By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
We stood in front of Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant, Laura and I, like Hansel and Gretel before the gingerbread house, peering through the dusty windows, looking for some sign of life in the dim interior.
What tables we could see were set with wineglasses, white cloths and crimson napkins stiffly folded into the shape of three-point crowns, but there was no one doing any last-minute fussing. The bar in front was empty.
"The sign says they open at five," Laura said. "What time is it now?"
825 Walnut St.
Boulder, CO 80302
Sherpa roll: $3
Momo $6 /: $10
Panir pokara: $3.50
Dall baht: $6.50
Chicken korma: $12
Sherpa stew: $13
I checked my watch. "Ten till. But you'd think there'd be someone moving around in there. Getting ready."
We moved closer, up to what had been a glassed-in porch when this house was just a house. Now a waiting area, the space held a couple of chairs and a wall pasted with yellowing press clippings that showed tiny men clinging like spiders to walls of ice, mountains draped with scarves of fog and the owner of the place -- Pemba Sherpa -- smiling, over and over. But there was still no sign of the flesh-and-blood Sherpa, or any other living human.
We walked back to the car and sat with the engine idling. "If they were really closed, you'd think they'd have a sign or something, wouldn't they?" Laura asked. On the sidewalk, an older man was walking our way. Silver hair, a neatly trimmed white beard, loose vest over a collarless, button-down shirt with a silver medallion on a leather thong hanging around his neck. He looked like a hippie Gandalf after a Queer Eye makeover slowly approaching the Prancing Pony tavern in Bree.
"Let's see what Gandalf does," I said, and we watched him stop in front of Sherpa's, cock his head, look over the menu posted outside, then try the door. Still locked. He toddled away.
"Look," Laura said. "We're already here. Let's give them ten minutes and see what happens."
So we drove around Boulder for fifteen minutes, then returned to Walnut Street -- where Sherpa's was now alive with light. It poured out of the windows, warm like melted butter, splashing onto the cold, empty patio. Along the white picket fence fronting the sidewalk, small lamps burned like fireflies on sticks, and cars had already begun to stack up on the street.
"Well," I said. "Guess it's a good thing we waited."
Inside, the dining rooms were filling up, and while the bar was still empty of people, it was full of books on Tibet and Nepal, on mountaineering and trekking; full of souvenirs like prayer wheels and photographs, tattered canvas gunny bags and crossed snowshoes dark and ratty with long use. Pemba Sherpa -- a native of Nepal who grew up in the shadow of Sagarmatha, of Everest, and made his living as a mountain guide before settling in Colorado -- built the restaurant around his idea for this bar, his "traveler's lounge." It was to be a place for climbers and adventurers to gather and plan, to reminisce, to tell true stories and make up a few others over cold beers and warm butter tea. He wanted it to be "the place to relive the glories of past adventures and plan new ones," which was a beautiful thought. And that sentiment seemed etched into the set of every table and every plank in the bar. It had the adventures, just not the adventurers.
I touched the spines of the thick books on the shelf, looking at posters for Sherpa Ascent International advertising treks to Nepal and Africa and South America that all ended with "For information, contact Pemba Sherpa at Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant." That line gave me visions straight out of my adolescent obsession with high-fantasy lit, dredging up ghosts of men in hooded cloaks occupying torch-lit taverns. I didn't find Tolkein's hobbits and their fuzzy ilk until the early '80s, when they'd fallen somewhat out of vogue. But as any great book will, ol' J.R.R.'s trilogy made me want to go out questing for all those lost places he'd seen in his best dreams. And in truth, I never stopped looking for them.
The bar at Sherpa's rang a lot of those old bells. Absent customers, absent guttering torches and tables spread with secret maps, it still seemed nearly perfect -- like a stage set, only waiting for players to come and tread the boards. The dining rooms -- once the parlors, living and sitting rooms of this old house -- were bright and warm and immaculately well kept, like Grandma's house if Grandma were a world traveler, if she collected ice axes and ascent permits instead of ceramic kitties and World's Best Grandma coffee mugs, if her cupboards were full of cumin, papadum and chickpea flour instead of Hydrox cookies and mint tea.
Laura and I were seated in one of the side rooms, at a table with windows on three sides. The view wasn't much -- we looked out over the empty patio at dry streamers of climbing vine and a cast-off piece of kitchen machinery -- but we could also see the slow, steady parade of customers coming from either direction, converging on Sherpa's front door.