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GTPulse: In A Post-COVID-19 World, Will The Moose Ever Again Be Smooched?

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Sleder’s Family Tavern a is true Traverse City institution. Opened in 1882, it’s the oldest continually operating restaurant in Michigan. The tavern was started by bohemian immigrant Vencil Sleder as an answer for a place to unwind after a long workday. Part of the reason Sleder’s has been around so long is how they responded to prohibition. Special root beer was still served (wink wink) to loyal patrons, and law enforcement officers, of course.

The restaurant hasn’t changed much over the years. The simple menu consists of American food items anyone could enjoy, and the interior has maintained a lot of its original design. Louie Sleder, the last Sleder to own the tavern said it took three years to build because the only time the crew could work was on Sundays, “Afterward they would eat, drink, and tell lies.” The Sleder’s you see today is pretty similar to the one you would have seen over 100 years ago.

“It took three years to build this tavern because they were building it with slab lumber from the sawmills. This used to be all trees, you know, it was a sawmill town, and they built this tavern. This is the original building, the original ceiling. The booths came about 1910 but these are the original booths. That’s the original bar. It’s an 18-foot piece of mahogany.”

Chrissine Cairns is the social media manager for Sleder’s, and sister and sister-in-law to new owners Ryan and Megan Cox.

“They took it over from our parents who bought it in 1992. I do all of our online marketing and I do the flowers.”

With a great cultural icon comes great tradition. In the ‘80s a journalist named Joe Evancho was writing for Traverse Magazine. He and a visiting friend would go to Sleder’s, and that friend made a joke about kissing the giant moose head that is mounted on the tavern’s wall. When Joe published an article about the restaurant that mentioned kissing the unofficial mascot it was framed and hung on Sleder’s wall. One night a young woman at the restaurant read it and was inspired to kiss the moose for a picture. The rest is history.

A step ladder was placed near the moose (named Randolph) to accommodate all the hopeful smoochers, and after a guest would plant one on him a bell behind the bar would ring with enthusiasm. It’s a rite of passage Chrissine has experienced.

“I think it was probably when my parents first bought the place in ‘92. We all smooched the moose.”

I had my chance to smooch the moose back in October. My friend Kathy has been a longtime Traverse City resident and wanted to take me to lunch at Sleder’s so we could eat, chat and so I could kiss that moose.

Midway through our lunch, the restaurant filled up. By the time our check came, it was busy enough that I felt self-conscious about being an almost 6-foot woman standing on a ladder to kiss a piece of taxidermy.

“Next time,” I told her.

Little did I know there might not be a next time.

Yes, Sleder’s is open and serving guests who want carry out, curbside pickup, or to dine in, and all with proper protocol in place, but in a post-Covid world, will the moose ever be smooched again?

As of right now, Chrissine and the Sleder’s staff aren’t encouraging it.

“I wouldn’t recommend kissing the moose right now. It’s just not the best thing to do. We’re not going to promote that.”

The coronavirus has a different lifespan depending on what surface it’s on. On metal, it can live for five days, four days on wood, two to three days on plastic, and up to 24 hours on cardboard. There’s no research on how long the coronavirus can survive on human skin and hair, so as I’m sure you can imagine there’s no research on how long it can survive on a taxidermied moose.

You may not be smooching the moose anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean you have to pass up showing Randolph a little love.

“I know it’s a rite of passage for people who come in or are visiting Traverse City. It’s still a great moose for a photo op you know? Instagram a moose pic. Take a selfie with Randolph, it feels fun.”

For those of you who have already smooched the moose in your lifetime, worry not. You only need to do it once. For the rest of us, how does my hair look?

“You do it once and the luck is with you.”

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