Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Whiskey Creek Closed...But Maybe Not For Good?

It’s your first day in the Buttermilks, and the sun is setting. You’d like to keep climbing, but it feels like you’ve been in a slapping match with a cheese grater. You look at your fellow pebble gropers and say, “Whiskey Creek?”
Happy Hour at Whiskey Creek is an integral part of a bouldering trip to Bishop. Making it back into town by 6 o’clock can be a challenge, but if anything will motivate you to stop flailing on your project, it’s a $3 pint of Double Nut Brown.

Whiskey Creek owner Greg Alexander held a meeting on Friday, January 24 to tell his employees, some of whom have worked for him for almost 20 years, that Whiskey Creek was shutting down.

Whiskey Creek wasn’t just a favorite among cantaloupe-forearmed dirtbags—it was a popular destination among locals, tourists and families alike. A popular watering hole in the 80s, founder Sam Walker sold both Mammoth and Bishop locations to Greg Alexander in 1999, and it was Alexander who created the beloved Happy Hour (Half off more than half the menu! Cheap beer!), and the climbers have been flocking ever since.
“Everyone was crying”, said Debbie Nelsen, long-time server at Bishop Whiskey Creek. “We didn’t know [it was happening] until the day it closed. I knew things weren’t going well in Mammoth, but Bishop was a good money-maker. Nobody could believe it.”

So why did such a popular and well-loved restaurant have to close down?

“It really was a David-Goliath kind of story”, explained Alexander.

Seven years ago, Alexander sold the Mammoth location to a development group in hopes that he could free up money to buy another piece of property. Then the real estate crash happened and businesses across Mammoth starting going bankrupt, including the development group Alexander sold the property to. Instead of turning the property back over to the bank, the development group decided to sue him instead in attempt to get him out of the lease.

It turned into a 14-month court battle, which Alexander eventually lost on a technicality. He spent over $150,000 in lawyer fees and they upped his rent, putting it into “catastrophic terms”.  Throw in a stagnant economy and top it with the driest year on record (2013),  and you’ve got “a really crunched situation”, said Alexander plainly.

“If I could have just closed down Mammoth, I would have, but with a C corporation, you can’t just separate or close one down…they’re tied at the hip. It’s like one big company. I had no choice but to close both locations.”

There were over 100 people employed between Mammoth and Bishop, all of whom are now out of work. Tony Bouchereau, another longtime employee of Alexander’s, worked a combined 20 years between the Mammoth and Bishop locations. “I’m really not sure what I’ll do now”, he said.

Bouchereau didn’t hear of the closing until the night before it happened. He was enjoying dinner with his wife and was about to step into the movie theatre when the general manager called. He turned to his wife, in shock, unsure of whether or not they should continue the date or go home.

Waitress Debbie Nelsen got a call that her daughter was in labor a week after the restaurant closed, and bought a ticket immediately to San Diego to be with her.  “Right now I’m trying to do things I wasn’t able to do before”, she explained.

Nelsen described Whiskey Creek as a second family. She also put in almost 20 years at the restaurant and was able to raise two kids solely off her income as a daytime waitress. She is hopeful that this is not the end of Whiskey Creek.

“I’m not done with Whiskey Creek yet”, she laughed.

Alexander is currently trying to reopen Whiskey Creek in Bishop. He said there’s a lot of red tape to get past, but he’s working at opening a new location. So with any luck, it won't be a final farewell to the warm and crowded nights around $3 pints and food we dirtbags can actually afford.

Posted by Sasha Turrentine
Send any questions to sasha.turrentine@gmail.com