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Exit interview

Silver Tongue Devil Saloon owner Scott Hunt talks about his venue's rise and fall

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It seemed like a good idea at the time. And for the better part of 3½ years, it was.

In the summer of 2009, real estate professional Scott Hunt opened the Silver Tongue Devil Saloon in a Green Mountain Falls bar that had operated under various names since 1976. The saloon began hosting a steady stream of local and regional musicians, upping the ante this past summer with the booking of national acts like indie-rock pioneers Cracker and New Orleans' well-pedigreed Joe Krown Trio.

But that all changed when financial constraints led to the venue's closing, with Denver's James and the Devil playing the rustic venue's farewell show Dec. 22.

According to Joe Johnson — who booked the venue for much of the past year and reunited his band Creating a Newsense for a Waldo Canyon Fire benefit there in August — performers were always impressed by the venue's down-home atmosphere: "You feel as though you're playing in an old mountain cabin, which you essentially are."

Hunt says he's been fielding calls from people who are interested in reopening the venue, but nothing has panned out yet. We spoke to him last week about the saloon's past, present and possible future.

Indy: I remember back in early November hearing that the venue was in the process of changing hands. What happened with that?

Scott Hunt: You know, they couldn't find their investor, from what I've been told. And the young lady that was coming up with the majority of the money came up short. We'd offered a couple different possibilities, but nothing seemed to work.

Indy: I'm guessing they would have needed a lot of money up front.

SH: Well, the actual building itself is a lease, so it was just the business that was being sold, not the entire property.

Indy: So it was kind of like the position the Rocket Room owners were in a couple years ago.

SH: You know, you could probably just about copy your Rocket Room story and change the names, and it'd be pretty damn accurate. [Laughs.]

Indy: Actually, it wasn't that long after you opened that the Rocket Room started to have troubles and had to stop booking bands for a month. Were you watching that going on at the time and thinking, "Oh, shit"?

SH: Yeah, I was. It was a real disappointment that it didn't work out for them.

Indy: Did you ever talk business with the Rocket Room's owners?

SH: No, never once. And I wish I had. I might have made some wiser decisions.

Indy: This past summer, you got more aggressive in booking touring acts. Why was that?

SH: A lot of it had to do with the fire and not wanting to say die. The fire really killed us, because the business up there is basically from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The majority of the people are summer residents that come into the cabins, and our business quadruples during those three months.

But it was just so damn hot that most of the people from Kansas and stuff kept putting off coming out. And then by the time they started to show up, they were there maybe two or three days before the fires broke out and they got evacuated. The majority of them just went back home, so our summer business was less than half of what we normally do.

Indy: So was the idea to bring in bands like Cracker and the Joe Krown Trio a way to get more people from Colorado Springs up there?

SH: Yeah, and we succeeded wildly with a couple of them. But the majority of those bands were actually booked before the summer came. We were working six months out on some of them. So you know, we just gave it our best shot. Everybody tells me that it's the best the place has ever been, and that they absolutely loved the place.

Indy: You also did a lot of renovations, right?

SH: Yeah. I built the patio. We redid the bar inside because the floor actually caved in on the old one. So we ended up having to do an awful lot of stuff to it in the last 12 months.

Indy: So if you don't get a buyer for your business, you could take the patio with you.

SH: Yeah, that would be nice, except that when the flood comes through, that will be the only thing left standing in Green Mountain Falls. [Laughs.] They insisted that thing be bulletproof. The footers for the walls that come up underneath the patio are four or five feet wide by a foot and a half deep, and it has more steel in it than the World Trade Center, I think. It was ridiculous how much we had to put into that thing.

Indy: Since you're at least theoretically out of the music business for a while, you could tell me what kind of guarantee you have to give to bring in a band like Cracker, right?

SH: Uh, you know, I can. It all depends of course on the bar and who you know, and what your relationship with them is. Basically, the guarantee for a band like Cracker can fluctuate anywhere between probably $1,500 and three grand, and then they get 70 percent of the ticket revenue over whatever that guarantee is.

Indy: How did that show do?

SH: That one did pretty well. Gross sales for that show were around four or five grand over what we got from tickets. So the band walked with about $2,800, which was pretty much all the ticket revenue. So what we did in gross sales for alcohol and food, that was pretty much all ours.

Indy: So the people you've currently got interested in starting up again, are they all local?

SH: All the people who are talking to me seriously are local. Some of them are people who've been involved in it in the past and know the place's potential. I've also offered to kind of hang out and help them with the music if they decide to do so. I've just got my fingers crossed that everything works out for the best, and I can get back to doing what I do best, which is real estate.

Indy: Which is a little more of a sure thing, even in this economy.

SH: Even in this economy, that's for sure. When I had taken over originally, I was in the Top 20 Realtors in the Pikes Peak region as far as sales went, and that was out of about 6,000 Realtors. At the end of my first year I dropped down to about 69, second year around 95, and the third year I didn't even break the Top 100. So it's gonna take me a year or two to get back up there.

Indy: So if you're committed to that, you won't be considering opening a venue closer to town, even if an opportunity presented itself?

SH: You know, we've talked about it. If nobody buys the bar and the furniture, sound system and other stuff that I have set up up there, I'm basically gonna have a bar in a box that I'm probably gonna need to liquidate to pay state taxes.

But if I end up paying them off some other way and manage to keep the stuff, then yes, we're talking about potentially opening someplace in the Springs. I've been told over and over again that if I had just done in the Springs what I did up there, we'd have been a wild success.

bill@csindy.com

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