Highest Town in Colorado
The whole town of Leadville looks like a movie set. But the buildings are real and you can walk into the Silver Dollar Saloon and get yourself a beer or a whiskey.
But I was already woozy from the elevation of 10,152 feet. We just stopped in for lunch.
Leadville saloons get lots of interesting tourists. Luckily it was early when we arrived and there was only one motorcycle in front.
We've been to a couple Leadville Saloons on past travels. We've seen a few characters in these saloons.
I couldn't see much more than a reflection when I peeked in the festive window. The painted detail around the window looked a bit Scandinavian. I remembered something about painted shamrocks, the last time we entered this place.
Doors and Floors
We headed through both doors and I was as impressed as I was years ago.
Which was more interesting, the curious doors, or the combination of well-worn floors?
A lot of boots have walked across these old tiles. Evidently long ago, Doc Holiday walked these floors frequently. He gambled and drank here and in 1884, he shot a policeman... over a 5-dollar debt.
Other Notable Guests
Oscar Wilde was also a visitor. In 1882 he appeared at the Tabor Opera House across the street, while on a lecture tour.
The "Unsinkable Molly Brown" moved to Leadville when she was 18. She married and often came to the saloon with her husband. Which was a bold move, because ladies weren't allowed. Although curious women or worrying wives, could step inside the door and have a peek, if they stayed behind the "windbreak". That structure was good for keeping the winter wind from intruding, but it also allowed wives to see what their husbands were up to, without "entering" the bar.
Old and New
There was a lot of stuff decorating the walls and hanging from rafters. TVs and sports decor, reminded us that it was 2022. But mostly there were things that looked like they'd been on display for 100 years.
The front and back bars were definitely original. But, back in 1900, no drinkers would have been sitting at the bar. Instead of barstools, they had a foot rail and plenty of brass spittoons,
Backbar & Mirror
The white oak backbar and the diamond dust mirrors were mighty deluxe! Over a century ago, the bar and mirrors arrived in pieces, after traveling by train and covered wagon, from St. Louis.
I noticed the snout of a coyote (or wolf?) peering from above the rounded top.
Don and I were ridiculously lucky to be seated at one of the 2 booths in the main bar. A rather grumpy bartender tried to steer us towards the back room, which had much less appeal. I sort of begged and we got our way.
I'm pretty sure I impressed her with my cowboy boots, which I had just slipped on in the car. (Sometimes I have to dress for the theme of our dining adventure) I was extra delighted to read that the 2 booths had once been train seats, from the very train that brought the backbar and mirrors to Leadville. They look more like pews to me, but I'd like to believe this story.
Surrounded by Old Stuff
I was pretty delighted with our booth. We had a good view of the bar and the people coming and going. We were also surrounded by lots of curious stuff.
I'm sure there's a story behind every item on display. But I didn't ask our server Elizabeth. (who was absolutely fantastic by the way) But Don did ask her about the corned beef hash.
Breakfast for Lunch!
Elizabeth went into great detail about how the meat was cut up each morning. Her enthusiasm won Don over. He ordered the hearty breakfast plate and couldn't have been happier.
I sampled his corned beef hash, as well as his fried egg, potatoes and toast! It was pretty amazing!
Turkey, Bacon & Cheese
I'm not sure what possessed me to order an open faced turkey and bacon melt. But I was glad that I did.
There was a generous amount of turkey and the bacon was thick and crispy. The homemade toast underneath, didn't even get soggy! We honestly hadn't expected such good food at the old saloon! Both were fantastic.
Off We Go
By the time we finished up, the bar was getting busier. A few people had started playing pool next to us. We dodged the cues as we slid out of our booth. We could have had a more dramatic end to our lunch experience, if one of us had been skewered on our way out!
We thanked Elizabeth, for making our lunch extra pleasurable. We left feeling happy and satisfied. We headed for the car and I took a quick pic from across the street.
When I later compared to my 9 year old photo, I was surprised at how different the buildings looked. The Saloon looked bright with yellow and green paint... and shamrocks. The nearby buildings had no plywood in windows. This photo was taken long before Covid messed with tourism.
I'm so glad things are starting to look better with this pandemic. So glad we stopped in and had more than a beer this time! I hope others do as well!
"Big John's Feed Lot by Brenda"
Last June, Don and I stopped for lunch at "Big John's B-B-Que"...
Or was it "Big John's Feed Lot by Brenda" ? That's the very odd name that was listed on the internet.
Tiny Red Shack
Even with Mapquest we got lost in the somewhat desolate outskirts of Big Spring. We flew right by little red diner.
The gravel parking lot was humongous, in comparison. By 11:30 it was practically full. Our Subararu looked very out of place with all the pickups.
The little building reminded me of a summer camp bunkhouse or maybe a little red school house.
