Natives know you can’t grow up in Boulder without knowing Tom’s Tavern. Whether you ordered Tom’s burgers, signed your first business deal in one of the Tavern’s booths, or just passed by it on your way down Pearl Street… Tom’s was a landmark. Bradford Heap had his fair share of teenage memories at Tom’s, playing shuffleboard, and passing it by to play video games down Pearl St. Paul Kuehnel was quoted in The Daily Camera when news broke out of Tom’s death from brain cancer, “When I got here in ’68, Tom’s Tavern was going. It’s just an institution.” Kuehnel also called Eldridge “a voice of reason on City Council – the voice of the common man.”
Bradford was told by Tom’s wife, Betty Eldridge, that Tom’s hope was for the place to be owned by a Boulder native. That left only a couple restaurant owners in town and Bradford was one of them. “We were ecstatic when we found out we were going to be the new owners. “I know the weight that Tom’s carried – it was a cultural icon. Tom was a personality in town, and his generosity …” Heap trailed off when speaking with Biz West back in 2010.
During the construction of SALT, Designer Carol Vilate, kept the windows open and uncovered so that people walking down Pearl could come in and tell stories of Tom and the Tavern. “We wanted them to be a part of the transformation. We heard everything from engagement stories to first birthdays. He was a barkeep and a leader. You could hear it in 50 years worth of stories, ” said Vilate. Boulder grew up with Tom’s Tavern and there was no denying we were responsible for keeping Tom’s legacy alive; it was the most important thing.
We keep Tom’s name on the wall and a collection of items we found in the basement of Tom’s Tavern in a shadow box on the side of our building in honor of Tom. “Our goal was to respect the legacy of Tom’s, the authenticity of the building, the spirit of the restaurant that was so loved,” says Vilate, who spent months renovating, designing, and decorating SALT.
Bradford told The Camera back in 2009, “the concept of SALT, is not only to honor his personal philosophy with food, but also to honor the heritage of Tom’s founder, Tom Eldridge, who died in 2007. Eldridge’s business ethic was his generosity and kindness to those he knew, Heap said, and Tom’s served as a place where people from all walks of life could gather.”
“Our commitment to using local sources extend to the re-building of Tom’s. Everything used in the interior is made from recycled and reclaimed materials gathered here in Boulder,” Vilate adds. “We keep the SALT sign small so that Tom’s Tavern name on the side of the building shines and his legacy is always remembered in Boulder”.
Heap and Vilate won a historical award for their preservation of the building; at the time, the only historic award to be given to a restaurant in Boulder. Although the restoration of the building was a big undertaking… it was worth every step.
So we cook a burger in his name, and keep his sign on our wall and hope SALT will one day mean half as much to Boulder as Tom’s did. We are so honored to be stewards of his home.