Melvin’s Public House

Extra Innings And Overtimes

So, a female Cleveland Browns and Ohio State fan from Canton, Ohio, and a male Pittsburgh Steelers and Penn State fan from Poughkeepsie, New York, meet in a Park City bar.

What could go wrong?

Well, as it turned out, not much. Melissa (a.k.a. Mel or Melvin) and Mike went on to tie the knot and — after a long spell of gathering bona fides in the local food and beverage trade — opened a sports bar in Heber.

When I first entered Melvin’s Public House in the sacred space at 139 N. Main Street that once housed Clyde’s Billiards, or “Tink’s” as it came to be called, I got that familiar border-crossing feeling: it was a sports bar, after all. Time, as it usually does, had insinuated itself and there would be no looking back.

It wasn’t my first rodeo in the space and the fact that flat screens had overtaken wall space where elk heads once roamed didn’t come as much of a surprise. Neither did the abundance of flags and jerseys flaunting the colors of a cross-section of popular teams across the American sport landscape.

And, of course, there was the typical sports bar soundtrack encompassing both the call-and-response and ribbing trash talk to which only rabid fans know the words. But, being Heber Valley and all, the overall decorum never seemed to get out of hand.

I’ve darkened Melvin’s doors many times since that first outing and have come to terms with the fact that as long as such a void needed to be filled in the Heber Valley, Melvin’s is a quite workable solution.

Take note: I’ve always held a special affection for the intersection of fanatical expectations and natural fermentation, but the fact that I’m an insatiable fan of both sports and the occasional beverage didn’t influence my assessment in the least.

Between Two Bars

During the interval between Clyde’s Billiards and Melvin’s Public House, this historic Heber site saw three separate entrepreneurial attempts of the culinary persuasion give it a go. In that the structure itself flaunted an Old West authenticity of the highest order, all three went into their ventures feeling that long-term success was a given.

Celebrating “peasant food” recipes gathered during world travels, Spicy Lady founder Jai Wurfbain cast his menu as representing the top of the nostalgic “comfort food” category. As became an oft-heard theme at 139 N. Main Street during those years, however, early success proved difficult to sustain.

Next out of the chute came Park City restaurateur and Flanagan’s co-owner John Kenworthy. Riding in on a much more expansive vision, his plan was to morph the Spicy Lady into the Angry Bull: a rodeo- and cowboy-themed restaurant and saloon with a Texas-sized honky-tonk on the side.

The latter would be housed next door at 155 N. Main in a property Kenworthy and his partners also controlled, and whose daytime activity would revolve around expanded dining. But dinner was only the prelude — a honky-tonk stage and dance floor waited in the wings. Oh, did I mention the mechanical bull?

But alas, the aforementioned “difficult to sustain” model once again raised its head and it wasn’t long before the next tenant, Vito’s Italian Ristorante, began serving lobster ravioli and T-bone Fiorentina on the range where Wasatch Mountain oysters and the Bull’s signature 22-ounce grilled bone-in-ribeye steak once tried to roam. And so it went, until Vito’s, too, bit the dust.

Settling The Score

But, back to Mel and the day she drove down Heber’s Main Street slow enough to fixate on a sign out front of 139 N. Main that read “Business for Sale.” Whether or not she actually locked-up her brakes is under debate, but one thing is for sure: by the time she pulled back into traffic, she darn sure knew which way was up.

And that would be a vision within which she and Mike saw a flat-screen-rich public house that featured both kid-friendly and full-bar accoutrements; where they could wage sports-affiliated war with each other against a backdrop of swirling team colors and rivalry-seasoned glares.

Pro tip: You might want to take a peek inside prior to entering if it’s a Saturday and the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, not to mention Mel and Mike, are frothing about the proverbial nose and mouth. Of course, the same could be said of any given Sunday where the Browns and Steelers are scheduled for couples counseling.

When you talk to Heber Valley locals about Melvin’s Public House, there is definitely a shared feeling of “stoke.” Over the years, as televised sports evolved from networks to cable outlets and streaming technology, the valley’s local watering holes — with a few exceptions — found themselves out of the loop. In many instances, University of Utah and BYU fans got increasingly left out in the cold as their teams located the greener pastures of independent outlets and cable providers waged war over profits.

