Wolf Den to Comedy Den

The Wolf Den Tavern closed for good in the first week of September without so much as a flier or a drink special, but Steamboat Springs works as fast as a waiter clearing and resetting a table between guests.

The space will hold a new business before the first skiers step off the plane in November.

L. Dale Walter and Michael Aumock are in the middle of negotiations to take over the Wolf Den's lease. If everything goes according to plan, the two childhood friends from Michigan will be opening Sabre's Comedy Den, a comedy club and piano bar, 703 Lincoln Ave., by Thanksgiving.

After painting the walls and ceiling to lighten up the former smoky bar, Walter and Aumock hope to model the new venue after the improv comedy theater franchise The Second City.

Walter has been involved in theater for 30 years, he said, most recently as the owner and director of the Knights of Iron Repertory Theater Stage Combat Team in Michigan.

Walter realized early on that he was not leading-man material, so he took his other talents -- three different martial arts belts and proficiency in fencing -- and translated them to the stage.

Aumock is living in Denver after years in Breckenridge, and Walter lives in Detroit, but both plan to relocate to Steamboat as the business gets off the ground. Walter spent summers in the area visiting his grandparents, who lived in Clark.

The lease for 703 Lincoln Ave. has yet to change hands, but Walter and Aumock already have met with Brian Harvey, co-founder of Ski Town Productions and Pirate Theatre, about the local acting pool.

Harvey gave the men a video of one of their productions, an original theater spoof of life in a ski town. Walter was enthusiastic.

"I am very impressed with what they do. They seem to have a lot of talent," he said. "Our original plan was to bring in our own actors, but we want to cast people in the community. I think we can create something from the local talent pool. I'd much rather do that for a lot of reasons."

Harvey said, "I'm excited there is going to be a new venue for talent in this town, a place for actors to be able to perform and make a little bit of a living."

Ski Town Productions hasn't signed any contracts or auditioned any actors beyond sharing the video tape.

"I can see this as an outlet for some of our actors," Harvey said. "If it involves theater and the arts, I'll support it.

"But it's not going to be an easy row to hoe. Doing entertainment in this town is a tough nut to crack, especially with a flat economy, but these guys are businessmen as well as performers."

Both men have a passion for theater but made their money in other businesses -- Aumock in asphalt and real estate and Walter with a hydraulic tubing business.

Sabre's Comedy Den will offer two shows a night. The first show will be a family friendly show and the second will have more mature content.

What Walter likes about improv comedy is the chance for audience involvement.

"I'm very against sit-and-watch entertainment. How is that different from TV or a movie?" Walter said. "We want to create a customer tailored experience. Breaking down the fourth wall -- that is exciting to me."

A side room, used by the Wolf Den as a small bar and smoking room, will be converted into a piano bar -- tentatively called the Blue Velvet Lounge. The atmosphere will be complete with a singer and martinis.

"The comedy club will be a more upbeat atmosphere and the piano bar will be more a place to unwind," Walter said.

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