Downtown Park City basically boils down to a single street—aptly named Main—and as I huffed up it later that evening, I kept my eyes and ears peeled for The Hack, who my sources said “looks and sounds like Yosemite Sam.” It was around dinnertime. A blue haze fell across the sky. Lights twinkled, framing the two-story, brightly painted wooden buildings, most of them dating back to the early 1900’s. Couples walked arm in arm, lingering in front of gallery windows.
The temperature was mild, but at an altitude of 7,000 feet, my legs and lungs were heavy. An old red trolley car rumbled by. Across the street, the triangular Egyptian Theater marquee announced its newest production, Reefer Madness, the Musical.
I had a reservation at Talisker on Main, the most significant new addition to Park City’s restaurant row. As I entered the bistro, I found myself happily immersed in the sights and sounds of an open kitchen. Talisker’s debut last year marked a changing of the guard in more ways than one. The restaurant is owned by the Toronto-based real estate company of the same name, which won a bidding war over Vail Resort Company in 2008 to buy the Canyons, one of the three ski mountains in the Park City area. Talisker was a dark-horse buyer to many. Never having been in the ski business before, it suddenly had a massive stake in Park City, controlling not only Canyons but also the private, all-inclusive, 14,000-acre Talisker Club in Deer Valley and the Waldorf Astoria Park City.
“Most people, when they get enamored of a town, they buy a condo. These guys bought the entire mountain,” Mayor Dana Williams said to me later.
As part of its takeover, Talisker wooed John Murcko away from his position as head corporate chef of a five-restaurant group he had run for years in Park City with Bill White, who had defined the food scene here for nearly two decades. White’s restaurants—including the popular Southwestern-style Chimayo and the Italian standby Grappa—can still serve up to 2,200 customers a night. When Murcko broke the news to White in 2007, he remembers his partner responding, “I thought we were going to win the Super Bowl together.”
Murcko is a soft-spoken man with intense blue eyes. Although he oversees all of the food for Talisker’s properties, Murcko has poured everything he learned and loved about restaurants into Talisker on Main. It’s small and intimate, has an extensive wine list (and a lauded sommelier), and seeks perfection down to the smallest detail. Murcko personally tested 32 combinations of ketchup before arriving at the one he liked best.
As I devoured a short-rib shepherd’s pie with roasted-corn bisque, I listened to two sunburned young men in T-shirts and jeans talking real estate at a nearby table. I introduced myself. Turned out the two were Park City natives who had jumped into the real estate game at the right time. One of them, Reza Fakhrieh, was an original developer of the Waldorf Astoria property. “People used to just fly over Utah,” Fakhrieh said. Murcko, stopping by the tables, agreed, “The Olympics changed everything—Park City was ready for something new. Now it’s getting it.”
Outside I heard the 10 o’clock whistle, a throwback to the turn of the 20th century that was installed after a fire destroyed many of Main Street’s buildings in 1898. I was tired.
“Listen,” I said to Murcko. “Do you know George the Hack?”
“The Hack? You can probably find him at the Alaska House.”
The Alaska house is a long-term residential motel just above Main Street. I planned to go by in the morning but I woke up late and had no time before my meeting with the mayor. I quickly dressed and bounded outside. On the sidewalk in front of the hotel, a homeless man stopped me. He had Neil Young sideburns, a linty brown sweatshirt, and sunglasses propped atop a baseball cap.
“Julian Rubinstein?” he asked.