Colter Bay held a soft opening last evening. After only a short advance notice on social media, the doors opened at 7pm. One hour later the place was packed. Colter Bay has been an Allentown institution for decades. Therefore a lot of people have been anticipating its return. What they found looked nothing like the Colter Bay that they remembered, which in my eyes is a good thing. The place had completely transformed into a tavern that you might actually expect to find out west at a ski resort.
The original Colter Bay served its purpose. This newly reinvented version fits in much better with the ever changing bar and restaurant climate in Buffalo. To start, there are 44 taps (8 dedicated to ciders) to choose from, featuring a sleek line of contemporary tap handles. There’s a snazzy brick back bar, though everything else in the place is wood. In fact, the smell of wood is in the air – at first I actually thought that it might be an incense, but that’s not the case.
There are a number of neat chalet design elements that have been incorporated into the space, including ski pendant lighting, ski door handles, and there’s even a ski lift chair with a snowy mountain mural as a backdrop (fun for photos with friends). The lighting is perfect – I love the back wall with the faux windows that light up giving the place an illusion that it is bigger than it actually is. The sound system is just the right volume (we could all hear each other talking without shouting).
The interior layout is radically different. When we first walked in we had to reorient ourselves for a minute. Instead of the disjointed dining area in back, everything is now all interconnected and seamless. The diners have a view onto the bar, and the bar is far enough away from the diners as to not be intrusive. There are three TV sets – I am told that Colter Bay customers were big fans of ‘game days’. Although I’m not a fan of HVAC pipes, someone was smart enough to order (or paint) them in a bronze hue, so as not to stick out like a sore thumb. There are attractive wall sconces, copper accents, and token antler arrangements scattered throughout.
I understand that the new bar manager, Jack McAuliffe, just moved here from DC. When his wife landed a bar manager job at Patina 250, he decided to put in for a bartender position at Colter Bay. When co-owner Mike Shatzel realized that Jack was way overqualified, he said, “That’s our guy right there.” I got a chance to talk to Jack for a hot minute, and he told me that he figured that he would be modest and climb his way up like everyone else. Apparently, he’s kind of a hot shot perfectionist beer guru. “I’ve met more nice people here over the last nine days,” Jack told me. “I’m very happy to be here.” It’s great to see some new industry blood coming to town.
Colter Bay has an entire slew of bar aficionados tending to the shop. Due to the number of establishments under his belt, Shatzel has the ability to send a troop of pros from one place to another to ensure that everything runs as smooth as possible. Even though the place was packed last night, everything appeared to be spot on.
As for the food at Colter Bay, I hear that it’s going to be more reflective of the real spirit of the west. The offerings will play off the ambiance of the establishment – think wild boar meatball, stew, elk burger, bison meatloaf, etc. Shatzel previously noted that the offerings will be “culled from ski resorts such as Jackson Hole.”
Although last night was a soft opening, there is no regular schedule until the doors officially open. I am told that Wednesday is the day that they are shooting for.