Slovenian klobase (kielbasa) races help nourish a historic Pueblo community.
Every year they dress up as Santas, rocket ships, football players and be-spangled hula girls. But these costumed cuties aren’t trick-or-treating children. They’re sausages, and they’re ready to race.
Each May residents, former residents, their families and friends gather in Pueblo, Colo.’s Eilers Avenue neighborhood to celebrate what is surely a unique community event. The Milwaukee Brewers may have runners in sausage costumes race before baseball games, but here actual klobase sausages compete in a porky version of a pinewood derby. Perched on wheeled wooden platforms, gaily decorated klobase (a Slovenian version of kielbasa) race along a 15-foot wooden track in the backyard of Eilers Place, a beloved bar and community gathering space.
Rumor has it that cold beer, which Eilers Place has been serving to customers for 81 years now, may help fuel the crowd’s enthusiasm.
Prizes are given for the best-dressed and most original klobase and to the race winner. Entrants pick decorating materials from a box of paraphernalia (“scrapbooking materials, stickers, paint, clothespins, pins, rubber bands, foil, fur, anything we can find around the houseâ€) collected by Sue Miketa, who owns the bar with her brother Ray Vertovec.
Klobase races aren’t the only celebrations at Eilers Place, which was founded by Miketa and Vertovec’s great-grandmother, Josephine Glavich, in 1933 in this traditionally Slovenian neighborhood. The Bojon Triathlon each year features a picnic lunch and four, not three, events that include horseshoes, shuffleboard, darts and a surprise event.
A Place for People
Pulling people together is a specialty at Eilers Place. With just 64 seats, it’s the kind of warm, friendly neighborhood bar that’s hard to find in an era of mall fern bars.
“It’s like Cheers. When you come in, everybody knows your name,â€ says Miketa, who grew up across the street from Eilers Place. “Families have been coming here for years. Women feel comfortable, people bring their kids, and when the kids come home from college on breaks, they always stop in here for a beer.”
A local Slovenian musical group, Okolitza Tamburitzans, entertains from time to time, and parties at Christmas, Easter and on the bar’s August anniversary feature traditional Slovenian food like sour potato salad, strudel and potica, a nut-filled, rolled yeast bread.
“Everybody looks forward to having it again because they can’t make it at home,â€ Miketa says. “I love to make it and love to share it. It’s a way to get people in to share a story, enjoy some food and each other. I was born Slovenian, and this is my history, my background. It’s important for us to keep the traditions, to keep this place going.”
Though Miketa and her brother hope to celebrate Eilers’ 100th birthday, they plan one day to pass the baton to Miketa’s children.
“I would love to one day take over Eilers to continue all of the traditions and see the younger generations be able to enjoy the history of the bar and neighborhood like my entire family has,â€ says Miketa’s daughter, Janna Miketa. “To me, having a place that multiple generations, from grandma and grandpa down to the grandchildren, can come in together and have a cold beer or celebrate a special event is what makes it so important.”