Thomas E. Eldridge, Boulder restaurateur and civic leader, died at Frasier Meadows Retirement Community on Sunday morning. He was 69.

"It goes without saying that Tom was a Boulder icon."

Burger business

Eldridge started out in the tavern business in 1959 at age 21, when he bought the Friendly Tavern at 1103 Pearl St. Now a Billabong store, it was across 11th Street from what would become Tom's Tavern.

Friendly Tavern didn't always live up to its name, Eldridge's son Daniel said Monday at Tom's Tavern, where he has worked with his father since 1992.

"He was acting the role of bouncer," Daniel Eldridge said

His father, 5-foot-10 and stocky, was also the establishment's bouncer, a role complicated by eyesight so poor that taking his thick glasses off meant losing sight of the opponent entirely, Daniel Eldridge said.

Daniel, 41, and the youngest of Eldridge's four children, was bequeathed Tom's Tavern by his father, he said. The establishment will stay in family hands.

A burger, fries and heap of coleslaw cost $7 on Monday, up from 85 cents in 1967, the year Eldridge "designed" his famous burger. In a 1986 Camera profile titled "He's Boulder's Burger Baron," Eldridge revealed two of his patties' secrets: the hamburger is never frozen, and it's cooked longer and at lower temperatures than other restaurants.

About a dozen customers sat in oxblood vinyl booths at Tom's during the lunch hour Monday. Paul Kuehnel and Dave Thompson ate the tavern's trademark burgers. They didn't know the founder had passed away.

"He'll be missed, and I hope the son continues the tradition," Kuehnel said.


"When I got here in '68, Tom's Tavern was going. It's just an institution."

Kuehnel also called Eldridge "a voice of reason on City Council - the voice of the common man."

Asked what he would miss about his father, Daniel Eldridge paused and said, "Everything. Tom was like my best friend and father at the same time."

Born in Chicago

Eldridge was born in Chicago and the eldest of three children. His father died when he was 7. In a 1983 Camera profile titled "There's more to Mr. Tavern than his burgers," Eldridge said he couldn't forget the days he and his mother and sisters waited for the Social Security check they lived on.

His mother moved the family to Denver when Eldridge was 12. He proved to be too much for his mother, Daniel Eldridge said; Eldridge's grandfather, whom they called "Pops," took charge, enrolling the grandson as a boarding student at Marmion Academy, a military school in Aurora, Ill.

"That's where he became this type-A personality," Daniel Eldridge said, shorthand for driven and hard-working.

Eldridge followed his father's footsteps as a cook for work crews laying track and repairing the Illinois Railroad. Eldridge attended the University of Colorado for 2½ years before going into business for himself full-time.

Eldridge worked in an office above Tom's Tavern, reading thick City Council packets, managing several commercial and residential real-estate investments and going downstairs to the restaurant to flip burgers or bus tables during busy hours.

"He worked his butt off," said Vicki Esparza, a longtime friend of Eldridge's who came to work as Tom's Tavern's general manager last year.

Problem solver

On the City Council, Eldridge was best known for his pithy wit and ability to sum up issues with a few choice words. He voted against extending meetings past 10 p.m. as a matter of principle.

Ruzzin said Eldridge was one of the hardest-working council members, and was driven to make Boulder a better place.

"He was someone who cared deeply about all aspects of the community," Ruzzin said. "He really rolled up his sleeves to try to solve problems."

Ruzzin said he initially pigeonholed Eldridge as the councilmember who represented business interests. Getting to know him better, Ruzzin said Eldridge was a "much deeper person" who was equally passionate about environmental and social issues.

Eldridge was one of the most vocal councilmembers when it came to taking action on climate change, and he championed affordable housing, serving for many years on an affordable housing committee, Ruzzin said.

Eldridge and his wife, Betty, traveled extensively, often to scuba-diving locales. Their destinations ranged from Fiji to China to Antarctica, his wife said.

His son Michael Eldridge said he and sister Jody Robinson recently asked Eldridge why he worked so hard his entire life. He told them it was to make sure their mother was taken care of.

