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Bar exam: Old Towne Tavern serves up old-school atmosphere

Published November 8, 2013 1:01 am

Bar exam • Midvale's watering hole now serves hard liquor.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Every bar should have colorful, loyal customers like J.D. Dahart, Dale Downs and Mike Ontiveros.

It's guys like these who make stopping in at Old Towne Tavern in Midvale an absolute pleasure.

On a Sunday afternoon in fall, you step into Old Towne to the din of football on several TVs. Cheery bartender Britt Robison hasn't yet surveyed patrons for their song choices on the digital jukebox.

In walks Dahart, 83, wearing jeans, a red-and-white-checkered shirt, a shiny Coors jacket and one of his four cowboy hats, this one with a pin on the front of a curvy female figure.

"Coors Light?" Robison greets Dahart. He nods approval.

Dahart has been coming here for six or seven years.

"I like the bartenders," he said. "They're congenial."

It's a typical bar in many ways — dartboard, three pool tables (free on Sundays) and a few other pub games that plug into the wall. Slim Jim, chips, pistachios, peanuts and mini frozen pizzas are the only food offerings. There are five beers on tap, cheap shots and $2 tequila shots all the time.

Neon beer signs, a large taxidermied fish, one of those old Budweiser clocks with the Clydesdale team hooked up to a replica beer wagon and various sports memorabilia round out the décor that includes retro bar stools with the shiny steel frames and cushioned seats.

One thing different these days about Old Towne is the presence of hard liquor behind the bar. After an 18-month wait, the state finally gave its approval for a club license at the end of September.

"Our revenue has increased, almost doubled," said manager Sharee Mowery. "I am grateful they gave it to us."

It allows Old Towne to compete with other bars in the area that already have the scarce, coveted liquor licenses. Mowery said it's also good for her female patrons who care less for beer than a good mixed drink.

Dahart sips his beer as conversation bounces around about his days as a cowpuncher and later as a tour bus driver.

"I'm a cowboy at heart, and that's all I'll ever be," he replies when asked about the hat and pin on the front.

He talks a bit about the old days, like the time he first saw a television set in 1951 in a store window. The screen was about "that big," Dahart says as he makes a small square with his fingers.

By this time the music has come on, and Dahart limits himself to one beer. As he leaves he sings along to the Johnny Cash song "Folsom Prison Blues."

Dale Downs, 68, is a retired locomotive engineer who used to work for Kennecott. He's been coming here for about 40 years, back when the bar was called Christine's.

"Most of my friends come here," he said. "It's clean, respectable and quiet."

Well, it gets a little noisy Friday and Saturday nights when a DJ named Spencer comes in and sets up shop for karaoke. There have been recent attempts at getting regular live music, but it's a work in progress.

Downs grabs a smoke in back by the horseshoe pit and covered outdoor seating. It has the feel of someone's backyard here as Downs points to an old building in the distance where he once bought sheep lanolin to treat a burn on his hand.

Inside, backlit by sunlight pouring in through a large east-facing window with a view of the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains, Downs grins during a story about how he used to terrorize a bartender by tossing a firecracker behind the bar around July Fourth each year.

When it was Christine's — no one is sure how long ago — Mike Ontiveros, 58, recalled the "brown bag" days when patrons brought their own liquor for a shot and a beer or a mixed drink.

"I really miss those days," he said.

He grew up not far away from the bar, and when he was a child he used to cut the owner's lawn. Before he was 21, he'd sometimes try to sneak, albeit unsuccessfully, into the bar. Ontiveros recalls the old J.C. Penney store down the street and how over the years Hollywood has filmed movies in his beloved downtown Midvale.

"It kinda makes you proud, a little," he says, bringing his fist to his heart.

If you don't live in Midvale or you didn't grow up there like Ontiveros, you might not realize how much pride its residents have, until you step into Old Towne for a beer and a chat.

Unbeknownst to each other, Robison and Ontiveros compare Old Towne to "that show" "Cheers" from TV, where "everybody knows your name."

And, yeah, it's kind of like that at Old Towne, where guys like Ontiveros, Downs and Dahart aren't posting selfies or pictures of their beers on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

You can't Google the kind of stories these guys have to tell, which raises the uneasy question of how much longer traditional, throwback bars like Old Towne will be around. —

Old Towne Tavern

An old-school beer bar with a new liquor license in its hip pocket.

Where • 7662 S. Main St. (700 West), Midvale

Open • 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week

Details • 801-566-3172; on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/OldTowneTavern?rf=100870903291073