“So I hear there’s a ghost who lives here?” I say to Dave Whitmore, proprietor of Tetonia’s Dave’s Pubb, as he slides me a Rolling Rock.
“Oh, you mean Marty?” he replies with a near-chuckle (Dave doesn’t laugh loudly very often, as far as I can tell). “Marty’s a lady that owned the bar years ago and she lived downstairs. Where the pool room is was her garage. She had a Mustang she parked in there, and she still hangs around here occasionally. There are certain people that say they see her all the time. You get a flash off your glasses, could be the sun or anything. I think her presence is here and it’s not life-threatening or dangerous or anything.
“There’s the man that sees the ghost,” Dave says, gesturing toward Thad, a regular who takes his post at the end of the bar. “There’s four bathrooms in here. That one’s got a medicine cabinet in it, and every time Thad goes in there, the damn door comes open. It’s Marty, spyin’ on him. I’ve had bartenders that will not go downstairs on account of Marty. That’s where she used to live. I still got one who won’t go down there after dark.”
“She was a sweetheart,” Sam Hatch, another regular (of the original “Hatch’s Corner” clan), chimes in. “She was a good lady.”
“Yeah, she was a good ol’ gal,” Dave agrees.
Thad knew Marty when he was a little kid and “used to take a wagon out and pick up beer bottles and put ‘em in gunny sacks.” The kids would stop by the bar that’s now Dave’s and get half-a-cent per bottle and “buy us some candy.”
“It’s just an ongoing joke that Marty’s here, and that’s about all there is to it,” Dave says, reminding me of Tommy Lee Jones’ character in “No Country for Old Men,” who says, “…It’s certainly true that it is a story.”
The story of Marty, I soon learn, isn’t the only one floating around Dave’s Pubb.
Dave bought his bar, which now displays a “For Sale” sign, in 2002.
“It’s been fun, rewarding, exciting, damn discouraging, and damn disappointing all in the same hand,” Dave says. “Sometimes all in the same day. But it’s been a good little business. I’m in no hurry to sell. My wife has a couple of years before she can retire.
“I bought this bar when I got off the ice [meaning Antarctica]. My vision when I bought this was I thought, okay, I’m tired of being gone. I’ve been gone all my life, been on the road, construction, and I figured it’d be just a little laid-back job. And it turned into be more than a laid-back job. It was fun. It is fun – it’s still fun.”
Dave spent “six or seven seasons” as a heavy equipment operator in Antarctica.
“I walked around the world in three seconds,” says Dave. “You can do it, too. Just get ahold of a little deal in the South Pole. It only takes ya five steps.
“There was a lot of people in this valley that went down there, too,” he adds, rattling off names of other locals who have worked on “the ice.”
“It takes you a good 20, 25 hours [to get there],” Dave says. “You lose a day goin’, and you gain a day coming back. Put that in your schedule, kiddo!”
Dave says the Antarctica gig was an interesting job.
“I learned a lot. When I first went down, it was the chance of a lifetime, and all’s it took was a phone call. A friend of mine that worked down there just gave me a phone number.”
Dave says contrary to popular belief, his bar isn’t Patrick Swayze’s real-life “Road House.”
“This bar has a reputation from years ago,” Dave says. “It took me a lot of time to weed certain individuals outta here. You meet a lot of interesting people here. This is a friendly bar.”
Dave’s serves a lot of whisky and beer, and if you play your cards right, other patrons will gift you with a wooden token that’ll get you a free drink and lots of innuendos about “woodies.”
“A friend of mine who worked for the park service over in Jackson Hole, kind of a, how would you describe him? Comes up with all kinds of nutty ideas. He come up with that,” Dave says. “His name is Bob. Friend of mine. We make about 300 [woodies] a year. They go home for souvenirs. Every pickup in the county’s got ‘em in it. I bet you there’s a couple in Washington, D.C. if you wanna know the truth. People who come in here, pass through. People from all over the world been in here.”
Dave’s also boasts a jukebox, and, Dave says, “there’s not another jukebox in this county. That’s one of my better investments,” though you won’t find it playing rap. “I know where the delete button is,” Dave warns.
