If you’re lucky enough to have family living in Telluride, that gem of a mountain town in Colorado, go there. Go when the aspens turn to gold outside your window and the trails are full of hikers from all over, marveling at the peaks of the Rockies reaching into brilliant blue skies.
Go when airlines are making people mask up. Go when frequent flyer miles stretch all the way across the country, letting you climb out of your cramped airline seats and into the arms of your loved ones.
Go anywhere in town and you’ll see the dogs of Telluride, a happy pack of canines named Carl or Frank or Booker, human sounding names, and that’s the way they’re treated, too, like members of the Telluride family.
They gather under outdoor tables to sneak dropped bits of bread or French fries, tangling their leashes around the dining chairs. Some are unleashed, but they know they’ll still be Good Boys since they’re welcome anywhere.
One place they like is at the foot of Gondola lift No. 8 that takes visitors up to Mountain Village. The dogs race around and then circle back to sniff bits of barbeque, and other southern fare cooked in the kitchen of Brewton, Alabama, native Robbie O’Dell. His restaurant and bar, Oak, is a fixture with natives and visitors alike.
Alabama’s still home, though he’s been in Telluride for 30 years. HIs wife says he picks up his drawl as soon as he goes back to Brewton to visit. His passions are family— he has a wife and two children, ages 15 and 11 — food, and Alabama football. HIs customers have become Tide fans, too, even if they’ve never been south of Minnesota. They sit at the bar during game time and cheer like Nick Saban’s their first cousin.
Back when Robbie O’Dell was a young man in Brewton, he painted box cars each summer until he figured out he could make more money working in the food business along the Gulf Coast. Starting in the Destin area, he eventually moved to Bud and Alley’s, that signature upscale restaurant at Seaside, Florida. He then moved to New York City and worked in high-end restaurants like The Four Seasons. When a friend invited him to start a restaurant in Colorado, he and his business partners bought Fat Alley, so named because it sat in-between two smaller streets. Oak is in a different building now, but locals still call it “the new Fat Alley.”
Always aware of his Southern roots, his menu includes barbecue, creamy cole slaw, and that Southern staple, fried okra. Though the sign hanging outside the restaurant reads “Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ,” Oak offers other alcoholic drinks, too, like the Mitch Morgan. It was invented in 1999 by a local man who wanted an unusual shot choice. This one involves bacon and bourbon in a greased glass. Though it’s popular, it’s not for everyone, O’Dell says.
O’Dell’s customers are an eclectic group. They come from New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and European countries as well. He likes talking to people, making them feel welcome. “Most of our customers are on vacation,” he says, “so they’re relaxed and happy.”
As for the regulars who live in this resort town, O’Dell knows what they want when they walk in the door. COVID rules haven’t changed much. People who want to hang out and watch a game with friends still do that. O’Dell will be wearing his mask and his Alabama hat, ready to serve people whatever they want. Oak is still the kind of place where everybody knows your name.