Last Call for Red-Headed Bar Owners in Leadville
In Honor of My Dear Friend Jerry Seme, by Kathy Bedell
When I first moved to Leadville 25 years ago, of all the amazing historical and random facts I learned about The Cloud City, one of the most fascinating was that Leadville had the highest per capita red-headed bar owners in the world!
At that point, Rudy Bogunovich was at the helm of The Scarlet, Dave Cerise owned the Manhattan, Patty McMahon was holding court at the Silver Dollar Saloon, and Jerry “Red” Seme was keeping everyone in line down on Old State Street at the Pastime Saloon, which has been in her husband Roy’s family since 1938. Of course, later, gorgeous red-head Bobbie Adams opened up her bar, which sadly closed in 2008.
Since then, the barstools have slowly cleared, as one by one these ginger-headed saloon-keeps heard that “Last Call,” and glasses were raised in a final farewell. On March 3, 2015 the last of Leadville’s red-headed bar owners, Jerry Seme passed away in Denver surrounded by loved ones.
An Unforgettable Shade of Red
“How’s it looking up town?” “Is it busy in town?” “Have you been up to that new place in town?” – Jerry Seme
It was October 1976 when Jerry first started working at the Pastime Bar & Cafe. While the business had been in her husband Roy’s family for nearly 40 years at that point, Jerry brought her own shade of red to one of the last standing establishments in the former Red Light District of Leadville. Of course, by then, Second Street had become more civilized. But that fiery redhead with the quick tongue and big heart was not to be forgotten, by anyone who walked through the doors at 120 W. 2nd Street.
Always well-dressed, and styled in the latest fashions with conversation-provoking jewelry, watching this petite red-head whip through the bar, taking orders, setting up tables, and bringing another round of cold beer was like watching a tennis match with only one player on the court. She was something!
Jerry was an astute businesswoman, who knew how to show her customers a good time. Whether it was serving up the best burgers, or her famous Bloody Marys for cheering on the Broncos, Red’s spirit was contagious. And folks left with a bigger smile on their faces than they came in, along with stories to tell, about a crazy red-headed bartender in Leadville!
But if Jerry cared about her customers, she held a different type of affection for that 137-year-old antique Chinese bar, that extends the full length of The Pastime Saloon. If anyone ever knew how to take care of a piece of old wood, that had seen more smoke, alcohol, and who knows what else, it was Jerry! That woman knew how to clean and oil that piece of bamboo furniture, and took pride in its appearance in a way that Leadville may never see the rival to again.
No one will ever forget how she loved to decorate that place for the holidays. Always with true Victorian class; can’t you see those Christmas lights with the antique shoes, and little hats boxes with the feathers, reflected in the beveled glass?
Once the weather finally broke, and the patio opened, the only thing that could rival Jerry’s bursting bouquets of flowers scattered across the deck, was the views of Colorado’s two highest peaks.
Last Boom Days, Jerry and Roy Seme were honored as the Grand Marshalls in the parade, and 2nd Street was renamed Historic State Street to commemorate the event. It was an especially meaningful occasion for Red.
Several years ago, Jerry received the news that she had brain cancer, one of the more aggressive forms. As those who knew her, came to hear about the diagnosis, many proclaimed that Jerry was a fighter and if anyone could beat this thing, it’d be her.
And she did, for a while. Jerry and her family and friends were graced with the extra time that some are not, to get affairs in order, to mend old wounds, and share some laughs about the good old days. For those in the bar business, it’s what’s known as “after hours,” that time when the bar is closed, but a select group get to stay behind, in the shadows, for one more round.
So it was a blessing, to have our “after hours” with Miss Jerry. But like any good Leadville Saturday night, the eventual “Last Call” is given. Jerry Seme passed away on March 3, 2015 in Denver, surrounded by her family and the warm glow of memories from the neon lights on old State Street and the Pastime Saloon.
Cheers, to you my friend! Leadville sure is gonna miss you, Red.
Services for Jerry Seme
A Memorial Service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 18, 2015 at Bailey-Kent Funeral Home Chapel, Leadville. For more information or to leave a message for the family, please click on the “Condolences” tab on the Bailey-Kent Funeral Home website.