Colorado became a state in 1876. A few of the restaurants that were around in the state’s infancy are still serving up steaks, wings, and Rocky Mountain Oysters. These restaurants testify to the area’s colorful history as part of the epic “Wild West.” They catered to miners and Indian chiefs alike, sheltered gamblers and prostitutes, and took creative measures to ignore Prohibition altogether.
We found ten historic restaurants that have been in Colorado for 85 years or longer.
The Buckhorn Exchange – Denver
The Buckhorn Exchange was founded in 1893, catering to “cattlemen, miners, railroad builders, silver barons, Indian chiefs, roustabouts, gamblers, businessmen,” per its website. It has hosted five presidents—Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. In 1935,
The Buckhorn received the state’s first post-Prohibition liquor license. Now that license, as well as 575 taxidermied animals and a 125 piece gun collection, decorate one of Colorado’s oldest restaurants. The Buckhorn’s founder, Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz, died in 1949, but the restaurant stayed in the family until 1978. Rocky Mountain Oysters remain a menu stable. The year-round, heated rooftop garden is a more recent addition, though.
The Historic Mint – Silverthorne
These days, The Historic Mint is a grill-it-yourself steakhouse. But in 1862, the building that houses its bar was called Jack Ryan’s Saloon. It was a drinking hole for miners in the village of Kokomo. The building has been moved three times since then. It’s second home was the city of Frisco. Then the building was moved to Dillion, where it was a popular bar, gambling den, and bordello. In 1956, the town of Dillion couldn’t pay its water bill, so the Denver Water Board took ownership of most of the town.
The Water Board ordered the town evacuated by 1861. The Historic Mint was dismantled and moved once more. This time it was reassembled in its current home in Silverthorne.
740 Front – Louisville
740 Front holds the oldest ongoing tavern license in the state. In the 1880’s, thirteen bars lined a three-block strip on Front Street. The legend is that these bars were connected via underground tunnels. This kept the “sinners” off Main Street and allowed fast escape for gamblers and prostitutes, should the police arrive unannounced. The basement of 740 Front has a bricked-up tunnel entrance. The restaurant portion of 740 Front is housed in a building from 1904. Seafood, steaks, pasta and burgers are among the specialties.
During Prohibition, the windows remained covered at all times, to keep interior activities from prying eyes.
This historic Colorado restaurant is said to be haunted by “Samantha,” a prostitute who was killed in the bar by an angry customer.
Minturn Saloon – Minturn
In 1899, downtown Minturn was destroyed by a fire. In 1901, the building housing The Minturn Saloon was erected as part of the recovery effort. A haven for gamblers, the first version of the saloon didn’t allow women.
Jeff Taylor, the sparring partner of Jack Dempsey, bought The Minturn Saloon in 1938. Then known as “Jeff’s,” it was where locals drank before Vail became a resort town. In 1976, the saloon changed hands again. The new owner, Bob Cherry, was a retired New York Yankee pitcher. He called the bar The Saloon Across the Street from the Eagle River Hotel.
He was known for target practicing inside the saloon. In 1986, the current owners purchased the Minturn Saloon and expanded the menu. Today it offers Tex-Mex, primarily, and some menu surprises, such as quail.
The Red Onion – Aspen
The Red Onion opened in 1892, during the height of the silver boom. Aspen became a big resort area following World War II.
During those days, the Red Onion expanded to include a nightclub, as well as a restaurant and saloon. Freddie Fisher, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday once performed there.
The restaurant serves elk pappardelle, duck breast, and pistachio chicken schnitzel, in addition to traditional bar food such as wings and burgers.
Chop House Restaurant at New Sheridan – Telluride
The New Sheridan Hotel was established in 1891 and rebuilt in 1985, after it burned to the ground. The bar still looks much the same as it did then. The attached restaurant, the Chop House, offers truffle fries, elk, trout, lamb, and an extensive wine list.
Kochevar’s Saloon & Gaming Hall – Crested Butte
Kochevar’s Saloon was established in 1886. It’s a beer and wings place, rather than fine dining. Over the decades, the saloon has housed everything from a brothel to a bowling alley.
The legendary outlaw, Butch Cassidy, forgot his gun in the saloon once. Both the restaurant and the gun remain in the Kochevar family today.
Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill – Denver
Charlie Brown’s is inside the former Colburn Hotel. In 1928, a county judge turned miner made a fortune at Cripple Creek. He opened the hotel. Prohibition ended in 1933, but the bar and piano lounge didn’t receive a liquor license until 1947. The city didn’t want to corrupt Capitol Hill youth by issuing licenses in the neighborhood.
In the 40’s, the bar was a favorite of the Beat writers. Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were regular patrons. These days, Bill Murray sometimes haunts the piano bar. About 30 years ago, a Greek man bought Charlie Brown’s. Now the regular bar fare—burritos and burgers—is supplemented with Greek specialties.
Sam’s No. 3 – Denver, Aurora, Glendale
Sam Armatas came to the US at 14 as an illiterate, undocumented immigrant from Greece. He opened the first Sam’s in Denver in 1927.
Over the next few decades, he opened several other locations of the Coney Island-inspired hot dog chain. Only Sam’s No. 3, at 15th and Curtis, lasted until the 1960’s. These days, Sam’s No. 3 is down the block from the original Sam’s No. 3.
Sam Armatas’ grandsons run the place, as well as Sam’s No. 3 outposts in Aurora and Glendale. The menu has expanded since the early days. Now there are Mexican staples, in addition to diner fare and Greek-influenced items.
Bonnie Brae Tavern – Denver
In the summer of 1934, an auto mechanic and his wife opened a restaurant near a new and newly-bankrupt housing development called Bonnie Brae.
The son of Italian immigrants, Carl Dire served Italian food. Now Bonnie Brae is a thriving commercial and residential neighborhood. The Bonnie Brae Tavern has remained in the Dire family for generations and is operated by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original owners.
Ensure your restaurant has a long life like the ones listed here. Contact a local Farm Bureau Insurance agent for a review of your existing coverages.