"He put a lot of work in. He wasn't a flashy guy. He did it for his family," Michael Eldridge said. "He was a big believer that you have to work hard to get what you want out of life."

But Eldridge knew where to draw the line.

"A lot of people say you've got to grow, you've got to climb the ladder; but what's wrong with finding a niche and staying there?" Eldridge told the Camera in 1986. "I'm fine financially. I work hard enough here. I'll probably die here."

Camera Staff Writer Amy Bounds contributed to this report.

Archived comments

So to those who want to say that Tom Eldridge was just a probusiness citycouncilmen you are wrong. Sounds like he actually was a well rounded individual and had views on all kinds of issues.Knowing that he worked on the issue of affortable housing gives me even more respect for him than I had for him already. I am glad to know that his son will be keeping Tom's

Tavern a family business.

5/15/2007 9:40:54 AM

Does anyone know where we can send a card/flowers/donation?


5/15/2007 11:23:26 AM

Thanks for all the wonderful burgers, Tom!

5/15/2007 11:42:15 AM

When my ex-wife and I moved to Boulder in 1980 we were lucky to find a duplex across the street from the university. Turns out we were even more lucky that our landlord was Tom. 1-½ years later our first child was due. We had not seen Tom for several months and one day he came to visit. He and I were talking in the living room when he mentioned that he was going to raise the rent. I said fine. Just about then my wife walked into the house -- she was obviously pregnant. Tom looked at her, then at me and said, "I'm not raising the rent.â It was as simple as that but Tom said it in a most compassioned voice.

After our child was born it was time to move into our first home. Tom wished us luck and gave back our entire deposit. We moved to Longmont, but always came back to eat at Tom's Tavern. Sometimes we might see Tom and when we did he always remembered us.

God bless Tom's family. I hope they read this so they'll understand even more so how kindhearted Tom was to his fellow man.


Bob Reece

5/15/2007 11:52:46 AM

Flowers for the memorial service may be sent to Chautauqua at 900 Baseline Road, Boulder. Chautauqua has requested that all flowers arrive no later than 1:30 p.m. on Friday. If you would prefer to make a donation in lieu of flowers, three memorials have been established:

1) Imagine! - 1400 Dixon Ave., Lafayette 80026

2) Attention Homes - 3080 Broadway, Boulder 80304

3) Boulder Community Hospital Foundation - P.O. Box 9019 Boulder 80306

5/15/2007 2:56:06 PM

I got this note from California I thought we'd post:

Todd: (I've had a bit of difficulty in preparing and sending this - one partly finished, and maybe two, have inadvertently been sent out to you - please delete, and I'll hope this one makes it).

(First off, please thank Amy for me for her assistance in the piece on Tom Eldridge, and thank you both a job well done.)

I'm retired in California and do not keep close touch with Boulder. My wife, Pat, on occasion checks the "Camera" and will forward to me articles which concern people I might have known or about issues perhaps of interest to me.

Unfortunately, today she had to forward to me your piece on Tom Eldridge. I am saddened naturally about his death, and one from cancer and at such a young age. I express my condolences to his family and to the community.

I had the privilege of being City Attorney of Boulder from 1968 to 1978. During that period, I was honored by serving with many members of Council who performed outstanding work for the City. I did not serve under Tom while he was on the Council.

However, if I had, I know it I would have been similarly honored, as I know the City was honored by his service. Tom was interested in many issues before the City during the time I served. He generally had a firm and well-reasoned point of view, and always let others know of his views. He always did so in good humor and spirits, firmly, fairly and with respect, regardless of whether or not those others with whom he dealt agreed or disagreed with his views.

I also had the opportunity during my time to munch a burger or two at Tom's Tav. Hey, that was special, and so was the atmosphere of the place. He ran a good and fun business, and good businesses like his add to the City and help make a community.

The City and a number of people there, and this one who has left, carry a good mark made on them by Tom Eldridge. I hate to see him pass and I think it only appropriate that I send in a few words to honor and pay respects to him as he honored and respected others by who he was, the way he lived, and the contributions he made to the community.

Walter Wagenhals

5/16/2007 9:12:53 AM