February 28, 2008 News » Cover Story

One of a kind 

Manitou's Royal Tavern has an identity, and stories, all its own

Royal Tavern has been a downtown Manitou fixture for generations. - BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz
  • Royal Tavern has been a downtown Manitou fixture for generations.

Anybody can walk into the Royal Tavern, sit down and order a beer.

Well, not just anybody.

If you're on the "86 List," you can forget it. The bartender will not serve you, and if you aren't nice, the regulars likely will help in "escorting" you out.

That's just one of the, shall we say, unusual aspects of the Royal, a fixture in downtown Manitou Springs for longer than anyone can say for sure. The location is perfect: facing the sidewalk with all those picture windows, and walkways down each side heading back into the arcade area or toward the spa building.

This place is like no other. There are neighborhood bars, there are watering holes and sports bars, and there are biker hangouts.

Then there is the Royal, which proudly defies any category. And if that makes you feel intimidated, that's really your problem.

So when the Indy staff decides to assemble great bar stories for this annual Drink issue, we can't do it without somebody venturing to 924 Manitou Ave. It's not a job for the meek; this assignment goes to the boss.

Has a mullet

The place opens early, so my first stop there is at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday.

Ralph (that's his name, no kidding) is tending bar, but insists, "I don't work here." He's just taking care of the early business while the Royal's main bartender, Carrie, is running some errands. It helps that Ralph and Carrie are a couple.

Two hours later, Ralph's still in charge. He and others, including the weekday bartender who's among the customers at the moment, love the idea of sharing stories while we all sip on cool ones.

Behind the bar is a bumper sticker: "A bartender is just a pharmacist with a limited inventory." There are some pictures of longtime customers, including Stan Smith, who died a year or so ago.

"He could have told you more stories than anybody," somebody says.

But this crowd does just fine. First, Ralph pulls out that 86 List. Safe to say, if you aren't welcome at the Royal, you have earned that honor. The descriptions are classic (we'll leave out the names, to save us all the grief):

"Has German Shepherd. Dog bites."

"Fucked-up teeth, heavy makeup."

"Has a mullet. Steals off the bar."

"Showed wiener."

"Late 40s, no boobs."

You get the idea. Your misbehavior, by the way, need not happen inside the Royal to earn you a spot on the list. One new bartender started working there, saw the list and added a guy who had been nasty to her at another bar.

"He hadn't been in the Royal for five years, and he still was on the 86 List," Ralph says.

It's not a permanent sentence. Several months of being nice, and you can have your name scratched off. Or you might make the 85 1/2 List, which means you can come into the bar, but you're limited to just two drinks or one shot and you're done.

The regulars like to turn around on their barstools and watch the world go by outside.

"This is life inside the fishbowl," somebody says. "We can see everything."

"Yeah, it's a show here in the summertime," Ralph adds.

They want to make one point clear: To them, the Royal is not a biker bar. Yes, bikers do come and are absolutely welcome, especially on weekends. But they aren't the total inner circle of customers.

"We are a real family in here," Ralph says. "We have a lot of different people, but we all know each other and care about each other. We also take care of each other."

Black Panthers, pink bikes

One old-timer named Terry sits at the end of the bar and talks about being a regular since the 1960s. He remembers a young woman who frequented the place around 1967. People later found out she was Angela Davis, the former Black Panther who at the time was the subject of a huge national manhunt. (She later was caught but acquitted.)

Ralph and others tell story after story ...

Like about the guy who drove his daughter's pink bicycle to the bar and parked it right in the middle of the motorcycles. When he left, inebriated, he reached for the bike and fell, breaking his shoulder.

Or the Christmas stockings, hung all around the bar during the holiday. They're for the employees and the regulars. Oh, and if you are added to the 86 List, as some have been, they still hang up your stocking.

Then there was the night of a World Series game, when a cop kept looking in at the TV to check the score. Finally he came inside, and a well-lubricated customer decided to buy him a drink, even if it was a Coke. The customer reached into his pocket and out fell an ounce or so of marijuana, which got him arrested on the spot.

They also talk about a tunnel going out from the Royal to the spa building, on to The Cliff House (which now has put up an underground fence) and the nearby Johnny Nolon house at 2 Grand Ave. Decades ago, it was a way for gentlemen to access ladies of the night, or just escape the bar, without being seen. But the tunnel's still there, at least part of it.

As for the "showed wiener" guy, seems he was being "manually stimulated" by a woman in the back of the bar. Afterward, with his beer empty, he strolled up to the bar forgetting that something was still hanging out for all to see.

And finally, there's the "naked man" story. It's about a regular who one night decided to take off his clothes and run around the bar. He does that, sees a policeman standing at the door and races outside past the cop, saying, "See ya." The cop chases him, conveniently heading toward the police station, and tackles him. But at that point, Naked Man loses control of his bodily functions, so obviously they can't put him into the police car. Instead, they walk him to the cop shop.

Carrie eventually does come in to take Ralph's place. She's been there for eight years, but when asked to share her best memories, she says, "I'm no good at telling jokes, and I can't tell old stories. I'm sure everyone else gave you enough."

They definitely did. And now, though it was an experience being part of the Royal's family for a day, we'll see if writing about it can put someone on that 86 List.



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