Saloons in the West!
My husband, Don and I just returned from a trip to Colorado where we sampled food and drink in about 12 different towns and cities. My most memorable dining experiences seem to involve saloons. They have a lot of saloons in Colorado!
I will compare 6 others...besides this 1879, Leadville beauty pictured left.
1- J-Bar in the Hotel Jerome in Aspen
I will give 10 points for The J-Bar, which was the most un-saloonish and least memorable of all the saloons. Even though the seating was luxurious and the people watching was entertaining, we didn't stay long. The prices were high and vibe was too cool.
There's a great history behind this hotel bar, but the fresh paint, glaring flat screen and dressed down wealthy made it hard for me to envision that past. Our middle aged server saved her chit chat for the locals and seemed pleased to give us the bill before we asked.
2- Gold Pan in Breckenridge
Yes, there's a fresh coat of paint and plastic chairs on the outside of Gold Pan, but the warped floors and wooden bar stools inside feel nice and old.
I give 25 points to Gold Pan for making us feel welcome and for taking us back in time. There's quite a history to this saloon that was also erected around 1879, in the very spot where Long's Saloon first sold whiskey from a tented structure.
Memorable People Encounter
Unlike our eye-rolling server at the J-Bar, Keith was full of smiles and relaxed conversation. Keith told us some good stories, but my favorite was about his name. Shortly before Keith was born, his parents attended a 1986 World Series game. While stressing over the outcome, his parents pronounced they would name their child Keith if Hernandez would just get a hit! I guess he did.
3 - Quarter House Saloon in Kremmling
As you move away from the Aspens and Breckenridges you get a taste of saloon atmosphere created for small town locals. The Quarter House gets 30 points for having a curious, worn-out comfy feel and some darn good food that was practically free!
It is what it is.
It's a little more 1970's than 1870's, but that works for me. I love coming in from a morning hike and sitting down to a vinyl table cloth with a colorful veggie print! That got me hungry for a grilled cheese stuffed with piping hot cheddar and grilled onions and peppers. The side salad came with fresh avocado and cheese. Less than $5.00 for both! Don's burger and fries were just as tasty and well-priced.
Who is your audience?
You have to love the decorated walls with deer heads, rodeo posters and framed photos of children with their prize pigs. The bar top had a nice thick clear coating over a snazzy collage of bar photos...locals I'm guessing. I think it's clear who this bar/restaurant is catering to.
History Out Back
I do love getting the inside scoop and our young waitress had a few tidbits for us. The saloon once had a brothel upstairs. (that's actually not surprising) She also pointed out back to what she said had been a slaughter house. We got curious and wandered down the alley later. At the end of the red building was an open window with fluttering curtains. We heard the sounds of a TV and an electric fan ...making us realize someone was living in that old slaughterhouse!
4- Pastime Saloon in Leadville
Leadville caters to some tourists, but not like Aspen. We spent almost 24 hours in Leadville, trying to figure out what this town was all about. We sampled 2 saloons, a Mexican restaurant and a diner specializing in cookies and we still weren't sure. But we did give Pastime Saloon our vote for most memorable. 40 points to Pastime for being a part of Leadville History and allowing us a people encounter with a Leadville native.
History Highlight: Pastime is off the main street, on what was once State Street...the Red Light District...where there were once 64 saloons!
Lorinda grew up in Leadville. That was exciting news to learn, because during our 10 days in Colorado I asked about 25 locals where they were from and not one was originally from the town we were in. Lorinda grew up around this saloon. Her grandfather cooked there as a young man and bought the business in 1938. Her parents own the saloon now and she pointed out their portraits above the unusual bamboo bar. She told us the odd bamboo piece came from a bar that had once served the residents in a nearby Chinese community. "The Chinese who came to work on the railroads had to live in their own area." Lorinda informed us. That got me pretty curious about the story behind the Chinese immigrants. I was also a little curious about the odd malt shop style bar stools. But I didn't ask.
I had promised Don I wouldn't get silly with the camera before we entered Pastime. We heard this was a local hangout, that could be a little rough. (There was a stabbing a few months earlier) It was still early that Friday, so we braved it. Don agreed to this photo when we decided the place seemed very friendly.
And what are those things on the ceiling behind Don's head?
I still don't get it. Lorinda said something about the Superbowl and people using tacs and a powerful arm to shoot these folded bills up to the ceiling.
5- Saloon at Old Western Hotel in Ouray
I give this crazy place 50 points for being the most unique, authentic and friendly of all the saloons. And the food was pretty amazing.
Ouray was our last night in Colorado and we spent it well. We wandered the cozy little town nestled into the San Juans, then checked into our Blue Room at the hotel. At 8:00 we took a seat at the ornate bar beside the stained glass windows and took a look at the menu.
There's quite a history of Ma Flor, the proprietor and cook who took care of miners as well as high paying guests during the richest days of the silver boom. She was known for using her shotgun to handle unruly guests!
There are lots of stories, like the one about this painting on the floor. Years ago, an artist named Herndon stopped by the Saloon and painted this image of his beloved Juniata on the floor...for some beer.
I can't remember the story about the woman behind this painting at the other end of the bar. It's not Juanita, though.
I don't have a photo of Rosemarie either. She is the woman who cooked our incredible meal. She was far too busy to trouble for a photograph.
This really was amazing food to be eating at a bar. I had the spicy elk burger with grilled peppers and monster fries. Don had trout amandine with Beurre Blanc sauce. As surprising as the food, was the story of our cook. Rosemarie and her husband have owned this hotel and restaurant for 10 years. She grew up in the Netherlands where her father made Gouda cheese. She began cooking for her family when she was 12 and went on to become an award winning chef.
Talking With People
Sometimes the people you meet on dining adventures are as memorable as the food. While Don and I devoured our meal we chatted with a few others at the bar. One couple was so intrigued that we were staying at this funny hotel with its original wallpaper and tales of haunting that we finally invited them upstairs to just peek at our scary room.
In the morning we met Gregg, Rosemarie's husband. He was from Iowa which made me instantly adore him. (I grew up in Grinnell) Gregg filled our brains with about 10 more incredible stories about the saloon and hotel. His giddy enthusiasm made us eager to get back and have another meal and one of his private jeep tours in the future!
Hooray for Colorado Saloons!
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.