Melissa Murphy Zieres had just started explaining why, after 10 years of operating Sweet Melissa Café, she’s decided to expand her business with an adjoining bar, the Front Street Tavern, when a man approached to congratulate her on the soon-to-be-open drinking establishment.
“It’s very beautiful, just wow,” the man said, his eyes wandering from the exposed stonework to the tavern’s main bar.
“Thanks. That bar’s out of Hartville, Wyoming,” Zieres said.
The bar’s surface is nicked, dark and foggy; its worn surface could probably tell at least a few salty stories about the patrons who’ve stopped to rest their elbows and wet their whistle.
“How old is it?” the man asked.
“Well, the liquor division tells us it’s the oldest bar in the state, but I think there are some others bars that make the same claim,” Zieres said.
Employee Ben Brosmire popped up from behind the bar, taking a break from completing the finishing touches for tonight’s grand opening.
“It’s at least 120 years old,” Brosmire added.
For a new drinking establishment, the Front Street Tavern immerses patrons in the history and heritage of the Cowboy State — the bar was brought in from the Venice Bar in Hartville, the exposed stonework was some of the first to be quarried from the Laramie Valley and the structure itself was built by Henry Bath, who used what AW Bowen and Co.’s 1901 book, “Progressive Men of Wyoming,” referred to as his “industry, thrift and frugality which he inherited from his German ancestry” to become a leading businessman and rancher in Laramie’s formative years.
“We really wanted to bring out the history of the building itself, and when we found the bar, it just added to that,” Zieres said. “Rugged elegance is what we’re going for. Nothing too fancy, but we’re also not going to be having wet T-shirt contests or anything like that.”
Zieres said she first began thinking about expanding when she began to notice that Sweet Melissa would get so busy during peak hours that customers were left to cluster together in front of the door.
“There’s no place for people to wait, and it’s awkward for people to gather at the front door, so we thought it would be nice to give people a place to wait,” Zieres said.
But the Front Street Tavern, with an occupancy of about 50, is about more than just providing café patrons a place to wait comfortably before being seated — Zieres explained it’s about providing a community gathering place that serves alcohol without some of the rowdiness that can accompany the imbibing of spirits in a college town.
“There’s no place for me and my generation, for the older, professional people to go,” Zieres said.
In that spirit, the bar will not be a place to watch the game or holler at Jeopardy’s Alex Trebeck — the Front Street Tavern has a staunch “no television” policy. But there will be music, which Zieres said would change depending on the crowd at the time.
“We’ve been doing an eclectic mix so far, nothing too hard — a lot of old-style big band music and Americana,” Zieres explained. “We’re trying to sort of gauge who’s in here and suit the music to the crowd. At night, it’s a little louder.”
For tonight’s grand opening, Zieres said Bas-Mati Unplugged will play at 6 p.m., followed by J. Shogren and the Shanghai’d Quartet at 9 p.m. There will also be raffle and door prizes, complimentary hors d’ouvres and happy hour specials all night long beginning at 5 p.m. in the restaurant and bar to help celebrate the opening of the tavern and the 10th anniversary of Sweet Melissa Café, which opened in August 1999.
The Front Street Tavern, adjacent to Sweet Melissa, will initially be open only during evenings Monday through Saturday, but Zieres said she expects to expand into daytime hours once the tavern is fully staffed.
Peter Baumann’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org