Ellie Halliday
Ellie Halliday

"There is so much unhappiness in the world. If you can do anything to cheer somebody up, I guess you should. Isn't that what it's all about?"

That quote, from a 1990 Daily Camera article announcing her retirement as the manager of now-closed Boulder saloon and concert venue Peggy's Hi-Lo, encapsulated Ellie Halliday's approach to life, according to friends and family.

It was an attitude that made Halliday popular with the bar's regulars and helped her earn enough respect that she could break up brawls between even the burliest cowboys at the Hi-Lo with just a stern talking-to.

She became somewhat of a legend during her 17-year tenure at the bar, winning multiple Best of Boulder awards, including best bartender, best bouncer and even best retirement party.

Halliday died at an assisted living facility in Longmont on April 20 from natural causes. She was 95.

Halliday earned the nickname "Ellie's Savings and Loan" because of her constant efforts to help out the needy.

Her sister, Peggy Moore, opened the Hi-Lo in 1972 as a means to make extra money after her husband died. At 47th Street and the Diagonal Highway, the bar was a popular country-western and honky-tonk hangout, thanks in part to the tireless Halliday, who moved with her family from California in 1973 to help Moore, who worked days at IBM, according to family.


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"My mom used to keep the bar open every day of the year so people who didn't have a place to go on holidays could stop in," recalled Kathy Kurtz, the middle of three daughters Halliday raised with her husband, Russell. "My dad used to say, 'My wife is married to that bar. She might as well sleep on the pool table.'"

Halliday brought a diverse skill set to the Hi-Lo, having previously worked at Ball Brothers Research Corp., and also having spent time as a governess, an apartment building manager and a volunteer for the Civil Air Patrol, among other jobs. Halliday even worked at Hughes Aircraft Co. while she was living in Arizona, and she met Howard Hughes.

For all her experience and know-how, it was Halliday's kindness that still resonates.

"She was just a good lady," said Chris Finn, co-owner of the Gold Hill Inn restaurant outside of Boulder.

Finn used to work part-time at the Hi-Lo in the wintertime when the Gold Hill Inn, then owned by his parents, was closed. He said the Hi-Lo staff and regular patrons were a "big family," and Halliday was at the center, taking care of problems for customers and the staff. Finn said he tries to model his approach to running the Gold Hill Inn after Halliday.

"She could always fix it. It might not be the right way, but she would make it work," Finn said. "Whether it be a machine or people or whatever, that is what she did. Some people call it magic, and other people call it hard work."

Steve Swenson, better known to fans of the Boulder-area live music scene from the 1970s and 1980s as Dusty Drapes, remembered Halliday as the "nicest, kindest woman" and the "glue that made the whole thing work" at the Hi-Lo.

Swenson said he and the Dusters played the Hi-Lo so often in the late '70s and early '80s that they were essentially the house band, playing covers of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.

Swenson said whenever there was trouble in the bar, Halliday was always the first person to jump in and stop it, despite her age and diminutive stature.

"Back in those days, the Hi-Lo could get a little rough," he said. "Ellie would step right in there and break it up. They knew if they touched her, the whole place was going to jump on them."

Swenson said the Dusters are set to play two reunion shows this fall. One of them, at the Boulder American Legion on Oct. 12., will carry the theme "Peggy's Hi-Lo Revisited," Swenson said.

Peggy's Hi-Lo changed hands several times and even changed names before Halliday walked away in 1990. She was 71 but took up another job providing in-home care, according to her daughter.

It wasn't until 2002, after she had both knees replaced at the age of 84, that Halliday fully retired.

Kurtz said the kindness that drove her mother to host annual benefit dinners for the Center for People with Disabilities at the Hi-Lo, and later at the Outback Saloon, is as much a part of her legacy as the Hi-Lo itself.

"She just loved people and wanted to help in any way she could," Kurtz said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or rubinoj@dailycamera.com.