That brought along with it many implications for sports fans — longtime locals and those who had put down more recent roots, alike.

Well, Melvin’s has definitely settled the score and scooped out its niche. One thing I’ve noticed, is that each time I drop in, the sense of gathering is on the rise. More and more, chairs are being pulled over to an already maxed-out table to fulfill the unwritten quorum necessary for a vote on subjects akin to “who’s the next college coach to get canned” or “who’s turn is it to buy a round?”

And, if those aforementioned conversations among the Heber Valley locals show any legs at all, the long and storied history of 139 N. Main Street — especially that of Clyde’s Billiards — will no doubt come into play before long.

The OG

Tink Clyde and his son Marvis had a vision of their own back in the day. They parlayed that vision into — to paraphrase ol’ Will Shakespeare — such stuff as dreams are made of.

During his hitch in the armed forces in Korea, Marvis regularly took a chunk of his pay grade and shipped it home to good old dad to be put away for the purchase of a billiard parlor. And so, their dream became manifest once Clyde’s Billiard’s, if not threw open its doors, at least nudged them in a direction that enticed the males of the species to enter.

Tink operated the establishment, and in the de facto sense it became known to most all habitués and the village-at-large as “Tink’s.” Further on down the road, following years of bantering about trout gossip, cribbage rulings and the general bashing of countercultural fashions and behavior, the legendary haunt would lose its patriarch.

Tink’s untimely illness and death cut a deep swath across the wider community and caused the haunt’s doors to shut. They would remain so for an elongated period of time.

Marvis and his wife Johnnie, following a proper grieving period for both the space and the man, reopened to a new chapter when the notion seemed right.

The ol’ pool hall never flaunted an immunity to change as time and younger generations flowed through, but Marvis and Johnny always tried their best to keep any shifts to the paradigm on the subtle side.

Every so often you might notice a shuffle in the stuffed head and antler herd up on the walls, but the rope corralling the comfort zone never got yanked to the point where locating Hank, Merle, Patsy or George on the jukebox became an issue.

Not that Clyde’s coin-operated music machine didn’t reflect the times in its own fashion, but among the tribes who were not native to the area, those who were relatively new to the steel guitar and fiddle of both Country and Western music, old school sounds quickly became part of the draw.

Although it was never much of a shock to catch sight of a paisley or a tie-dye pattern heading toward the bar for a refill, those particular motifs were never in the majority. If anything, the regular clientele at Clyde’s Billiards reflected more of an after work blue collar vibe. Trash-kickin’ regalia, for the most part, ruled.

Earlier on during Tink’s tenure, womenfolk in town never got all warm and fuzzy about the place. There was no phone, so Tink would never have to stretch the truth in communications with wives or girlfriends. The vibe leaned more toward a men’s club than the watering holes of today.

The biggest change I witnessed over the years would probably be the fervor with which those of the female persuasion came to identify with the establishment following its reopening. Who would have thought they would take to Johnnie’s pickled eggs with such enthusiasm? And simple as that, Tink’s was that much less of an ol’ boys club.

The final shoe dropped for Tink’s when Marvis suddenly passed. Johnnie kept it up and running for a time, mainly with the help of her daughters, but soon enough passion among the family as a whole waned and the clan decided to sell.

From there, the memories in question would no doubt spread out to include establishments that, for one economic reason or another, were forced to throw in the towel early on. As time passes, however, all histories become the property of the young.

For the more contemporary generations, as time goes by, there may be an honored place for Melvin’s Public House in the ongoing oral histories of this space and time. Perseverance during the downtimes, of course, will be the fulcrum upon which success pivots.

Indeed, the space that now houses Melvin’s could well become a tribal gathering spot and comfort zone once again, basking in an afterglow similar to that of its predecessor.

Admittedly, I might miss the “rookie hazing” that came with becoming a regular at Tink’s but, over time, I’ll get used to it. Actually, when I truly focus, I can still hear decks of cards being shuffled and pool balls slapping leather pockets. Plus, the time-weathered front bar and back bar — and Mel for that matter — still keep an eye on the ghosts.