Snake lives on in Summit
KEYSTONE – The walls at Downstairs at Eric’s in Breckenridge team with signs from businesses that didn’t make it in Summit County, but you won’t find the Snake River Saloon’s sign hanging there.In fact, the Snake River Saloon has been around longer than Downstairs at Eric’s, which likes to honor – or poke fun at, depending on how you see it – businesses that have come and gone in the county.The Snake River Saloon celebrates its 30th anniversary tonight. Only a select few bars boast such an achievement.The Snake opened Feb. 18, 1975, when it joined three other Summit County legends: Shamus O’Tooles, the Moose Jaw and Old Dillon Inn. Since then, Shamus has turned into a theater, but the rest remain.”Those four great places seemed like all you needed then,” said Jim Shields, co-owner and general manager of the Snake River Saloon.
Shields moved to Summit County to be a ski bum and started at the Snake the day it opened as a bartender. Like most ski bums, he bounced around in different jobs, but he found he enjoyed the service business the most.”When the door opened, I walked through and gave it all I had, and I really haven’t ever stopped,” he said. “I like being nice to people and showing them a good time.”And the Snake does just that. It’s two places in one – a nightclub with live entertainment and a fine dining establishment, which is one of the qualities Shields credits for the establishment’s longevity.Whether it’s the rockin’ entertainment – like Sugar Bear, Lightnin’ Willie and the Poorboys, John Bailey or tonight’s show by Funkiphino – or the surf and turf, Black Forest pork chops or grasshopper pie that keeps people coming back, visitors call the Snake home.”We’re kind of a legend,” said waiter Randy “the dog” Schmidt. “People say we’re the first place they come.”
Schmidt has worked at the Snake for 24 years. He goes the extra mile to welcome returning guests and keeps a log of their family members, pets names and where they live.”I take pride in keeping people happy,” he said. “If someone doesn’t have a good time, it reflects on me.”He also cites the food, service and consistency of both as qualities that make the Snake the best place in the county. And those elements stem from the employees, who Shields and the other managers strive to treat with respect.”They’re the best people in the world; they’re very fair,” Schmidt said.Assistant manager Carol Peoples (who also has been there since 1975), and the board of directors – Mickey Smith, Deb Duncan, Teri and Lois Switzer, Doug and Molly Murray and Shields and his wife Jane (the couple met at the Snake) – create a positive environment for employees because they see that when the staff is glad to be there, the feeling passes onto the customers.
In fact, the Snake doesn’t struggle with high turnover of employees, a problem which faces many mountain town businesses. Head chefs Gloria Edwards, Billy Crangle and Dan Draper hold 30 years of experience at the Snake collectively.”I have so much confidence in them that when I’m taking food out, I know it’s going to be right,” Schmidt said.The Snake has dealt with its share of challenges though. Increased competitors, the downturn in the economy in past years and the smoking ban has affected sales. But to offset the problems, the Snake created an outdoor smoking area and expanded its bar menu to offer a greater selection at lower prices.”We’ve been here for 30 years, and we intend to continue,” Shields said.Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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