Bull­fight over a ‘party hat’

Neigh­bors en­raged over bar’s cop­per statue with con­i­cal ap­pendage

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Here’s the story with the big cop­per pe­nis, and ev­ery word of it is true. Steve Ward was trav­el­ing from south­ern Utah to Las Ve­gas, as he of­ten does — a lit­tle busi­ness, a lit­tle plea­sure. Gleam­ing from the high­way stood a gi­ant cop­per statue of a bull.

Ward has a thing for mis­fits. Here in Hur­ri­cane, pro­nounced, im­prob­a­bly, “hur-kun,” he is ar­guably the most prom­i­nent one. Barista’s, his bar and restau­rant, hosts a car­ni­val of odd­i­ties: wrought-iron signs af­fixed with pinup girls; a wall cov­ered in drunken marker scrawl; a tiny two-seat ta­ble dressed in an an­cient table­cloth and half-melted can­dles, perched 6 feet off the ground on a riser where Ward some­times holds court.

Barista’s is also, in a county 70% Mor­mon, the only place you’ll find an ad show­cas­ing un­der-clad women grin­ning from the side of the build­ing in the ap­prox­i­mate di­rec­tion of the lo­cal high school, which is across the street.

Ward went home and told his wife, Pam, about what he saw in Ve­gas. The bull came back to him, crept into his thoughts when he imag­ined the next ad­di­tion to his restau­rant’s strange col­lec­tion.

One day he left again, 100 miles south­west. And $130,000 later, he re­turned with the bull, which has no name. Af­ter sev­eral decades of mar­riage to a man like Ward, his wife is hard to shock. “No,” she said, “I wasn’t sur­prised.” Ward had a crane place it atop the sign of his restau­rant. The town of Hur­ri­cane was aghast.

“Be­cause of the pe­nis,” Pam Ward said.

It was hard to miss. Against the un­spoiled south­ern Utah vista of bright blue sky and strik­ing red sand­stone cliffs, the con­i­cal cop­per ap­pendage re­sem­bled noth­ing so much as a var­sity cheer­leader’s mega­phone.

“Party-hat-shaped,” de­clared the In­de­pen­dent news­pa­per in south­ern Utah.

Its re­sem­blances, and merit, are in the eye of the be­holder. And many who be­held it thought they had bet­ter call the mayor.

“We don’t like the rep­u­ta­tion he gives to the city,” said City Manager Clark Fawcett. “The male or­gan on the bull was con­sid­er­ably big­ger than his plan had showed. It wasn’t ap­pro­pri­ate for this type of com­mu­nity.”

So be­gan a long, ugly fight on mes­sage boards, the ed­i­to­rial pages and some­times the side­walk, where a shirt­less man in a beat-up Mercedes was cap­tured on an em­ployee’s cam­era phone curs­ing the restau­rant be­fore punch­ing the em­ployee and smash­ing the phone.

What be­gan as a com­plaint about dec­o­ra­tion ex­posed a far wider sim­mer­ing re­sent­ment against Ward and ev­ery­thing he touched.

Com­men­ta­tors to on­line sto­ries and pe­ti­tion­ers against his busi­ness li­cense railed against the restau­rant, its food, its cost, its staff, Ward’s fam­ily, his pres­ence in town and just about ev­ery­thing about him.

“This estab­lish­ment takes ad­van­tage of un­sus­pect­ing peo­ple who are un­aware of the price goug­ing and should be stopped,” said Ross Ran­som of Ivins, Utah, on a pe­ti­tion seek­ing to re­voke Barista’s busi­ness li­cense. “The owner is rude, con­de­scend­ing, arro- gant, and way too full of him­self. Not a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the peo­ple of south­ern Utah.”

Pam Ward mar­ried a brawler. His at­tor­ney, be­fore the City Coun­cil, called him a “pas­sion­ate, even ex­treme in­di­vid­ual.”

So it should have sur­prised no one when Steve Ward came out swing­ing, call­ing his op­po­nents “bur­rito-eat­ing punks” and flex­ing his 52-year-old biceps while in­ter­viewed in the lo­cal news­pa­per’s on­line tele­vi­sion stu­dio. Such con­duct didn’t help him be­fore the City Coun­cil, which de­nied Barista’s a hard-liquor li­cense in March.

Fierce re­sis­tance gave way to quiet sur­ren­der. In late March, a welder went up on the roof. He worked on the bull and came down with what looked like a party hat. Ward set it on the bar. For a while, that was that. South­ern Utah towns like Hur­ri­cane (pop­u­la­tion about 14,000) find them­selves in a job and pop­u­la­tion boom that’s de­mand­ing more of for­merly sleepy burghs — more ho­tels, more lodg­ing, calls for a bet­ter city web­site.

St. Ge­orge, the clos­est city to Hur­ri­cane, ranked fifth on the list of fastest­grow­ing ar­eas in a March re­port by the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau.

Those new hires are creep­ing far­ther out to towns like Hur­ri­cane, long a way sta­tion for hik­ers headed for Mt. Zion Na­tional Park, which it­self is be­com­ing a big­ger draw for wealthy adventure-sport tourists.

New peo­ple bring change. They keep restau­rants like Barista’s open. And some long­time res­i­dents here are wor­ried.

“The area is chang­ing, and the [city] coun­cil is hav­ing to come to grips with that at some point,” said Fawcett, him­self a mem­ber of the Mor­mon Church who nev­er­the­less takes his wife to the Olive Gar­den in St. Ge­orge, where they see peo­ple drink.

But as things turned out, the bull fra­cas did not end qui­etly af­ter all.

Af­ter a month of rel­a­tive si­lence, the mayor went on tele­vi­sion to cel­e­brate Ward’s ca­pit­u­la­tion. Ward no­ticed. And back up went the welder. And back on went the party hat.

With the battle lines firmly drawn, Pam Ward is con­fi­dent she and her hus­band will pre­vail, though the bar was again de­nied a hard-liquor li­cense in May — no one else in town has a li­cense ex­cept the pri­vate Ea­gles Club. In the mean­time, Barista’s can serve only beer and wine.

The Wards chose this town be­cause Steve Ward’s par­ents once ran a ho­tel here. Pam and Steve Ward, who have op­er­ated Barista’s for 10 years, raised their chil­dren here. They con­trib­ute to the lo­cal econ­omy and serve a role no one else in town will play, she said.

They abide by Utah’s al­co­hol rules, in­clud­ing the use of what Utahns call a “Zion cur­tain,” a bar­rier to block pa­trons’ view of the mix­ing of al­co­hol or open­ing of beer bot­tles. (The Wards use a walk-in freezer to stay out of sight.) They have as much claim to the town of Hur­ri­cane, she said, as those who want them gone.

“We will be here” — and here she banged the ta­ble — “un­til” — bang! — “the day” — bang! — “we die.”

Alexa V. Mor­gan St. Ge­orge Spec­trum

THE FUROR over the cop­per bull statue out­side Steve Ward’s bar and restau­rant has re­sulted in the loss of his hard-liquor li­cense.

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