The corrugated metal walls had been spiffed up with red paint and there was a potted plant, but I was a bit intimidated. Was this place even safe? There seemed to be some kind of swinging cage-door and a padlock. I hoped non-locals would be welcome.
I paused to let John Wayne greet me from a window. I admired the rustic wood accents and Uncle Sam popping up.
I wished I could peek in one of those windows to check the place out, but I couldn't see in. There was reflective silver foil, covering the glass. No peeking allowed.
Cozy and Welcoming
We headed for the door, which had a nifty spring on it. There were a number of people waiting to be seated and no room to step inside. I hope we didn't let in too many flies, since it took a minute before we could step all the way in.
But a busy place is a good sign and I didn't mind waiting. I studied the painted concrete floors and the rustic pillars that appeared to hold up the ceiling. Or was that the roof? The "ceiling" seemed to be a tricky combination of chickenwire and black plastic liner.
There were numerous servers bustling about. They all seemed in decent spirits. One led us to one of the 8 tables, in the front room. We were surrounded by rustic decor. Lots of John Wayne images!
There were lots of repurposed containers holding plants. I wondered how they could grow without window light.
Our server was friendly and very busy, waiting on lots of hungry workmen, a seated in our area. There seemed to be a lot of trucker hats, hunkering over Styrofoam plates, piled hight with BBQ. There was a lot of tea drinking going on.
I studied the menu for something that wasn't bbq. I also studied the title of the menu. Who was John and who was Brenda? And what was the deal with feed lot?
Hand Washing Time
After placing our order, it was hand washing time. Always a wise idea, but mostly it gave me a reason to check out the other dining room.
The big room was packed with diners and more John Wayne decor. On the wall, there were some cowboy hats and twinkly lights and I spotted the same curious ceiling .
I didn't have time to read all the signs, but the one next to the deer head stood out. "God Made... Jesus Saved... Texas Raised" Oh my.
Eventually I stepped through a drink station, to find the door to the single bathroom. As a raised my fist to knock, the door swung open and I was face to face with a tall man. Awkward. I stepped inside the airline sized space and accidentally let the spring loaded door slam. I let out a yelp of surprise and quickly washed my hands. I kept a distance from the toilet, with its plywood tank cover. Is that even okay? When I opened the door, I was greeted by a smiling man in a cowboy hat. My flipflop stumbled over a bump in the threshold, as I tried to get around the man. We both laughed and by the time I stepped back into the dining room, a table of ladies was hooting. They'd witnessed the amusing scene.
The laughing ladies were a fun bunch. We ended up chatting. One said she'd been coming to Big John's for 40 or 50 years... back when Big John owned it. I asked about Brenda and they pointed her out, coming towards us, in her glasses and tennis shoes. They said Brenda and her husband kept all the decor when they bought the place about 20 years ago.
Our food came pretty quickly. Don loves BBQ, so ordered a 2-meat plate for $14. Beans, slaw, pickle and Texas toast took up some of the plate.
His plate looks tiny in this photo, but it was more than he could eat. Or maybe he just wasn't thrilled with the brisket and overcooked ribs. He's kind of picky. Everyone around us was devouring food, so it might have been him.
Salad With Smoked Chicken
I hit the jackpot! My salad for $10. was pretty amazing and it came on a real plate. The chicken was moist and plentiful. There were rings of onion, a hardboiled egg, cheese, tomatoes and fried tortilla strips. Homemade thousand island was extra yummy.
While Don picked at his meal on Styrofoam, I gobbled my salad and also conversed with a diner or two. Everyone seemed to stare as if I were the first person who ever ordered a salad at Big John's. One woman with arms covered in tattoos stopped and begged to know what I was eating. I gushed about my delicious salad and she shook her head and smiled like she might just give it a try.
After we finished up, I grabbed a paper towel from the table and cleaned my hands. No more trips to the scary bathroom.
But then a surprise treat appeared. Our server wandered through the tables carrying a tray of small cups. Complimentary Oreo Chocolate Chip Pudding! A nice little end to our meal.
Don and Stan
We headed to the counter with our bill and got to meet Brenda's husband, Stan. He was a friendly guy who wanted to know where we were from and where we were headed. I asked if he had any idea how many John Wayne's were in the restaurant. "Too many!" he laughed. He said they didn't have room for any more, but people frequently try to add to the collection.
He introduced us to Brenda when she was dashing by with her hands full. They seemed like a good team. He was calm and chatty. She was quick and busy.
On Our Way
As we walked to the car, I spotted just a few men lingering in the lot. There had been so many more men chatting near trucks when we arrived.
Just an hour earlier, I'd been worried that we might be getting ourselves into a "why did we come here?" kind of dining adventure. I left feeling content and satisfied. Don maybe a little less so, but we were in good spirits. Colorado bound!
