A brazen idea
Hanging with bears never sounded so good at country inn
Sunday February 2, 2003 — The Sunday Gazette-Mail — Charleston, West Virginia

By Marina Hendricks
STAFF WRITER

MINGO — A hand-painted sign on the road right before the Brazen Head Inn advises motorists to be on the lookout for bears.

Guests arriving at the Randolph County haven might wonder at that warning, considering that the inn’s porch houses a number of bruins. But these are no ordinary, average bears. Made of wood, they are works of art carved with chain saws by Brazen Head owner Will Fanning and his sons.

The bears lend a friendly air to the expansive porch, which stretches the full length of the inn. On a recent Saturday afternoon they were the only occupants, however, as the near-zero temperatures scared away humans (despite the inviting seating areas with swings and chairs).

The Brazen Head opened in October 2000. Fanning and his sons, Stuart and Bryan, built the sprawling log facility on the site of Fanning’s onetime home, which burned down in December 1977. The fire took the life of Fanning’s father, Mike, who was visiting from Ireland. The inn’s bar is named Mike’s Pub in his honor.

During ski season, the 20-room Brazen Head is ideally positioned to take advantage of its location six miles from Snowshoe Mountain Resort. Footsteps echoed off the wooden porch and stairs to the second floor throughout the early evening hours of this Saturday, as guests returned from a day on the slopes.

Few chairs remained in the 34-seat dining room at 7:45 p.m. Fanning, clad in jeans and a blue button-down that set off his white hair, sped around greeting customers and guiding them to tables with a slap on the back here, a welcoming word there.

Perhaps because of Fanning’s genial demeanor, guests didn’t seem to mind being asked to share eating space. Two college students were seated with several other patrons around the same age. A middle-aged couple joined young parents and their small son.

In a corner by the screened-off kitchen door, the four members of the Falling Branch String Band contributed to the sociable atmosphere with a steady stream of old-time tunes interrupted only by brief breaks. Heads nodded and feet tapped as diners listened. One father sat his two small daughters on his lap and bounced them in time to the music.

Overflow from the dining room spilled into the adjacent Mike’s Pub, where customers gathered around tables and at the bar for a wee sip or a hot meal. Every now and then, a patron slipped out a door to the back porch for a smoke, as the entire inn — pub, dining room and guest facilities — is smoke- free.

The Brazen Head’s wait staff bustled expertly between kitchen, dining room and pub with plates full of the inn’s comfort food: Irish fare, including potato “paddy cakes” and corned beef with cabbage; plus traditional favorites such as steak, vegetable lasagna, salmon and the grilled “Mingo chicken” with mushrooms.

Ronda Harding and Rebecca Sutphin both attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They said they opted to dine at the Brazen Head based on a tip they received at the place they were staying for the weekend.

“The owner said they had really good fish and chips here,” Harding said. “So, we decided to come.”

“It’s very warm,” added Sutphin, a Beckley native whose grandmother is married to former West Virginia Gov. Hulett Smith. “It’s a very inviting place. And the band is definitely a good addition.”

Phil Frix, his wife Sharon and their 3-year-old son Andrew were making their second visit to the Brazen Head. Asked why they came all the way from their home in Smithfield, Va., Frix named names.

“Will,” he said. “That, and the music.”

Added Sharon, “And the food, too.”

“We were here in October, fell in love with the place and we came back,” Frix continued. “We’ll be back again.”

Young Andrew thrived in the family-friendly atmosphere, bouncing from his parents’ table to the kids’ play area at the rear of the pub and then back up front again to listen raptly to the band. He stood there for a few moments, holding an Irish songbook he picked up from the pub’s piano, looking all for the world like he was ready to request a tune.

By 9:45 p.m., Andrew was off to bed and the crowd in the dining room was dwindling. But Mike’s Pub still was doing a brisk business. A pack of young men purposely pushed through the dining room’s doors, headed for the pub and came back a few minutes later, glasses in hand, to take chairs in front of the band.

Outside, the bears stood guard, oblivious to the frosty night air.

To contact staff writer Marina Hendricks,
use e-mail or call 304-348-4881.