A back-to-school pig’s tale

Boulder’s mysterious talking concrete pig is a monument to barbecue, schoolkids, 4-Nikators, and local dining history

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It seems out of place, this beat-up old 1,500-pound concrete pig whose faded paint is gouged and pockmarked. Yet, this worn hog has his own fenced enclosure at the 12th Street entrance to the playground behind the former Mapleton Elementary School, now the Mapleton Early Childhood Center. 

If you attended the school in the 1980s and ‘90s, you’re already raising your hand to say, “It’s Slick the Pig.” 

The tale of exactly how Slick the talking pig ended up on that hill with a view of Downtown Boulder involves a heady brew of barbecue, controversy, an unhappy pit bull, persistent schoolkids, and a member of the Legendary 4-Nikators. 

We know from news reports that in his porcine youth, the then-unnamed concrete pig was crafted in Denver and installed in 1985 in front of Oh, Carolina Pit BBQ at 835 Walnut Street. 

That crossroads location is now home to The Bitter Bar, but the site has housed notable hospitality outfits for decades, including D’Napoli Ristorante, Southern Exposure, Magnifico’s Gourmet Foods, and Bremer’s Liquors. 

Slick had a speaker installed under his chin so he could “speak” to—and freak out—passers-by with pre-recorded messages. 

This being Boulder, Slick was soon cited as a violation of City of Boulder codes prohibiting talking signs. Oh, Carolina owner Don Ray insisted that Slick was a work of art, not a sign, because the messages had nothing to do with the restaurant that famously introduced Boulderites to tangy Carolina-style barbecue. While the city’s nascent food scene was rapidly upgrading and innovating in the 1980s, Slick’s motion-activated voice would reportedly say things like, “Step a little closer so I can bend your ear. Dress warmly for this weather so you don’t get the swine flu.” 

Slick also famously announced: “In case you’re wondering, I’m a Hampshire hog with no name. Mapleton kids, give me a name.” 

That’s when the third-graders at the school named him Slick. Slick eventually won his battle with the authorities and was designated a work of public art. 

Slick’s story took a dramatic turn one day when a passing pit bull terrier took exception to Slick’s comments and ripped the hog’s speaker off. The incident sparked widespread news coverage and increased Slick’s fan base. He was listed along with Mork from Ork as among the most famous things about Boulder. 

When Oh, Carolina closed in the middle of the night in 1986, chef Bruce Monette took over the space to open his much-loved Southern Exposure Restaurant. It was renowned for peppered pecans, catfish banana cakes, hurricane coleslaw and a fine Key lime pie that took the top prize in the National Pie Championships. 

“By the time I opened Southern Exposure, Slick was already famous,” Monette says. “People always asked about him, I said you need to talk to his lawyers.” 

As Oh, Carolina closed, his owner reached out to an attorney who was among Slick’s fan base. “Don called to ask me if we could keep an eye on Slick until he moved to Mapleton. I promised him we would,” says Harold Fielden, one of the lawyers who were regulars at the eatery. 

Thus Slick was “temporarily” forklifted to the law firm at 745 Walnut Street. 

“He was just supposed to be there for the weekend,” says Fielden, better known as a member of the notorious Boulder party rock band The Legendary 4-Nikators. “We contacted the school and the principal said ‘We’re not taking the pig.’” 

Other entities including the City of Boulder and business and arts groups reportedly couldn’t figure out what to do with the hog, as locals launched “Save Our Slick” and “Slick for City Council” campaigns. Meanwhile, Slick’s attire changed with the season. The pig wore a houndstooth suit and was also dressed up as everything from Jason in Friday the 13th to the Easter Pig.  

In 1989, those third-graders who named Slick were about to graduate from sixth grade. They pressured the powers that be and Slick was finally allowed to retire to his spot at Mapleton Elementary after a parade up 9th Street. He arrived in time to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary. 

Today, at the age of 82, chef Bruce Monette is still crafting his award-winning Key lime pies which are sold frozen at Lucky’s Market, Niwot Market, and Cheese Importers Warehouse. 

Attorney Harold Fielden is retired from his drumming days with the Legendary 4-Nikators. “I’ve had enough with touring,” he says. He credits Bonnie Cooper, the law firm’s secretary, with chronicling Slick’s history.  

Now quite elderly, Slick the Pig lives an anonymous, voiceless life at Mapleton’s playground entrance. Few of those who happily climb on the swine know of Slick’s colorful past.  

Boulder has plenty of historic monuments and statues, but zero honoring the city’s rich, colorful food culture. Perhaps it’s time to at least install a plaque next to Slick noting his place in history; it should thank the kids—now grownups with children themselves—who saved one of the city’s most iconic public objets d’art.  

Local food news

The Boulder Valley School District will offer no cost meals for all students for the entire 2021-2022 school year with no sign-up required. Boulder’s food program is nationally recognized for high-quality, cooked-from-scratch meals. BVSD is looking for part-time help serving lunch for a few hours on weekdays at neighborhood schools. Info: jobs.bvsd.org . . . Vote by September 19 for your favorite East Boulder County restaurants, bakeries and coffee houses in the Boulder Weekly’s Best of Boulder East County 2021 awards. Visit boulderweekly.com . . . Coming soon: Ghost Box Detroit-style Pizza: 103 South Public Road, Lafayette.

Words to chew on

“I think we need to feed every child at school for free and feed them a real school lunch that’s sustainable and nutritious and delicious. It needs to be part of the curriculum of the school in the same way that physical education was part of the curriculum.”—Chef Alice Waters


John Lehndorff is Boulder Weekly’s Food Editor. Comments: nibbles@boulderweekly.com