Family working to open Gold Room

Owner Millie Avery, right - with the help of her two daughters, Connie Kern, left, and Joie Kern, plus two other partners in the endeavor - is reopening Joseph's Cowboy Bar on New Years Eve. Photo by Kim Lamb

After being closed for three years, the historic Cowboy Bar and Gold Room Restaurant in Joseph will open for business on New Year's Eve by a family group with extensive experience in the restaurant and tavern business.

The family includes owner and matriarch Millie Avery, who once operated the Mountain View Motel near Joseph; daughters Connie and Joie Kern; nephew Gary Boyd; and Joe Pina, fiance of Joie Kern. They have been repainting, recarpeting, repairing, decorating and otherwise refurbishing the Main St. building for the past couple of months to prepare for the opening.

"I loved it here," said Joie Kern, who attended school in Joseph from about second to sixth grade when her mother and stepfather, John Avery, owned Mountain View Motel. They sold it in 1979 when John became ill and moved away. "We've been saving about 10 years to come back, " said Kern. As proof of their ties to the county John Avery was buried at Prairie Creek Cemetery near Joseph when he died 13 years ago.

The family partners have converged on Joseph from different places with a common goal to bring the Gold Room back to life.

Millie Avery and nephew Gary Boyd, who also lived in Wallowa County during the motel days, moved here from the Prosser, Wash., area, where she formerly owned a restaurant called The Eatery and managed the Prosser Senior Center Meals on Wheels site for the past 17 years.

Boyd's background includes 17 years working as a kitchen manager at Rose's in Portland.

Seventeen years must be a magic number for the family, because that's also how long Connie Kern owned and managed three taverns in Portland (The Lariat, Open Door and Happy Landing). For the past two-and-a-half years she managed a combination business much like the one in Joseph - a restaurant , lounge and hotel - n Sitka, Alaska. They were called The Bilge Bar, Victoria's Restaurant, and the 80-room Sitka Hotel.

Connie, who ran for Miss Oregon back in 1968 according to her sister, will manage the tavern, but will also be recruited for the restaurant. She is known for her "gourmet, fancy" cooking, while her mother is a good home-style cook. Both will see heavy demand on their culinary skill in the very near future. Millie Avery and her younger daughter, Joie, will manage the restaurant together.

"Joe is my protege for dinners," said Connie Kern of Pina, an accomplished woodworker who made new tables for the establishment and, like the others, has been working long days to get the place back in shape.

Joie Kern brings her own talents to the business. In addition to having worked at family restaurants in the past, she is a songwriter who saw one of her songs, "Why They Call it Falling," sung by award-winning country artist Lee Ann Womack, reach #13 on the country music charts last year. Womack is also singing a new Kern song, "Picture Perfect Family." Kern hopes to play with local blue grass musicians here. Her background includes business college in Central Oregon and the University of Nevada.

The family has lots of plans for their new Joseph establishment which was purchased by Avery from "Cactus" Jack Travis, who is now in Mexico. It will be opened from 10 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. seven days a week. The Cowboy Bar, which sports an appropriate cowboy and Western motif, will have live music on the weekends, karaoke (with Caprice Locke) on weekdays, pool and dart tournaments and, eventually, social gaming and video poker.

The Cowboy Bar plans for New Year's Eve include a combination prime rib dinner and dance to the live music of Black Horse, with party favors, hats and all the trimmings. It will open at 3 p.m. on Dec. 24, and the dinner will be served from 7-9 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at the establishment (doors are open while the family works on finishing touches), and seating is limited. There will be a cover charge at the door for the dance-only if the tickets aren't all sold.

The Gold Room restaurant will serve lunch and dinner, with a varied menu planned. It sports a country decor, for example chairs that reflect a black and white cow pattern. In addition to family members, Kevin Moore will also cook. Members of the extended family not mentioned above include Pina's brother and sister-in-law Noel and Sherry, and her brother Merle. Sherry is also a beautician and hopes to open a shop in Wallowa County.

"It's taken a lot of teamwork to do this," said Avery of the effort leading to the reopening.

The rooms of the Chief Joseph Hotel above the bar will become a bed and breakfast this summer. Joie Kern said that only three of the nine apartments are currently rented, and two tenants have given their notice because of the live music planned.

Avery knew Erma Tippett, known to many as Miss Kitty, who ran the Cowboy Bar and Gold Room for many years. "We used to come in here and eat," she said. "It was a lively place. ... We want to carry on Erma's dreams, Cactus' dreams and our own dreams."

Joie said that local people have been stopping by and getting acquainted as the family has been working. "This is exciting." She said one of the reasons they are opening in the winter is because one of their objective is to cater to locals.

"This town is full of nice, nice people," said Connie Kern.

After three years of silence, the Cowboy Bar and Gold Room will welcome in the new year next week.

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