Bar gig old hat for buffalo head

By Terri Moore

Special to the Arizona Daily Wildcat

Bill Greer said he didn't want to be associated with dead animal heads and Tucson bars, so he was reluctant to tell the story.

But the University of Arizona journalism professor emphasized he didn't shoot the buffalo whose head is displayed at the Buffet Bar and Crock Pot, 538 N. Ninth St. he inherited it from his grandfather.

"My grandfather traded someone something a long time ago for it," he said of his 30-year relationship with the beast.

The huge, 100-year-old head is anchored to a beam separating the Buffet's pool room and the U-shaped bar. Its fur matted and smoky, the buffalo often dons large white sunglasses and a Buffet Bar cap with two brims.

"I never really think about the buffalo, it's just kind of there," said bartender Lon Gallagher, a 23-year-old political science graduate student. The buffalo is used for advertising on T-shirts, coasters and in the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

"Students like the Buffet Bar because there is a cross section of patrons in here and not all (of them are) students," Gallagher said. He estimated that on any night after 10 p.m., students in the bar make up 75 to 90 percent of his customers.

"We just call the buffalo head 'Buffalo,' I guess," he said, shrugging his shoulders. The bar is called Buffet Bar and Crock Pot, Gallagher said, because they serve hot dogs cooked in a crock pot on a counter behind the bar.

"You have so-and-so's bar and restaurant, and so-and-so's bar and grill, and when one of my employees suggested Buffet Bar and Crock Pot, I liked the idea, paid him a royalty of one bar T-shirt and used the name," bar owner Ted Bair said.

After hanging in Greer's house while he was in college at UA, the buffalo head was loaned to Bair for display in a previous bar he owned, the Manhattan Club. Greer said he no longer wanted the animal head in his house. The two became friends while Greer worked for the Associated Press as a reporter out of the Tucson Newspapers Inc. office downtown, near the club.

The buffalo wore various crazy things while at the Manhattan Club, including a brassiere over its eyes and the shoulder straps around its horns, said Greer's wife, Norma, a journalism student.

"My customers are very protective of the buffalo; they thought the bra was degrading, so we removed it," Bair said, nodding to the sunglass-wearing animal. "Customers like the buffalo kept natural," he said.

When asked if he ever turned down any offers to buy the buffalo, he said, "The Buffalo is not for sale. It belongs to a friend of mine."

When Bair sold the Manhattan Club, the buffalo was not included in the sale and was returned to him, Greer said. Mrs. Greer's uncle wanted the head for a new cabin he built in Pinedale, Wyo., so Bill Greer got a friend of his from the AP, who was headed for an assignment in Wyoming, to take the buffalo with him for Mrs. Greer's uncle.

One of the airlines was running a special that allowed passengers to take excess baggage for only $7, Mrs. Greer said.

"So I custom-crated the buffalo, but it still looked hideous you could see fur sticking out of the crate," she said. When the baggage clerk questioned her about the contents of the package, Mrs. Greer said she told the clerk, "It's OK. It's dead and it's been dead for a long time."

As it turned out, the uncle's cabin was evolving into a refined home and eventually decided the bison head was too big for the house, and wanted to return it, Mrs. Greer said.

The scruffy head's return trip to Tucson required it be insured, she said.

"We were surprised to find the buffalo's appraised value to be $1,500," she said.

Upon its return to Tucson, via air freight, the high-flying head was stored in the Greers' garage.

When Bair bought the Buffet Bar in 1982, he told the Greers he couldn't run a bar without the buffalo it brought him good luck.

"Besides, would you want that thing hanging in your home?" he said.

Since opening the bar, Bair and the buffalo have hosted many university students.

"I'm impressed with the way they look after one another. They'll call a friend at midnight or on a Saturday afternoon, whenever, and say they've had too much to drink. And in 10 or 15 minutes a friend walks in the door to give the other a ride home," Bair said.

"As early as six o'clock, the morning of a UA game, there will be someone at the door checking identification and the bar will be packed with students," said Donna J. Serrell, 41, a neighbor and patron. "Everybody knows each other and we all get along fine."

Serrell, who worked for Bair last year cleaning the bar, said she came in one morning to find the buffalo and numerous things all removed from the walls, which had been painted.

"I couldn't remember where all the crap belonged and just hung it anywhere, except for the buffalo which was too heavy," she said. "I left that on the floor."

The buffalo head was dry-cleaned once in the mid-80s, Bair said, by a friend of his who owned Oliver Cleaners. "There was an article in the Citizen," Bair said, "The headline was something like 'Oliver Cleaner's Dry-Cleans More Than Clothing.'"

Those interested in going to the Buffet Bar are advised there is a dress code. Bair said he doesn't allow backpacks, sleeveless shirts or tank tops. Some of his customers reportedly have gone to the nearby Value Village Thrift Shop and bought a shirt for 25 cents just to get in the door.

"No shoes, no shirt, no service?" he was asked.

"I don't pay any attention to shoes," he said.

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