written by: Andrea Peterson
Some say the only thing better than skiing is apres skiing and Old Town Cellars (oTc) co-owners, Stephen MacKay and Jason Morgan, couldn’t agree more. You’ll find their cozy, unpretentious wine spot nestled at the base of Main Street Park City.
Jason and Stephen wanted a fun approach to the wine bar and to bring back the laid-back mountain town they remember. “PC used to be funky and fun—with hippies and cowboys running the town,” says Jason. “We wanted to infuse life back into the town.” And you can see it in oTc. Bottles are displayed on shelves made of skis and, depending on the season, you’ll find mountain bikes, skateboards, snowboards, skis and even dogs on the wine-tasting patio. A wall displays chalk art, and servers in hoodies and Converse chat up customers scattered among lounge couches. And not a single bartender with a towel or cork screw in sight. It was an crucial choice made by Jason and Stephen. “Wine has presentation issues. We want to get rid of that,” says Stephen. “We wanted screw caps and funky labels. But ultimately, it’s not about the cork or the bottle, it’s about what the wine taste like that is important.”
The duo’s history goes all the way back to summer Saturdays on the peewee field. Then the next 15 years took them down different trails. Stephen flew off to New Zealand to study wine and become a sommelier and Jason settled in Squaw Valley for work and snow. But as “mountain people,” it only took a huge snow dump in Squaw Valley in 2014 to bring them back together. After a long night over several bottles of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, a business plan was born.
They wanted to push back against the long tradition of snobby, uptight wine bars. “We want to break the stereotype,” says Jason. “Most people think skier/snowboarder mountain people finish a day by cracking a PBR and chowing down on chicken wings.” (Not that Stephen and Jason haven’t enjoyed their fair share of greasy cheap apres ski bites.) “But if you go skiing over in France you’ll end the day with wine and a charcuterie board. Wine is very much a part of the ski scene.”
Though they encourage their customers to kick back and relax at oTc, Jason and Stephen are all hands on deck. You’ll find them selling the wines at the front, bartending and tending wine. “We’re not the type of people doing one thing, we wanna be good at everything,” Stephen.
Just because the location is casual, their attention to detail and quality is not. If interested, Stephen will happily sit down and discuss the nodes of the bone-dry white wines, but true to his laid back M.O., he’ll describe it as having “every smell of a grocery store.” And Jason may romanticize on the versatility of grapes and how wine is the language of the world, but in the end he’s really just amazed how “cool” wine is.
It’s hard to get the guys to pick their go-to wine. They’ll give you the stock answer: “Whatever wine is in front of me.” But eventually, Stephen admits champagne is his favorite. “When you drink, you should be celebrating something,” and Jason quickly chimes in, “Wine and alcohol are a celebratory thing, making food or any situation better.”
And they want to give back. “We love this town and we love this state,” says Jason. They choose a local and national non-profit every month to support with their time, space or service. And all their purveyors, outside of the wine of course, are local: Gold Creek Farms, Beltex Meats, Ritual Chocolates. Beer and 90 percent of their spirits are local, something Stephen says will improve.
“Wine bars come and go,” says Jason. “And especially here in Park City, we have to just go season by season,” says Stephen. “But we’re OK with slow and steady growth.” Old town Cellars sources fine wines from top wine growing regions to blend and bottle on site. They have no desire to invest in adding on a full restaurant, in fact, you can bring in outside food and there is a feeling of community pot-lucking. (As this interview was being wrapped, a crew of ladies from Fort Worth, Texas, invited me to dine and drink with them.)
Old Town Cellars is open 3-10 p.m. during the week and 3-11 p.m. Friday and Saturdays.
Fall hours are 5-10pm Monday through Saturday. Closed Sundays. Toward the Holiday we will switch to 12-10pm Retail Monday -Sat, 3-10pm bar Monday- Thursday, 3-11Pm Fri/Sat and Sundays will have bar service only from 3-10pm.