Climb Up a Wall Before You Down a Beer
Colorado Springs climbing gym opens pub with taps and cans
By Steve Graham
Steve Hitchcock loves drinking down beer and climbing up mountains, so he helped open a pub that combines both passions. Since January 2015, the CityRock climbing gym in downtown Colorado Springs has also been home to the Ute and Yeti, a pub with 16 taps, 40 canned beers, pizza, sandwiches and a coffee bar. Both businesses occupy the former Ute movie theater in downtown Colorado Springs, inspiring the first half of the bar’s name. The Yeti part honors the mascot animal for UpaDowna, a Springs non-profit that hosts 160 free outdoor adventure events and activities per year. All events are open to everyone, regardless of ability, age or income.
“We remove all barriers to outdoor adventure,” said Hitchcock, executive director of UpaDowna, which is named for his outdoor mantra, “Up a mountain, Down a beer.” Hitchcock has taught free introductory climbing lessons at CityRock nearly every month for four years, but struggled to cover his costs. One day, CityRock owner Joe Grosjean was brainstorming with him about ways to raise more money for his group. They decided to open a pub and dedicate a percentage of profits to UpaDowna.
“A for-profit business has found a way to benefit the non-profit sector and provide a community resource,” Hitchcock said.
He said the Ute and Yeti’s main clientele in the first months were climbers who wanted a cold beer and a sandwich after spending time on the wall. “Since we have been around for some months, the client base is now very varied,” he said. “People just swing by and walk in.” In addition to small tables and a poured concrete bar, the Ute and Yeti has several large community tables. General Manager Heather Robinson said about 80 percent of Ute and Yeti customers are climbers, but some come in for bar trivia and other attractions.
There are regular business meetings and study sessions during the day, and climbing spectators enjoying beers in the evening. Of course, both the gym owners and city officials were concerned about drunk patrons getting up on the climbing wall, but Hitchcock said there have been no incidents. Patrons at the Ute and Yeti must check in with trained and experienced staff before they can climb. “We are hyper-alert to that,” Hitchcock said. “Most establishments that don’t have alcohol on the premises don’t think to look if people have been drinking.” The cash registers are also being linked between the businesses to alert clerks at CityRock to patrons who were drinking at the bar.
Hitchcock convinced the Ute and Yeti owners to adopt a cans-only policy to encourage brewers to do more canning, and help eliminate the stigma sometimes associated with canned beer. “We are teaching people that canned beer can be good,” Hitchcock said.
He has enjoyed watching the expansion of canned offerings from Upslope Brewing, Oskar Blues and other Colorado breweries, as they offer more options for rafting, backpacking and other outdoor activities where bottles are not
He listed other advantages to canned beers, including the sustainability of recycled aluminum and the reduced light infiltration that can spoil the beer.
He said the can selection is continually rotating and evolving.
“We kind of look at flavor profiles and look for unique offerings,” Hitchcock said. “We try to get some of the sours and intricate beers that really show the value and the quality of what’s out there.”
GM Robinson has a strict quality control policy for the beers.
“I have tried any and every beer before I bring it on,” she said. “I have specific styles for the taps, but the brand and actual beer change all the time. I like the more obscure beers that you don’t see in the
The Ute and Yeti also has a fireplace, free Wi-Fi and a “library of adventure” books and maps, so you can sip a stout on a winter evening and plan a spring excursion.
The owners are also working on a new patio area. Hitchcock and Robinson said to expect live music and other new features.
“The beautiful thing about working with CityRock is there are a lot of creative minds there,” Hitchcock said. “We will continue to offer things that very few other places can offer.”
Steve Graham is a Fort Collins writer who enjoys the outdoors and great beer.