A wooden sign that read “Red Parka Pub” dangled on the side of a rundown, maroon-colored building in Glen, New Hampshire. Inside, six stools clustered around a small bar, accentuated by mismatched decor. Vinyl shower curtains, hand cut to fit the tables, served as easy-to-wash tablecloths. In the bathrooms — too small even for doors on the stalls — additional shower curtains sufficed.
“They must be out of their minds!” thought Terry O’Brien, the current owner of the Red Parka Pub, when she first saw the new “business” her parents had purchased.
It was 1972 when Dewey and Jean Mark partnered with Lois and Al Nelson to run the Parka. While none of them had any actual restaurant experience, save for the regularly occurring night out for dinner, they all shared a love for the Mount Washington Valley and common goal of wanting to relocate there permanently. After a casual conversation and a handshake with Irvin Grant at Grant’s Supermarket while purchasing a gallon of milk, Dewey had set his family and the valley on a very new trajectory.
The Red Parka Pub, which got its name from the red parkas that ski instructors and patrollers around the world wore at the time, had been a restaurant for four years prior to the purchase. It wasn’t overly successful, and being taken over by out-of-towners didn’t really help its case.
But over time, the new owners — who did everything themselves — gained the respect of the locals, and the restaurant eventually started building momentum. O’Brien, who dropped out of college in Springvale, Maine, to help her parents run the restaurant, was the only one with experience in the industry, and she was able to help with ideas and determining a direction for the new family business. The original menu was limited, with only three different-sized steaks and a few sandwiches.
“It was a very different time back then,” recounts O’Brien. “We all took turns washing dishes, preparing food and doing what had to be done. When we first started, my dad was the cook. But we had to fire him because he wouldn’t cook anything more than medium-rare.”
In the 1970s, the Mount Washington Valley as a whole looked much different than it does today. Skiing was the sole industry in the region, with summer being the slower season. Skiers would flock to the valley from Massachusetts, staying at various ski clubs they had memberships to around the region. Unlike today, there were no chain hotels, bed and breakfast havens or rental condos to choose from, which created more of a community-driven ski scene. The Parka was central to this ski-oriented scene, providing somewhere for skiers to gather and share stories from the slopes, in true aprés-ski fashion.
“The thing that was really big then that’s not as big now was the aprés-ski scene,” recounts George Cleveland, a Mount Washington Valley local who started frequenting the Parka in 1973, just one year after it opened. “Apres ski was just something you never missed. Things were a little looser then. It got fairly wild and crazy from time to time.”
During the Parka’s early days, rules and regulations were much more relaxed than they are now. The atmosphere was rowdier, with crowds gathering at the Parka to imbibe among others who shared a similar passion for skiing.
“The Parka would sometimes be so full that if you passed out, you wouldn’t hit the floor until closing time,” says Cleveland. “I think you can safely say (the Parka played) a major role in the valley’s aprés-ski scene. And if you look at all the other clubs that were around at the time, who’s left? The Red Parka. They were the ski bar.”
Over the years, the valley began to transform into a family-oriented destination, and the Parka kept up. The restaurant began to gain a reputation for being a good steakhouse in the off-seasons with locals, and the menu evolved to meet this new demand. And with the growing popularization of seasonal rental condos and influx of families visiting for vacation along with more stringent regulations, the party atmosphere became more relaxed.
Today, the Parka continues to serve as a quintessential aprés-ski bar in New England and is a popular steakhouse during dinner hours. Old skis, trail signs, posters and newspaper clippings cover the walls, intertwined with license plates from different states. It still maintains the feeling of being an old-fashioned ski bar. Locals and visitors alike head to the Parka for its late-night aprés-ski scene, sampling a flight of beers served on a ski, helping themselves to popcorn from the machine at the back of the bar, and enjoying live music. On Mondays, locals gather for open mic night, discussing plans for where they’ll be skiing during their next day off.
“I’ve been going there for 10 years,” says Cody Floyd, a Conway native. “And I like that, in some ways, it hasn’t changed since. The atmosphere is great. The beer selection is great, and you can hang out or hit the dance floor.”
While the times might have changed in the Mount Washington Valley, the Red Parka moves forward, continuing this long-lived tradition of welcoming skiers from up and down the East Coast.