Originally Published: October 11, 2010 9:58 p.m.
Editor's note. Patti Bell and Tim Gray are set to reopen Prescott's Pine Cone Inn. Five former customers and entertainers who frequented the Pine Cone Inn during its heyday, reminisce about what the Pine Cone Inn meant to them.
Martha Duck-Shipley, 76, started frequenting the Pine Cone Inn when she was 18 years old.
"My sisters were WWII war-time brides, and I started going with them - I was probably on a date," she said. "I knew about it and everyone was familiar with everyone."
One night around the fall of 1955, Duck-Shipley's dinner took an unexpected turn.
"I was there the night it caught fire," she said. "We were all there having dinner and all of a sudden we could see smoke coming out of the kitchen. This one guy kept ordering drinks and throwing them at the smoke on the ceiling.
"People just picked up their tables and went outside. No one was alarmed. They kept dancing and drinking outside. I thought it was funny and kept laughing at people's reactions because it didn't seem to bother them at all."
Duck-Shipley said that most customers dressed up, and she particularly remembers Romauldo Granillo as a sharp dresser and good dancer who liked to tango.
"They had these little draped booths on the southwest end, and you could pull the curtains closed if you wanted privacy," she said.
Saturday nights seem to have been one of the more popular nights of the week.
"Of course there was romance going on, it was Saturday night," she said. "Things were a lot different back then. It really was a fun place.
"I'm hoping they (Bell and Gray) make a go of it. Everyone should go out and try it at least once."
Romauldo Granillo, 84, the talented tango dancer, met his future wife at the Pine Cone Inn.
"I started going to the Pine Cone Inn when I was 18 or 19," he said. "My wife (Tomasita, who has since passed away) and I had our first date there. Prescott was more of a village back then, and the Pine Cone Inn was kind of a roadhouse with classy features and well-to-do citizens coming there."
Granillo, born and raised in Jerome, was a well-known and successful furniture maker, and many of his customers were the "well-to-do" townspeople of Prescott.
"It was our entertainment back then," he said. "We celebrated New Year's Eve there many, many years." He also celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary there.
"It was a very beautiful place to have dinner and dance to good music," Granillo said. "There weren't any brawls or fights. It wasn't a saloon."
Blais Wight, 82, started performing as a cowboy troubadour in 1966, and later became the inn's star bass player from 1971 to 1989.
"It was an older crowd, but they were lively," he said. "We'd play the main floor until about 10 p.m., and then move to the other room and play to the bar crowd."
Wight said that his audiences were always well-dressed.
"Oh, man, everyone was dressed up in the early days," Wight said. "I remember Miss Branch (daughter of former owners Jack and Laura Branch) would ask the cowboys to check their hats at the door.
"And for New Year's Eve and Christmas, the place was lit like a circus. People would come from the Valley to see it."
A chance happening in 1971 brought two of the Pine Cone Inn's longest playing musicians together.
"Jack (Branch) fired the drummer and asked me to play stand-up bass," Wight remembers. "He said he needed a new piano player, and I told him I knew just who to get."
Wight called Willy Rubottom, a piano player he knew.
"Willy was in Apache Junction playing piano bars," Wight said. "He and I hit it off right from the start. I learned quite a bit from Willy."
Wight retired from performing in 2007, after a lifetime of music and meeting such luminaries as actors Jane Russell, Ida Lupino and Robert Preston.
"Doug Keller was the last pianist before they closed," Wight said. "He is the cream of the crop." Keller will resume playing at the Pine Cone Inn after it reopens this Wednesday.
"Oh, it was a wonderful place," Wight said. "It was my home away from home."
Willy Rubottom, 85, played piano at the inn from 1971 to 1989.
"Many professional people were regulars," Rubottom said. "It had a kind of country club atmosphere. People danced back then."
Jack Branch apparently stayed out of the musicians' business, according to Rubottom, and gave them free reign as long as they brought in customers.
"At the Pine Cone Inn, we were the bosses," he said. "We ran our own music, and Jack left it up to us."
It wasn't just music that caused so many people to make the inn part of their weekly ritual - it was the good food and affordable prices.
"They had real good cooks and a simple fare," Rubottom remembers. "It was a kind of country-ranch style food. It made the place prosper."
Rubottom, like many Prescott residents, remembers the Christmas decorations.
"It was quite a light show. They made a point to hire professional decorators from Phoenix," he said. "They'd keep the lights up for at least three months and people would come up just to see the decorations."
Rubottom said that in the 1980s, Prescott started changing.
"Prescott was turning into a retirement town, then younger people started coming, and more and more restaurants started opening downtown," he said. In 1989, he "decided to hang it up."
"We had terrific snows back then, and I'd have a hard time getting to work sometimes," Rubottom said. "But it was a home, a musical home for me."
Peggy Rubel, 82, moved to Prescott in 1958.
"As a young person, we'd get dressed up to go to dinner," she said. "They would have plates of carrots and celery, always something special. It was a big deal to go there."
Rubel fondly remembers the food, but that the "music is the largest piece of its history."
"The music was special with Blais and Willy," she said.
"We'd have birthday parties, Christmas parties and New Year's Eve parties," Rubel said. "I remember bunny hopping through the dining room on New Year's Eve. One year we put on white sheets and went as the 'sheet family' - bull sheet, chicken sheet and horse sheet."
She also remembers waitresses dressed in short black skirts, black nylon stockings with seams down the back, and low cut blouses.
"Oh, the memories. I get very emotional talking about it," Rubel said. "It was a pretty big part of my life."
Rubel is looking forward to the Pine Cone Inn reopening.
"I'm so excited, I can't wait," she said. "I think reopening it is a wonderful idea."