Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Misery loves company

Grumpy’s turns 30 and a little more sorry

Express Staff Writer

Grumpy’s signature décor is its wall of beer cans from around the world. Photo by Chris Pilaro

Since the opening of Grumpy's in Ketchum, "sometime in the beginning of May 1978, which is a blur," said "corporation President" Pete Prekeges, the eight-item menu and clientele has hardly changed except with the recent addition of daily specials, which always sell out.

On Sunday, May 4, known as Grumpy's "Quatro de Mayo," Grumpy's will hold a 30th anniversary party with live music by The Damphools on the deck from 2-6 p.m. There will be beer and food specials, lifetime achievement awards and special anniversary T-shirts.

"It's a place where legends have been born," Prekeges said. "A good one is 'The Boss' (Bruce Springsteen) does a New Year's concert every year. We want everyone who has a tall tale about Grumpy's to be here."

Grumpy's founder, Gary Goodenough, approached the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council in October 1978 to request a conditional-use permit to operate Grumpy's as a "hamburger and beer café," reported the Idaho Mountain Express at the time. This first request was denied, but after Goodenough further studied the zoning laws, Grumpy's was granted a permit.

Goodenough based the hamburger and beer café after Blackies in Newport Beach, Calif. Both establishments have signs for each other at 841 miles apart.

Grumpy's is hardly a café; its clientele is more the Carhartt-wearing local carpenter.

"There is no shame," Prekeges said. "We treat everyone the same, from the town drunk to Tom Hanks."

There is no phone or Web site and the establishment does not accept credit cards. If you order a "Little Lefty" burger, you are asked to leave. The amount of press Grumpy's has accumulated over the years has given it such a cache, it's a must do on every tourist's list. Skiing, Ski Press, Skiing Winter Adventure, The New York Times, Outside, the Gwinnett Daily Post, The Atlanta Journal/ The Atlanta Constitution and Arizona Republic have given Grumpy's national recognition and contributed to the institution's reputation as a resort town's "grunge fix."

When a Grumpy's customer bellies up to the bar for a 32-ounce schooner and orders a Fowl burger, they join an elite ski-town social world. Grumpy's has set the bar for Sun Valley, creating the underbelly of the resort town as an alternative universe.

"It's a hangout for flannel wearing locals ... where people discuss local politics and road changes. They don't care about the folks at the Lodge, but they do care about the town they call home," wrote Skiing Winter Adventure magazine's Bevin Wallace.

Grumpy's is not only listed in every Sun Valley resort review, it is consistently considered to have the best burgers. That reputation caught the attention of Food Network's Rachel Ray's show, "$40 A Day," which gave the beer and burger joint its ten minutes of fame.

In a 2002 Idaho Mountain Express story on Akasha Organics' Ananda Kriya, Kriya said that in order to enter a force field such as a monastery or Grumpy's bar, a person must eat the related food to "get some vibrations" as the others there. To be of the Grumpy's crowd, he said, "you would eat a Grumpy's burger and drink a beer."

Grumpy's is the kick-off for the annual Toy Run to benefit underprivileged Blaine County kids and has sponsored winning women's bowling teams and a die-hard, winning Ultimate Frisbee team. Over the years, Grumpy's has become a Ketchum pilgrimage and a community icon. Beers, burgers, eclectic-junk décor, a small sampling of arcade games, a pool table, a few easy-to-see TVs and a jukebox that's always in play all make Grumpy's a home away from home for many a long-time patron.

"Business is good, especially after a really good ski season like it was this year," Prekeges said. "It has seen three generations of patrons, and local construction workers and families bring their friends and tourists always find it."

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