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Betty Morris, frankly, is a force to be reckoned with.

Whether you're getting 86'd for bad behavior, or taking a listen to one of her off-color jokes, locals find that Morris always highlights an evening spent imbibing at Benny's (517 W. Colorado Ave.). She's earned multiple awards from Colorado Springs drinkers, including the Independent's 2004 Best Neighborhood Bartender title, and every year the place is packed to celebrate her birthday.

It comes as a shock, then, that the 10-year veteran is no longer a fixture, having tossed in the PBR-soaked towel Tuesday, May 9.

According to Morris, the split wasn't amicable. Her hours had been cut back to two days a week before she met with Benny's co-owner Garry Myers. At that time, she says, "I was told that it would be best if I quit."

When asked why she might be pressured to leave Benny's, Morris says the new owners, who took over last August, didn't like her attitude. "I was supposed to wait on tables and I was supposed to say hello to everyone that came in," she says. "But ... if you let everyone who comes in walk all over you, you're going to have fights and who knows what else."

Myers, on the other hand, maintains that while Morris served Benny's well for a decade, "she just quit, and that's all there is to it." Over nine months, Myers and co-owner Kelly Gonyo have worked diligently to spruce up Benny's, which had fallen into the category of beloved, but well-worn, dive. The interior is freshly painted, a new patio is under construction, and even the jukebox has been updated.

When asked to respond to Morris' story, Myers denies ever having strong-armed his former employee. "That's so untrue," he says. "It's kind of weird that you're asking us why she quit. People quit bars every day. Maybe she's going on to better things."

In classic he-said, she-said fashion, the issue is probably one that will remain a mystery to the general public. In the meantime, Morris says she's nursing a hurt ego, but will probably look for work in another bar. "I just really enjoy it. I enjoy my customers: the rollergirls, the rockabilly kids, everyone."

In town: Kent Greentree, Adam's Mountain Caf (110A Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs), May 18 and 19; Brad Bietry Jazz Group, Neptune's Caf (604 S. Union Blvd.), May 19; Emerson Drive, Cowboys (3910 Palmer Park Blvd.), May 20.

Go north: Wolfmother, Bluebird Theater, Denver, May 22; Mobb Deep, Gothic Theatre, Englewood, May 22; Snow Patrol, Paramount Theatre, Denver, May 23, Matt Costa, Fox Theatre, Boulder, May 24.

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