Last Thursday, a man named Charlie showed up at the Fox Hole Tavern in Wilber, Neb., and presented the owner, Dan Warren, with a rehearsed (and convincing) pitch for allowing him to tend bar there.
It was the first day of the Saline County community's annual Czech Festival — the largest Czech festival in the state and one of the largest in the country. The event draws thousands of visitors to Wilber, population 1,855, and thus, thousands of visitors to the Fox Hole.
Charlie wanted to work specifically in the beer garden, where the Bolzen Beer Band, a sort of rock polka band, would be playing. He didn't want payment, or all-you-can-drink beer. He just wanted to be behind the bar.
“We just put him there,” said Warren, who never even learned Charlie's last name.
For whatever reason, bartending at the Fox Hole Tavern during Czech Days has become coveted. I have friends who have driven in from Colorado year after year to tend bar at the tavern during a three-day event that Warren estimates draws between 2,500 and 5,000 patrons. I have another friend, who's never met Warren but knows his neighbors, who talked for weeks about securing a volunteer spot and was reluctant to give it up even after she broke her toe.
“People come out of the woodwork to work,” said Warren. “It's funny.”
That's been the case since Warren and two friends bought the bar in 2001. Warren was 25 then, and just out of the Air Force. One of Warren's partners was looking into buying a different business in Wilber and thought purchasing a bar would be a good way to build equity. Warren, who had an adventurous streak — and some money he'd saved while he was in the military — was glad to join in.
They closed on the bar right before Czech days and, not knowing how else to staff it, asked their friends. As it turned out, friends were glad to help during that first frenzied year.
Some have been back each year since.
Warren now is the sole owner of the Fox Hole, which is on the market. He lives in Lincoln, where he owns another business, a jerked chicken food truck called Jerk and Go (the truck is converted from an old party bus he used at the bar). He also has a wife and two young boys, and less desire than he once had to spend every free moment running a bar.
So for the past few years, he opens the tavern just for special events — like Czech Days, occasional concerts, a twice-a-year bicycle tour called the Fox Hole 100.
“The Fox Hole is one of those places that needs to be open more,” he said.
When and if he does sell it, the place comes with a stuffed fox drinking a PBR, a creepy vintage mannequin wearing a traditional Czech dress and headpiece and a pack of volunteer bartenders, ready for Czech Days 2013.