by Rick Langenberg:
The Ute Inn, a fixture of Woodland Park since the early 1940s, is debuting a slew of major improvements and enhancements since new owners and managers recently took over the operation. “We want to be known as more than a bar,” said new owner Tony Vilgiate, who assumed the reins of the historic bar and restaurant in mid-July with his wife Christina. “We want to become a family-oriented, high quality restaurant.”
In the process, the new owners plan to make the Ute more of a community hub, while retaining its reputation as a super, local friendly bar with great entertainment and a hefty assortment of fun, colorful characters.
Tony Vilgiate has gained a reputation for one of these characters himself with his distinguished, bushy red beard and a commanding voice that draws comparisons with Broncos head coach John Fox. Vilgiate is a high tech veteran, who has a wealth of experience with Fortune 500 companies and in dong LED lighting and highly-specialized research and development work. He also owns several companies in the high tech arena. “I am a chief technology officer during the day. And at night, I am a bartender. It’s a great combination,” he quipped. “This is my secret hide-away.”
The couple, who have lived in Woodland Park since 2004, admit a special fondness for the Ute. “We have always loved the Ute and feel it is an important fixture in the community,” said the owner. The Vilgiates want to help preserve the Ute’s legacy, which now ranks as one of the oldest existing bars in the Front Range. It is the oldest in Woodland Park.
Vilgiate makes no pretensions that the new owners have big improvement plans for the Ute, especially when it comes to culinary enhancements.
So far, the big focus has been on the restaurant and developing all fresh food, with no frozen items. The kitchen has undergone major changes and intensive work. According to Vilgiate, the Ute now serves the best hand-made patties on the mountain and has become known for such new arrivals as the Steak Bomb, specially crafted green chili fries, a New York strip with a secret, unrivaled recipe and incredible hamburgers.“We have had a lot of compliments on our new food items,” said the Ute owner.
He credits the new management team, headed by Ute veteran Karen Murphy. “She knows the business and knows the people of this community,” said Vilgiate. One of the new owners’ goals is to develop a good staff and make the Ute a fun place to work. “We want this to become the place of opportunity and not the place of last opportunity,” said Vilgiate, who wants to have more long-term employees who see the Ute as good career step. The restaurant and bar currently has about 18 employees.
The new owners also want to make the Ute into a key community hub and plan to get involved in more local events. The Ute has jumped on the bandwagon big-time for the USA Pro Challenge cycling showdown, with the Stage 5 start in Woodland Park slated for this Friday (Aug. 22). It also is playing a key role in other events, such as the winter ice races and children’s drama shows. “We want people to know there is a lot more to the Ute than just a bar,” added Vilgiate.
In addition, the restaurant will experience some cosmetic enhancements and soon will be adorned with historic photos, outlining its colorful past during the reign of Bert Bergstrom and other popular local personalities.
The Ute bar itself also is experiencing some improvements with a huge, expanded wine selection and an assortment of 18-20 top notch Scotch and whiskies. As a musician himself who played with a few bands in his younger years, Vilgiate plans to continue the Ute’s reputation as a great place locally to hear live music. In fact, they plan to feature some key national acts. For now, the Ute will have live music on Friday, an open “mic” night on Tuesday and Karaoke on Thursday, with the popular DJ Dani. “We want to mix up our music a little and make it a little fresh and different,” said the Ute Inn owner.
Vilgiate, who did some previous work for former Downtown Development Authority Director Beth Kosley, is also a big cheerleader for Woodland Park. If the Ute owner had his druthers, he would like to see the city promote more unique, home-grown businesses, instead of trying to cater to national chains.