Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cowboy and Country-Western Saloons

Swinging door saloon, Pilsen, CZ. Photo (c) R. E. Gruber

Sam Corbett writes about U Bocmana, a country-western saloon in the current issue of the NYU student online magazine The Prague Wanderer. (He quotes me....)

Places like this are "wild western spaces" par excellence, and there are dozens of such saloons (with or without swinging doors and spittoons) in various European countries -- I have visited them in Germany, Poland, CZ, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovakia....

Some are just bars or cafes; some feature live music; some are full-service restaurants. Most are individual, privately-run venues, but in Poland there is even a chain of western-style restaurants called "Sioux." There is also a big chain of western-style steak-house restaurants in France (with outlets in Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg) called "Buffalo Grill."

One of my first experiences in the Imaginary Wild West was, in fact, a cowboy-style party in a country-western roadhouse in a remote village in southern Bohemia....I was led there by Willie Jones, an American who at the time was working as a singing cowboy at the Pullman City wild west theme park in Bavaria. Along with a Slovak bluegrass group, we traveled in a three-car convoy from Pullman City into CZ.

The road house was in a village too small to appear on my map. From the outside it looked like an anonymous village restaurant, but inside it was decorated with Wild West paraphernalia including horseshoes, sepia photographs of Native Americans and Billy the Kid, and a framed arrangement of pistols and playing cards.

The occasion for the party was the 50th birthday of Franz Zetihammel, a figure well known on the Czech and German western show circuit for his portrayals “Fuzzy,” an “old coot” persona harking back to characters played by comic western actors such as Gabby Hayes or Walter Brennan. Fuzzy has long straggly grey hair and beard and never appears in public without his cowboy hat, cowboy boots and turquoise bolo tie and other jewelry.

A Czech country duo got the guests up and dancing with locally written Czech country songs and Czech covers of American hits such as John Denver’s “Country Roads” and even “I’m and Okie from Muskokee.”

One of the party guests, a man in his forties, was dressed head to toe in full cowboy attire, including sheriff’s star and a six-shooter – which Fuzzy at one point pulled from its holster, brandished at the dancers and then fired at the ceiling – fortunately, it was loaded with blanks....

(I haven't been back to that place -- I'm sure I could never find it again. But I ran into Fuzzy last year; he was working as the blacksmith at the Halter Valley private wild west town near Pilsen in CZ.)

Fuzzy, Halter Valley, 2007. Photo (c) R. E. Gruber

Here is a slideshow of several country/western saloons in Europe. All pictures (c) R. E. Gruber:

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