The former owner of a popular Scottsdale steakhouse once known as “The Best Baseball Bar in America” is ready to let go of many items that once covered its walls and paid homage to legends of the national pastime who frequented the spot.
Gwen Briley, who with her late husband Charlie Briley owned the Pink Pony Steakhouse and Saloon in Old Town Scottsdale for 60 years, has sold the business, liquidating its contents. The first of two auctions for the Pink Pony memorabilia will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Arizona Antique Centre, 2012 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, and will be called by Catherine Baron, and appraiser who has appeared on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow.”
The second part of the auction will begin at 11 a.m. on Sept. 4, also at the Antique Centre. People can begin viewing the items in the auction at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Antique Centre.
Among the items featured in the auction: watercolor caricatures of the players, baseball personalities and Scottsdale’s early residents who were regulars inside “The Pony,” rendered by Walt Disney artist Don Barclay. There’s also vintage and autographed photographs, a Chicago Cubs jacket that broadcaster Harry Caray gave to Charlie and Gwen Briley, a San Francisco Giants jacket given to the Brileys by former Giants owner Horace Stoneham, a game-worn Randy Johnson Arizona Diamondbacks jersey, the wooden wine barrels once inside the bar and a copper moonshine still Charlie Briley brought from Scottsville, Ky., where he was born.
Breaking up what once was one of the most intriguing collections of baseball memorabilia in one establishment that also chronicles part of spring training history in Arizona, is hard to digest for Briley.
“Well, it hurts, but at my age, I have to let it go,” said Briley, who closed the restaurant in August 2009. “My kids and grandkids aren’t baseball fans like their grandfather. I kept the restaurant going as long as I could, but the economy finally got me.”
Gwen Briley, who married local entertainer Steve York in 2006, said she also tried to locate many of the family members of people who were immortalized in caricatures and have given them back. She also has returned the jersey of Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins, which he wore when he notched his 3,000th strikeout for the Chicago Cubs in 1982. It once hung on the wall above the booth where Jenkins ate steak or ribs about twice a month.
Some of the other items, including vintage pictures of the restaurant and a check “cutter” used in the restaurant to pay bills and workers, have been donated to the Mesa Historical Museum’s ongoing exhibit, “Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience.” The exhibit, which chronicles the history of spring training in Arizona, now is housed at the Arizona Museum for Youth, 35 N. Robson, Mesa.
The history of the Pink Pony and its connection to the beginnings of spring training in Arizona runs deep. Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Dizzy Dean, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Sandy Koufax, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry and Reggie Jackson dined there. Stoneham and former California Angels owner Gene Autry also dined there and concocted trades on cocktail napkins.
Baseball writer Roger Angell called the Pink Pony “The Best Baseball Bar in the Land” in the New Yorker, and Sports Illustrated baseball writer Ron Fimrite dubbed the Pink Pony “The Best Baseball Bar in America” in an article he wrote in 1986.
Claudia Ogden opened the Pink Pony on the southwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Main Street in 1949 (where the Italian Grotto restaurant now stands), and sold it to Charlie Briley in 1950. The Pink Pony was in that location from 1949 to 1970. The most recent building is at 3831 N. Scottsdale Road.
Gwen Briley married Charlie in 1973, and revels in saying, “when I married him, he told me I was going to be a woman of leisure — but I never worked so hard in my life. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Charlie Briley died at age 87 in 2002 and Gwen closed the Pink Pony on Aug. 22, 2009, nearly 18 months after she announced that it was up for sale and possibly could close if a buyer didn’t come forward.
But for diehard baseball fans and tourists who frequent spring training, the Pink Pony will ride again. On May 18, Briley sold the 8,242-square-foot restaurant building to a local pair of business partners, who wish to remain anonymous at this time, and will continue operating it as The Pink Pony. The steakhouse and saloon will offer most of the same menu items. The restaurant also will feature a bar called Charlie’s in Briley’s memory.
The new owners plan to re-open The Pink Pony in late October.
“It’s hard to let go, but at least the restaurant will carry the same name and have a bar named in Charlie’s memory,” Briley said.
When the new owners bought the restaurant, they also acquired the World Series commemorative bats featuring teams from 1972 to 1997 lined up behind the bar, and the home plate from the original Scottsdale Stadium that was built in 1955 after businessmen throughout the city pooled $56,000 for its construction to lure the Baltimore Orioles to train in the city. In addition to the Orioles, Scottsdale also has been the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants.
Don Demarest, owner of the Arizona Antique Centre, is elated that an auctioneer from “Antiques Roadshow” will call the auction, and is anxious to see who the auction pulls in.
“The Pink Pony is Scottsdale history if not Arizona history,” Demarest said. “It’s a shame the collection is being broken up. It all really belongs in a museum.”