Pink Pony is back with much of the same ambiance

Mar 23 2011 - 4:30pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It used to be the spring training hot spot. Then, it was gone.

Back in the day, the Pink Pony attracted the likes of Dizzy Dean, Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin -- Ted Williams and Willie Mays, too. Baseball executives, scouts and scores of fans would flock to the Pony for food and refreshment after a long day at the diamond.

This spring, the Pink Pony is open again -- and not so different from before under new management.

Mickey Morabito recently returned to the Pony hoping its new owners had maintained the ambiance that has made this place such a special stop for regulars at spring training year after year.

The Oakland Athletics' traveling secretary gave it a big thumbs-up. So did longtime A's equipment manager Steve Vucinich.

Nearly as big a deal as San Francisco closer Brian Wilson's bushy black beard and as talked about as Arizona and Colorado's snazzy new training complex at Salt River Fields, the new Pink Pony is creating its own buzz this spring -- in Arizona, anyway.

The restaurant has a decades-old following, frequented by the regulars who are mostly baseball folk. It's a Cactus League classic, a landmark in Old Town Scottsdale that is particularly popular in the month of March when a baseball-crazed clientele comes to town.

The Pony's doors reopened again Feb. 13 under new ownership after being closed for 1 1/2 years. The decor, with all the old pictures, those black booth seats and the familiar Pink Pony sign outside, is nearly the same. The steakhouse menu still features many of the old classic comfort foods like chicken pot pie and meatloaf, and the cuts of steak the Pony is so famous for -- along with the staple sides of starches and salad, like the loaded baked potato.

One intriguing new addition: a grilled asparagus and fresh hearts of palm salad.

"People driving down the street do a double take, 'Oh, it's open again,"' said bartender Jason Bonner, part of the latest Pony regime. "I poked my head in and had a cocktail now and then. This is new to me as well."

Danny Little and Tim Smith are the new owners running the show.

"They did a nice job on it," said Morabito, in his 31st year with the A's. "They kept the bats and the caricatures. The food was good. The key thing was they kept the charm and the feel of the place. A lot of the Pony was the people, the bartenders."

Bob Murch stopped by the Pony bar for a couple of beers and fried calamari on a recent Tuesday for his first return visit since the reopening. The 64-year-old Murch, who works for a general contractor and lives in nearby Paradise Valley, has been a Pony regular for about 30 years. He wasn't sure the Pony would ever be back.

"I think it's worth bringing my wife back here," said Murch, who grew up a baseball fan in St. Louis.

Aside from some of the large collection of memorabilia that was auctioned off by the former owner, Gwen Briley, there haven't been significant changes. Much of the baseball stuff is still there -- bats on the walls, photos, a black San Francisco Giants flag.

Briley's late husband, Charlie, had opened the Pony and it became a hot spot for everyone from the baseball brass, coaches, players and fans on their way to games or heading home from the ballpark.

It was Scottsdale's oldest restaurant before it closed in August 2009 after a 60-year run.

"You name it, they've been here," Murch said of the Pony's loyal fans, including a large contingent of Chicago Cubs. "I just wanted to check this out. There's absolutely no doubt when you walk in here it's the Pink Pony. There was not one square inch of this place not decorated with something that had to do with baseball. That's the tough part to replace."

Robert and Patty Camacho live about a mile away and had ridden their bikes by the Pony, noticing it was set to reopen. They stopped by for drinks shortly afterward.

"Anything to keep Old Town Scottsdale vibrant," Patty Camacho said. "It couldn't happen soon enough. The Giants winning the World Series is like a steroid in the arm here."

Vucinich, for one, was back at the Pony for cocktails the first day it reopened.

"Even though now it's not family owned but it's corporation owned, they've done a nice job," he said.


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