Reminiscences of Wellington’s T-Bar Inn

PHOTO COMPLIMENTS OF T-BAR INN. Regulars and tourists have flocked to the T-Bar Inn for decades. Now up for sale, many breaths are being held in hopes the property will remain a bar/restaurant.

Marty Metzger
North Forty News

The T-Bar Inn stands like a sentinel of time in Wellington, eager to tell a story. But which story? There are likely thousands of them filled with words and phrases describing camaraderie, happy times, sad times, maybe even angry times. First and foremost, however, the T-Bar is a love story.

In 1979, Ken and Brenda Thompson were a young couple with a vision. Partnering with his parents, Cecil and Shirley Thompson, Ken (a.k.a. K.T.) and Brenda bought the former “Duke of Wellington.” They first changed the name of the 2-room bar/restaurant. In 1981, renovations transformed it into what it is today when a back bar, dance floor and patio were added. Seating capacity leapt from 50 to 200.

PHOTO COMPLIMENTS OF BRENDA THOMPSON. The T-Bar Inn has undergone several name changes and remodels over its many decades.

They actually sold the place in 1982 to Bob and JoAnn Smith, who renamed it the Country Gentleman. But Bob died in 1984, and the Thompsons returned from Montana to buy back the T-Bar.

Staffing over the years likewise expanded, from 15 to the current 28. Longtime employees stayed on as new ones came on board. Brenda Thompson said some entire families have worked there. One of those is the Petersens.

Blair Petersen is the current manager but has literally been there since before birth. Her sister, brother, mother and grandmother all worked at the T-Bar; three loyal and content generations serving similarly satisfied patrons. Those happy employees include grandmother, Betty Smith, daughter Becky Muth and her daughters Charity Caryl and Blair Peterson (with great-grandchildren waiting in line!).

Eleanor Alvarez has spent 28 years on the payroll, and daughter Laurie Rivera followed in her mom’s busy footsteps. Charity Caryl (nee Petersen) began work there at age 16 and continues on now in her 40s.

Thompson surmised that approximately half of Wellington’s natives worked their first job at the T-Bar. Some went on to establish their own businesses based on the work ethic they absorbed.

Customers have been as faithful as employees over the decades. Thompson recalled some of the familiar names: Dwight Johnson; Tim Jackson; Ruth Knapp; Larry Cox; Margaret and Ray Taulman; David Pierson; John Burke; the entire Petersen family.

Commissioner Lew Gaiter meets at the T-Bar with land developers, town counselors and the public the first of each month.

Mad Jack Hanks (cowboy author famed for his column “Tales from the O-NO Ranch”) chowed down with the gang at the T-Bar as often as he could. In fact, he once dedicated an entire column to the T-Bar, singing its praises which included, “It is one of the few remaining cafes that is close to a metro area where you can just walk in and be yerself.”

John Elway (yup, Denver Broncos #7) and his father ate lunch there on February 13, 1989. From then on, the Thompsons always proclaimed, “If it’s good enough for him, it’s good for you!”

PHOTO COMPLIMENTS OF BRENDA THOMPSON. Famed Denver Broncos’ quarterback John Elway enjoyed a hearty meal at the T-Bar Inn on February 13, 1989. His hosts, Brenda (left) and Shirley Thompson, made sure he received the same good service as do all the inn’s patrons.

One especially noteworthy and admired fellow is Fred Billmeir, who every year buys Christmas presents for all the employees. He also purchased a television for the T-Bar!

What keeps everyone coming back week after week, or even day after day? Perhaps it’s the down-home food choices.

Besides usual menu offerings like steaks, fries, burgers, desserts and beverages, specialty items draw hungry Wellington diners. Thompson said Rocky Mountain Oysters are always a favorite, as is the green chili that’s been spicing up patrons’ lives for years. The Royal-T Burger tosses a fried egg atop a cheeseburger; and mac & cheese gets a brand new look and taste when encased in breading and deep-fried.

Activities at the neighborhood bar/diner offer something for everyone. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there’s Texas Hold ’Em for the poker-faced. Live bands perform on Fridays. (Thompson noted that the T-Bar was the first place for live entertainment in Wellington.) Saturday is Karaoke night, offering a chance to belt out that fav tune. Everyone loves to come “socialize,” although Thompson quipped that an accurate synonym could be “gossip.”

“You can’t believe everything you hear in here,” she cautioned with a laugh.

She continued that the establishment might actually be an adult daycare, especially for those who’ve grown up around the place.

Thompson explained, “Little boys I used to give Tootsie Rolls to now have beer bottles!”

T-Bar rules are few but she discourages political and religious discussions, and arm-wrestling.

“It’s safer that way,” she insisted.

Much of the T-Bar’s recent growth stems from that of the town itself. Wellington’s population of 690 when then 20-year-old Thompson, an Idaho native, came to town now totals 10,000+. She admits to not knowing more than half the folks who currently patronize the T-Bar, but they are coming in quite regularly.

Sadly, not all changes have been positive ones. Thompson said that she and K.T. had made plans to retire to their Libby, Montana, property when the time seemed right. Time, it seems, had other plans, and K.T. died on Valentine’s Day, leaving Brenda to carry on alone after 45 years of marriage. At almost 66, remaining a business owner doesn’t interest her.

PHOTO COMPLIMENTS OF BRENDA THOMPSON. Brenda and Ken Thompson planned to retire to their Montana property. Sadly, Ken died this past Valentine’s Day. Brenda described her late husband as “my everything.”

Besides being a wonderful husband and partner, K.T. had served as the T-Bar’s handyman (who could fix anything) and bouncer. Brenda Thompson proclaimed he was her whole life. In that life was a lot of fun and tongue-in-cheek amusement as well as work.

“We watched a lot of (Wellington) soap operas together in this place,” she mused. “Lots of marriages, divorces, disagreements and more.”

As she does the Montana property, Thompson has the T-Bar Inn up for sale. She hopes the property’s next owner will keep the place a diner/bar/meeting place but wouldn’t be shocked if it was razed to make way for apartments or some other business. She’ll likely be there to witness either its continuation or reincarnation because Thompson intends to stay in Wellington, where she’s lived most of her life and has so many good friends.

Anyone interested in purchasing the T-Bar Inn is encouraged to contact Larry Hawe at Commercial Brokers Alliance in Windsor (not Brenda Thompson or the restaurant). Hawe’s phone number is 970 266-1500; or email him at larry.hawe@cbanoco.com

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