April in Jefferson
Last April, Don and I spent one night in this north Texas town.
Jefferson is a cute place, with lots of historic buildings and a lovely brick Main Street.
I really wanted to have a dining experience in the General Store.
We at least knew they had Jams and Jellies!
We stepped inside and I spotted the candy right away.
I could have dined on Bit-O-Honey and peanut brittle!
There actually was a cafe in the back!
More candy at the dining counter! I believe we could have ordered a microwaved hot dog, or something. But we gave it a pass.
Cowboys and Bikers
We browsed around the vintage store before heading off. We spotted some interesting people hanging out and walking along the sidewalks of Jefferson.
We headed across the street to check into our hotel. Who might hanging out there?
We knew the Jefferson Hotel was going to be an entertaining place. That's why we booked.
There were lots of dolls waiting for us in our guest room. We were amused by our bizarre hotel for a while, but then we needed a break.
We love eccentric hotels. We seek them out. But this was a little overwhelming after a while and there was nowhere to sit and relax. We needed an escape!
Just a block or two away, we found this charming little building with a cute patio and couple iron balconies.
The pre-Civil War structure seemed pretty isolated on the edge of town. But back in the 1850's, Dallas Street was lined with saloons and bustling with activity. Big Cypress Bayou was just steps away, with lots of riverboat activity.
Over the Years
James McGarity was one of the first owners of the building. He and his partner got into a little trouble with booze and gambling and sold the saloon in 1868. In 1916, the building became home to the Jefferson Masonic Lodge.
There were numerous other businesses in the building... a confederate hat factory and a brothel and some point. All the buildings on the street dealt with fires, but somehow this one survived. The most recent owners have done a nice job making the place feel welcoming to locals and tourists.
I didn't get a great photo of the impressive bar, which is really the focal point.
But the brick walls, high ceilings and spotless tables were inviting.
There were lots of nice little perks, like our complimentary basket of homemade potato chips. And a fresh carafe of water. And pretty dishes.
And packets of disinfectant wipes, along with our utensils. All very un-saloon-like!
Don ordered the Cali Grilled Chicken Sandwich, which was insanely good. The crazy huge chicken barely fit on the brioche bun. It was smothered in Swiss cheese, tomato, avocado and ranch!
Since I had big plans to eat half of Don's fries, I ordered a house salad which was pretty deluxe, with shaved Parmesan, avocado and cucumber. We soaked in the good flavors, while we enjoyed a nearby singer, performing on guitar. No saloon honky tonk at McGarity's.
This wasn't exactly a dining adventure, but it was a dining escape. There was something truly odd about our hotel stay (written in my 90 Nights blog) and we needed this little getaway, before we faced the night.
Just like our hotel, the saloon was full of knickknacks and treasures and oddities. But there was something absolutely okay about the moose and the buffalo watching us eat. We said good-bye to them and headed back to our hotel... where nearly 100 sets of doll eyes watched us sleep!
Last May, I was thrilled to have an excuse to experience this fun place in North Austin.
The 4-part sign itself, was worth a visit. At the bottom, I spotted important info, including...Curb Service! A little higher, I saw the word CHARCOAL, with little flames beneath! Further up, I'd admired colorful letters spelling, TOP NOTCH. They were surround by lightbulbs. All was topped with a burger! Too bad the burger wasn't spinning!
The reason we stopped, was actually to purchase a t-shirt and hat for our son. Scott lives in California now and misses his Austin days.
Words on the shirt reminded us, that Top Notch turned 50 last year. That is actually pretty darn young.
Beer & Burgers
If we hadn't needed to do some shopping, we could have enjoyed carhop services outside. But it was fun peek inside the homey place.
We ordered burgers off the illuminated menu and studied the Lone Star chandelier, above! Beer at a fast food place?
There was lots to look at and watch, as we waited on the order. We could enjoy the decor around the window. Longhorns and longhorn art!
We also could watch the cooking through the glass. Top Notch isn't your typical fast food joint. They cook on a charcoal grill, just like the sign said.
There were other decorated walls, with curious goodies to study. I'm sure there's a story behind the coach & horses, displayed on the shelf.
The display was too high up for me to get a good look. But it looked old and appealed to my love of antiques and miniature things. I wish I could have bought that instead of a t-shirt.
Dazed & Confused
There was a glass case dedicated to movies that have featured Top Notch. I guess the props are from the film, "Dazed and Confused"? Not sure. I'm confused. And maybe the term film, is too classy for the 1993 cult movie.
I'm afraid I have never seen the classic, starring Matthew McConaughey.
Actually, McConaughey didn't star in the movie. He was a film student at UT, when he landed a bit part.
I haven't seen the movie, but I've seen the classic clip, where M.M. pulls into Top Notch and speaks in his distinct voice, "Aright Alright Alright..."