Mixing with the cigarette smoke, the old country music, and local clientele is a collection of other oddities. “Everything in here basically somebody’s packed in and said, ‘Dave do you want to hang this in your bar? Go for it,’” Dave says.
On the wall hangs a mysterious-looking “cat carrier” that “has no functional purpose whatsoever.” Dollar bills, courtesy of a biker gang passing through from Florida, hang from the ceiling.
“That bear trap up there, I used to bet the boys, when I first got it, years ago, if you can jump up there, set that trap off without getting caught, I’ll buy you your drinks for the night,” Dave says. “They tried it! They were getting on the damned stools and tryin’ to hit it. Well look at it. The damn thing’s welded open. I welded it open and took a torch to the springs so it will not close. But it was more fun watching them do it.”
Then there’s Willy, the statue of a little black boy holding a fishing pole who overlooks the place. Dave says he had an antique dealer in the bar once offer him $5,000 for Willy.
“Willy came from Montana,” says Dave. “Doesn’t belong to me. But it doesn’t belong to that bar up there either. But every two years for s***, ten, twelve years? Willy went up there for two years and then came down here for two years. I’d go get him and we’d have a hell of a party or they’d bring him down and we’d have a hell of a party. Willy came from the front gates – there were two of them – at the Kentucky Derby. He weighs 80 pounds. It’s concrete.”
Even the name – Dave’s Pubb, with two b’s, is curious. Why’d Dave spell it that way?
“To be different,” he says. “I don’t do anything like everybody else does. I saw a sign once, I wasn’t there, but it was in Ireland, ‘Pubb’ was spelled with two b’s, and I thought what the hell. My background’s Irish anyway.
“When I bought this,” Dave continues, “it was ‘Snoopy’s Hangar,’ like the little ‘Peanuts’ character. The Charles Schulz [estate] tried to sue me because of the little Peanut character in an airplane on the sign. They wrote me a very threatening letter. I just took it to my attorney and said, ‘Tell them to shove it.’ And he did.”
And the bathtub?
“A long time ago, when me and my little girl got together, Tracy, my wife, I lived in Ashton. And out behind my pumphouse I had a cast-iron clawed bathtub, and I stacked a bunch of lava rock behind it, and I had a weed burner, and I drilled a hole in the pumphouse wall, would run the hose out, fill it full of water, fire-up the weed burner, four or five minutes later we had a hot tub.
“We only lived off the highway just about from here to the post office, and we had a little trail waist-deep in the snow, so there we were, running from the fifth-wheel to the hot tub, stark naked, and that’s where the bathtub came from.”
What about the photograph of the snow machine-turned-jet ski on the lake?
“His name’s Whiskers, that’s all you need to know.”
The past and the future
For at least 30 years, Dave’s was a bank. Where the walk-in cooler is now used to be a vault.
A map of Tetonia from 1910-1930, kept behind the bar, shows a thriving little town with a grocery store, blacksmith, bars, restaurants, a car dealership, a farm implement dealership, a cheese factory, millinery shop, hardware store and a bed and breakfast. The older generation remembers when the railroad was still running. Dave himself worked replacing rail on the tracks in Victor for a few years in the ’60s.
“Teton Valley was essentially self-sufficient as far as a livin’ goes,” Sam Hatch says. “There were banks, there were bars, restaurants; there was half the population that there is now, less than half.”
Dave laments the arrival of people he calls “squatters” who come to the valley and start “so many damn different entities” that bring about regulation and make being a business owner expensive and onerous.
“Greed,” he says, “is ruining the valley.”
“Something drew you here,” Sam says. “Something made you want to come to Teton Valley; why do you want to change it once you’re here? It ain’t just your life you’re screwing with, it’s everybody else’s. I’ve said it before: Dave’s Pubb is the last of Teton Valley, that’s why I come here. I have not a coffee shop that I can go to in the morning and have a coffee and B.S. with the old-timers. I come down here. This is it. This is the last of it, right here.”
For now, Dave’s is still going strong, and so are the stories.
“I tell my customers when I retire, I’m gonna write a book about this place, and I’ll definitely have to change the names,” Dave says.
I can’t tell what, exactly, I was told at Dave’s was a tall tale or the truth, but, like the ghost, “It’s certainly true that it is a story.”
This article was originally published by The Teton Valley News.