among the curious sound gadgets.
Working and playing at the Last Lift Bar for so many years, Davis and Reifsteck have witnessed a lot.
"All kinds of fun things - belly shots, people dancing on the bar. It's probably the rowdiest bar in America at 7 p.m.," Davis said.
"It's a family place; many families were started right here - marriage proposals, impromptu wedding receptions, first dates," Reifsteck said.
"It ends early, so you can be home and in bed by 8 p.m. and ski the next day," Davis said. "There is also the beauty of the bar; it's right on the snow and the slopes, so you can watch people ski, watch your family ski. It's fun. Dennis does a great job getting in touch with our customers."