by Kirby LindsayAs owner Donna Morey recently described The Buckaroo Tavern, “She’s been a wonderful old gal; she’s graceful and she’s tired,” she could be describing herself. Yet, at a soon-to-be 69-years-old, Morey is younger than the Buck, a Fremont institution for 72 years.
“It’s just making me ill,” Morey told me over the phone. For the first time she sounded her age as she confirmed that on September 17, 2010, The Buckaroo Tavern will close at 4201 Fremont Avenue North. Morey doesn’t believe it can ever be exactly the same. “You can’t replicate what time does,” she said, “this bar shows what time does.” Yet, in person, she appears as determined and proud as ever – and completely unwilling to be defeated.
‘If It Ain’t Broke’
In its long history, the business has had three owners – first were Mr. & Mrs. McLean, then Jeff Tavernitti, and finally Donna and her late husband, Keith Morey. All operated under the same name. According to Morey, when she and her husband bought the tavern in 1983, they promised the previous owner (and building owner) to operate as The Buckaroo forever. “I’ve held true to the terms of the previous owner,” Morey insists frequently, “we were faithful to that promise.”
In October 2005, with her husband, she negotiated her lease with Tavernitti. Tavernitti later sold the property to brothers Nils and Lars Christian, who have chosen not to renew The Buckaroo lease. “We put in a bid to buy the building,” Morey explained, when she heard, through customers, about the sale. The bid submitted by she and her husband was not accepted. She also said she has made attempts to sell the bar, but the new owners refused to negotiate. She also offered to sell them the business.
Meanwhile, Morey has dealt with a much larger, more compelling life change. After an extended illness, her husband passed away in February 2007. She’d told him, “I don’t want to shrivel up and fade away,” when he died, “I want to try to run The Buckaroo.” He agreed, and she found a way to go on past his death. She ran it for six years with him in the background, and then went to work the day after his burial.
“I would have liked to stay here, to pass it on to my grandson,” she admitted. Her eldest grandson, Christopher Morey, spent time in the bar with ‘Poppa,’ his grandfather, as a child and “never showed one ounce of shame,” over his grandparent’s choice of career. “I’ve already, in essence, handed over some responsibility to him, even though he’s only the bartender,” she explained. At age 26, Christopher may be young, but Morey believes he will only need her guidance for a few more years.
‘Don’t Fix It’
So Morey’s grandson and Josh Rosenkranz, (whom Morey described as an adopted grandson) decided to move The Buckaroo to a new location, closer to downtown Fremont into a space that will accommodate the signature sign. Morey has reason to expect her extremely loyal, extremely steady clientele will stroll down to the new digs. “Bartenders still come in for a drink,” Morey said of her customer base, “even ones I’ve fired.”
As of August 3rd, no lease had been signed on a new location, but Morey holds no doubt The Buck will re-open. Grandmother and grandson will “try to replicate as close as possible,” what made The Buck special, “something as old and stoic as this has been, is getting rarer and rarer.”
Morey also plans to hold a blowout celebration of the old Buck location in days leading up to the last. At first scheduled to last three days, she extended the celebration for a week – from Friday, September 10th to Friday, September 17th. She wants time for all old customers – those who haven’t been in for a while and those who’ve moved away – to have a chance to come in and get a last beer at The Buck. “I don’t want to get stuck with kegs and kegs of beer,” she explained.
As to the oft-repeated question posted on flyers around the ‘hood – What can we do to save The Buckaroo? – Morey admitted, “I really don’t know how to answer that question.” Personally, I suggest stopping by to buy a beer and swapping stories. Oh, and grab an original Buckaroo t-shirt, while available. “We usually sell several a month,” Morey admitted, “now we sell several a day.” Come celebrate what Morey has called, “the Center of the Universe’s heart!”
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.