Bar Exam: Après-ski bar serves as a laid-back ‘locals’ hangout
Bar exam • Pig Pen Saloon prides itself on porcine decorations, friendly atmosphere and local ownership.
Published: December 13, 2012 01:49PM
Updated: April 8, 2013 11:32PM
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Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Chili in a bread bowl is one of the favorites on the menu at the Pig Pen Saloon in Park City which caters to patrons looking for a break from skiing on Tuesday, December 11, 2012. Located at the base of Park City Mountain resort right by the ice rink, another local favorite on the menu is the Pig Burger served with bacon

Park City • Pig Pen Saloon owner Kevin Mackaben’s wife, Debbie, breezed into the bar on a recent Thursday afternoon, stopped at a table where three men were seated drinking beer, and hugged one of them from behind.

The Mackabens serve as the mom and pop of this locally owned après-ski bar at the base of Park City Mountain Resort. Their personal touch over the past 14 years has turned Alma Stewart, Martin Retzlaff and Michael McBee into loyal locals who come often.

“It’s just always been a fun, good environment,” said Stewart, a wheelchair user and ski instructor with the nearby National Ability Center.

The men agreed that drinks are more affordable at Pig Pen than at other nearby places, but claim their loyal patronage goes beyond a cheap drink.

In the old days, before the bar had a large L-shaped outdoor deck, it was above a ski shop. Now the Park City Ski Team occupies the upstairs space.

The name Pig Pen Saloon evolved out of its association back in 1999 with the Professional Intermountain Guide (PIG) Service. Faux pigs now punctuate the interior’s décor, such as a pig made of wire painted pink, or a plastic pig on its back, suckling an empty bottle of Maker’s Mark.

On the deck, Minnesota brothers Mark and Steve Murray polished off their third cocktail. They were the only ones outside, taking a break on their last day of skiing after sampling several Utah resorts.

“We were coming around that corner and saw ‘B-A-R’ and I said, ‘That’s where we’re going!’ ” Steve Murray said, referring to the giant red-and-white sign that beckons thirsty skiers to Pig Pen’s deck with its view of nearby runs.

The Murray brothers are the type of tourists who fill the deck and the inside bar as soon as Utah snow starts to fly.

Being in Park City, the bar sometimes attracts celebrities, some of whom live in the area and others who visit, particularly during the Sundance Film Festival. Mackaben laughs about how his wife has several times asked for identification from redheaded snowboarding legend Shaun White.

“The celebrities aren’t celebrities as you or the general public see it, the celebrities are the guys who are World Cup athletes that nobody knows about — all the disabled athletes, they’re the show,” said Heber resident Mike Walsh, looking over at National Ability Center’s nearby building where physically challenged athletes of all types seek help with skiing.

Mackaben said his customers generally “don’t give a [expletive]” about celebrities, who soon realize they have a place where they can drink or grab a burger and not be bothered.

As for Mackaben, if he’s not out driving his Zamboni on the ice sheet, for which he leases space, he can be found in Pig Pen’s kitchen or somewhere in the bar. He takes close personal care of his little corner of the sprawling resort, for which he’s alternately grateful and nostalgic.

“You look at Deer Valley, it’s all corporate,” Mackaben said. “The Canyons is corporate. Solitude. There are very few privately owned bar/restaurants anymore. Corporate America has just taken over, and we’re a thing of the past.”

feature@sltrib.com

Pig Pen Saloon

Where • 1415 Lowell Ave., Park City; 435-655-0070

Hours • Open daily at 11 a.m. during ski season until 6 or 7 p.m.

Info • Visit thepigpensaloon.com or follow the bar on facebook.com/pigpensaloon or twitter.com/PigPenSaloon for food and drink offerings or Justin Bieber sightings.