This image from the scene amuses me. Matthew looks nothing like the Oscar winning actor we all know. He does however look very much like my hubby, Don... in the 1970's.
The celebrity I really wanted to meet was Mr. Mike Fresch. Here he is, grilling our burgers on the indoor charcoal grill, beneath an awesome set of giant utensils.
I spoke only briefly with Mr. Fresch and he was incredibly friendly and also very busy. He's been working over this grill for 27 years. He's earned lots of fans and respect. Mr. F. was given a trip to Vegas for his 20th anniversary!
The dining room looked like it hadn't changed much since Ray and Frances Stanish opened the place, in 1971.
I graduated from high school in 1975, so I know the Dazed and Confused/Top Notch Era, well.
But some parts of the restaurant felt even older. The photo booth may not have been 50 years old, but the idea of teens and photo booths, made me nostalgic.
The skinny little bathroom doors, looked like they could have gone back to the sixties. Very possible. Before Top Notch opened, there was another restaurant in this building. From 1963 to 1971, Burkhart's Motor Dining, was under this roof. I couldn't dig up any photos.
By the time Mike had finished our burgers, I had pondered enough to realize I'd failed to order all the proper things. I took the steaming bags happily, but wished that I'd ordered onion rings and fried pies... and fried chicken!
When I stepped outside, I saw a white van delivering poultry. Evidently fried chicken is one of the best foods served at Top Notch. Or was that van, just a customer getting curb service?
We raced home with our food and didn't waste a second, jumping in! Almost forgot to snap a photo.
This pic is hardly giving my burger meal the spotlight it deserves. But I loved the charcoal burger with all the cheese and fixings. My fries were not limp, even after the drive. And my cold soda tasted extra fine, in my waxy-woodgrain cup!
What a top notch fast food adventure!
Early April Morning
It was early and it was chilly, when Don and I found our way to Bennett Spring State Park, last April.
The old C.C.C dining lodge from the 1930's, looked pretty cute on a cold blue morning.
We had driven only about 30 minutes from our overnight in Phillipsburg, MO. We'd found no breakfast options in that small town, but heard the park was worth a stop.
It was around 1900 that fishermen really began flocking to this area. 40,000 mountain trout were introduced to the spring-fed stream. I didn't see a trout or a fisherman, when we drove into the park.
One of the First
Around 1924, the state of Missouri bought the spring and surrounding land. It became one of the first state parks. In the 1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps began building cabins, roads, trails and this dining lodge.
I love imaging all the people who were involved in C.C.C. building projects, nearly a century ago. So many workers were a part of this stone and timber building. I wish I knew their stories.
Welcome to the Eighties
We stepped inside and found a little sitting area, just before the dining room entrance. Besides one rustic table set, the decorated space made me think it was the 1980's.
As we headed to the dining room doors, (where all who entered were blessed) I was reminded that it wasn't 1980 or 1830. Hand sanitizing stations have become such a part of our world. But the standing dispenser sure doesn't fit the lodge decor.
Yay for Coffee
There were only a few diners when we first arrived. They had something in common with the wait staff. They were dressed warmly.
For some reason it was freezing in the dining room. Everyone kept their coats on. But when our coffee arrived in a thermal carafe I knew I'd be warm and awake. My favorite way to have coffee served.
There were fireplaces at both ends of the room.
The stonework would have looked a lot more attractive, with a fire crackling inside.
As I studied my menu, more dining filled tables. It became clear why I hadn't seen any fishermen.
They seemed to be all coming in to eat, before they hit the banks. Which seems really odd, because the tiny bit of trout fishing I recall from 40 years ago... we were up fishing long before the sun.
As I looked around, I realized, maybe these folks were having "lunch" at 8:30. Maybe they had indeed been fishing at sunrise. I was enjoying the people watching. I spotted a pair of waders under one table. Don and I definitely were not dressed properly. Well, Don had a hat at least. But, he didn't have his license pinned to it.
My photo of Don's food, looks like it's sliding into his lap. I was snapping quick, before he dug into his eggs, taters and pancakes.
My Biscuit and Egg sandwich tasted heavenly. But my crumbly biscuit was impossible. I ended up eating with a fork.
We finished up and took a few minutes to look around. I wondered if this room had once been a porch.
I asked our waitress if it might have been a porch. "Oh it's always been a room." she answered. Probably always... since she has worked there for 2 years.
I've only caught about one trout in my life. It wasn't 15 pounds like this one, displayed on the wall.
The fish didn't make me hungry, but it made me curious. I wondered who caught this big old fish, who never even got eaten.
Good Bye Fish
We spent a little time in the park, before heading off on our road trip.
The sun was warming the air. A few trees were starting to show spring leaves.
And a few fisher people were hoping to get lucky.
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.