Local watering hole gives back
In northern Pocahontas County, there aren’t many options when it comes to nightlife. Luckily, for upper-enders, there’s a new watering hole back in an old location.
Formerly The Upper Inn, the bar is still right on Main Street in Durbin, but it’s under the supervision of new owners, Laura Dent and Fred Palmer. The brother-sister team moved here from Florida four years ago and both worked for the former tavern owner, Lewis Cumberledge. After Cumberledge passed away earlier in the year, Dent and Palmer bought the business and re-opened the bar under the name Al’s Upper Inn Club, after their father.
Dent described the atmosphere as happy and laid back. She said they’ve been really busy getting everything in order since they opened, but they’ve got big plans for the future.
“We wanted to get all the kinks worked out before we brought in any music,” said Dent. “Karaoke last night [Thursday] was our first try. It went pretty good, we didn’t have a real big crowd but it was pretty full.”
Dent said they get busy on weekends — they’ve even run out of chairs in the past. She said about 75 percent of her customers are local, but they also get a lot of fishermen, hunters and folks from the train station at Cass coming through.
Al’s Upper Inn features six different draft beers, bottled beer, a wine list and a full-liquor bar. It’s also one of the only places in the upper end of the county where you can shoot a game of pool.
Dent said their menu is pretty typical fare — fried and grilled food, but she’s especially proud of their chef salad, and they’re becoming known for their burgers.
“We buy local meat and we patty it ourselves,” explained Dent. “We freeze them, but only for a day or two because we go through them so fast. They cook better if they’re frozen when they hit the grill, though. Then we also make our own fresh-cut French fries to go with it.”
It’s nice to know that a fully-dressed cheeseburger is only going to run you $4 at Al’s Upper Inn.
Dent and Palmer are fairly settled into their new business venture since opening in late August, but they hadn’t been open long when they came up with an idea to both celebrate Thanksgiving and give back to the community.
“We decided to do a fundraiser and give the money we raised to the library,” said Dent. “We realized there weren’t any local restaurants that were going to be open for Thanksgiving and, being a bar, we didn’t know if anyone would show up if we did a buffet, but it seemed like a good idea.”
Dent said more people showed up than she expected, and if Al’s Upper Inn hadn’t cooked, some people would’ve gone without a Thanksgiving dinner.
“A girl we used to work with, she had a friend come in from Colorado,” said Dent. “Her stove broke. So she just brought her family and friends over here. They watched TV, played pool, and had dinner.”
Dent said she didn’t keep a head count, but attendance was good and there was a steady flow of people throughout the day. Dent said the spread included turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, dressing, gravy and rolls. All the food was free, the only thing Al’s Upper Inn charged for that day was drinks. They only asked for donations for the library, and, in the end, they raised more than $500.
“I had one guy come in and he said ‘this is one heck of a dinner,’” Palmer said. “He said ‘where’s your donation jar? This is worth twenty dollars to me’ and he just handed me the money. And he was just passing through.”
Palmer said they went through five turkeys, but admitted they over-prepared. He said they wanted to have too much rather than not enough. Even with leftovers, it all worked out.
“The next day we had someone come in, he had some friends visiting or something like that. He’d heard about what we were doing. I made up three big dinners — just loaded — for him to take back out to his camp. We had the leftovers, so you know,” shrugged Palmer.
While preparing for the donation-based buffet, Dent said she hit a snag. She had no idea where to get buffet tables. Where would the solution be found but the Durbin Library — the very same folks Dent and Palmer were raising money for in the first place.
“We were happy to be able to help,” said Dent. “We were told they were going to use the money to expand the lighting fund.”
Al’s Upper Inn is open as long as customers are struttin’ in. Their hours are from noon to “whenever” Monday through Saturday, and they open at 1 p.m. on Sundays.
Angelo Jiordano may be contacted at amjiordano@ pocahontastimes.com