Hangin' at The Pour House

Jul 15, 2013

At The Pour House
Credit Roberta McGowan

For the past three decades the venerable Pour House saloon has served up cold beer and warm meals to residents and visitors in Carbondale.  Opened by Skip Bell in 1984, the bar has become a generational watering hole for cowboys, hippies, artists and others.  Tuesday evening  (7/16/2013) at The Pour House there is a reception to unveil a new book of photographs and tales from the bar.  Aspen public Radio’s Roger Adams reports.

Every bar in the world serves beer and liquor.  For Pour House Manager Skip Bell the secret sauce that makes a bar a hangout is the people who drink there.  To get that, the place has to have a good vibe.

“I’ve been in the bar business, restaurant business, basically all of my life.  I had a bar in Chicago in 1965 and this is, for me, the epitome of all the great places I’ve worked at.  It’s a local hometown bar, saloon.  Its just a comfortable place to be.”

Bell opened The Pour House in 1984 and perhaps to allow him to be even more confortable in the tavern he created, he sold it to a couple of local ranchers in 2005 with the proviso that he be named manager.  Bell is right at home and as easy going as he looks in shorts and Hawaiian shirt. 

"Its a local hometown bar, saloon. Its just a comfortable place to be."

Its almost inevitable to make an analogy to the bar in Cheers, but it fits the Pour house like water does Scotch.

“I do know a great majority of my customers by name, I know what they do, what their kids do.  I got people coming in here now who were six and seven years old when I opened it and now their bringing their kids in.  Its that kind of a place.  It’s a good local hangout.”

Among those who have been tipping a glass for years at The Pour House are Western and Rodeo photographer Roberta McGowan and her husband.  McGowan, a photojournalist from New Jersey moved to Missouri Heights fifteen years ago and found her way to Carbondale’s main street and into The Pour House soon after.  A couple years ago she set upon the idea of a book about the bar.  She pitched it to manager Skip Bell, he agreed and became the editor. 

“From a photographic standpoint, I just knew I wanted to document the people, the feeling.  Try to capture the feeling of this place because it is so special.”

Photographer Roberta McGowan (L) and Pour House Manager Skip Bell
Credit Roger Adams

McGowan spent a year photographing the bar and its denizens and now the book is a reality.   This evening McGowan and Bell will be signing copies of  “The Pour House; A Colorado Saloon.”  The book is a blend of anecdotes and McGowan’s black and white photographs.

“Black and white just fit.  And, I say that because when I do photography, the images tells me what its going to be; whether its going to be color, whether its going to be on canvas or whether its going to be black and white.  You look at the image and you communicate and black and white just seemed appropriate.  Not sepia.  Sepia can get kind of soft and I wanted some strength.  This is the west and people are strong here and their independent.  I didn’t just want it to be pretty pictures.”

The resulting photos are mostly of the people she has seen in the bar.  There is one straight on portrait of Bell standing behind the old wood bar framed by bottles.  He appears about to ask, “what’ll it be?”  For publication purposes McGowan got each of her subject to sign a release form. 

This can sometimes be tricky for photographers shooting in public settings.  Not so apparently at the Pour House.  McGowan laughs and says, “Oh, its easier when they’re having a beer.”

McGowan says across the west are many local hangout saloons where the faces in her book probably look equally happy and at ease.  She is considering the idea of documenting more of these bars in the future.

McGowan's book, The Pour House: A Colorado Saloon will be on sale at the signing reception.  5pm Tuesday 7-16-2013 at The Pour House.