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Steamboat Magazine

Belly Up - A users' guide to local watering holes

04/01/2010 01:00AM ● By Sureva Towler

Photo courtesy of Jupiter Images

by Sureva Towler

BITCH, PONTIFICATE, LAUGH or do business. Get rowdy, nail a gazillioniare or find someone who hasn't heard all your old jokes: the reasons people choose their local pub changes day by day.  

Whether you're looking for beer or bubbly, everyone's welcome so long as you don't cheer for the Raiders. Reservations are seldom required, Nikes or Sorels are always appropriate, and freechips and happy hours are as prevalent as wildflowers on Mount Werner. Steamboat's 54 bars serve everything from Budweiser for Monday Night Football fans to Skip-and-Go Nakeds for the libido-filled crowd.

So, the only question is ... what'll it be?


Old buildings attract old-timers. The Tugboat Grill & Pub (Ski Time Square) - a 38-year favorite for fast times and hard laughs - is strewn with memories and memorabilia from ski bums and bunnies. The Old Town Pub & Restaurant (Sixth and Lincoln) occupies a 1904 building that housed a hotel, post office, mercantile, library and sanitarium until it became a popular boozerie in the '60s. Harwigs & L'Apog6e (911 Lincoln), in an 1899 building that may be the town's oldest, was a tack shop until 1985, when Baby Boomers got to wearing pearls and eating escargot. (Harwigs was located above Design of the Times, 1979-1985.)


Coloradans down 33.4 gallons of beer a year, much of it at three celebrated hangouts for local ski-jockeys, nail-jockeys and plow-jockeys. Get to knothe regulars who hold forth over hickory-smoked barbecue at the Double Z (1124 Yampa). Townies swarm the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at the NePanda Asian Cuisine (Central Park Plaza) and relax at the spacious bar long past happy hour. The VFW (924 Lincoln), where patrons claim proprietary rights to well-worn barstools and $1 beer, has been hosting wakes, bingo games and community shindigs since World War 11.


The few surviving cowboy bars are in the county. The Glen Eden Family Restaurant and Tavern and Hahns Peak Cafe in Clark, 19 miles north, regularly dralocal ranchers from neighboring dude ranches. The Colorado Bar and Grill and Elks Tavern in Oak Creek, 21 miles south, are rough-and-tumble, with some folks still showing up on horseback. The legendary throw-'em-back Hiway Bar in Hayden - gasp! - now serves sushi.


With a refurbished 1893 Brunswick Majestic Back Bar (rolled out at the World Fair in Chicago) that sat in storage in Miles City, Mont., since 1968, as well as spectacular bands and specialty drinks, the Ghost Ranch offers space to kick up your boot heels. It boasts some of the town's best live acts (Reverend Horton Heat ring a bell?), complete with a liquid-gel dance floor upstairs.


Stake out a primo spot for outdoor concerts on the deck of the Snowbird Lounge(Ptarmigan Inn) and enjoy crab cakes and $8 pitchers. Slopeside Grill (Torian Plaza) attributes its popularity to "hot beer, lousy food and bad service" rather than plein-air pizzas and drafts during late-night happy hour. Bear River Grill (Sheraton slopeside) has a great outside deck to shed the dirt from your mountain bike ride.


The Boathouse Pub (609 Yampa) serves bangers, stout and brassy tunes to 20-somethings on the corner where Johnny Williams corralled his horses and received word that his son was blown up while filming The Hallelujah Trail with Burt Lancaster and Lee Remick in the 1960s. The Cantina (818 Lincoln) serves belly-bustin’ burritos and grande margs while harboring the ghost of a grocer who fell down the back stairs when the 1909 river-rock building served as a market. The Canton (720 Lincoln), formerly the Dairy King, was owned by Daisy King in 1955, when her 23-year-old son Jack Graham perpetrated the first criminal attack on a domestic airliner by packing dynamite in his mom’s suitcase, and blowing up United Airlines Flight 629 just north of Denver. The Ore House at the Pine Grove (Pine Grove Road at U.S. 40) is an 1890 dairy farm transformed into a rustic setting for surf and turf in 1971, when the first menu was written on a champagne bottle and J.J. Cale played in the intimate upstairs dining room. Cugino’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant (41 Eighth) transformed the former City Hall into a large sunny deck for lunchtime hikers, bikers and hoagie lovers. Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill (Fifth and Lincoln) is where young professionals gather to enjoy AlpengloAle, lively bands and tapas dipped in dozens of sauces. Tequilas (Fourth and Lincoln) provides Hispanic décor and dinners at a horseshoe-shaped bar and streetside deck. 


Amante Coffee (Wildhorse Marketplace), a modern European coffeehouse, mixes memory-making martinis. Garage Bar (730 Lincoln) pairs superior foods and wines in a casual, eclectic setting above Cellar Liquors. Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant (917 Lincoln) has a cozy bar with a small, devoted clientele who claim to “eat big, talk loud, and break a ferules.” The 8th Street Steakhouse (50 Eighth) assures that regulars at the intimate bar have drinks in hand even before sitting down, and at Saketumi (Torian Plaza) bartenders claim sushi attracts the town’s best-looking gals.


Kids can throw peanut shells on the floor while their parents enjoy beer in frozen schooners at the Steamboat Smokehouse (912 Lincoln), sometimes frequented by Larry the Camel. The Tap House Sports Grill (729 Lincoln) comps drinks for kids playing Triple Crown softball and features 21 draft beers, 54 TVs, 17 flavors of wings, two happy hours, a video arcade and trivia and poker playmakers on every table. Big House Burgers (Curve Plaza) serves 50 bottled beers and locally grown beef burgers, all under $10. Stash the kids in a booth made from a barrel at the Old West Steakhouse (11th and Lincoln) while you down premium spirits and beef or dollar tacos.


Among the best places to dress up are Café Diva (Torian Plaza) and bistro c.v. (345 Lincoln), where elegant wines, international beers and classic cuisine are served on white tablecloths. River cobble and brick masonry create an intimate setting for upscale drinking and dining at Giovanni’s Ristorante (127 11th), or morning-after Marys at the adjacent Creekside Cafe & Grill (131 11th), in a 1910 building on the National Register of Historic Places that ski legend Carl Howelsen is thought to have laid the brickwork. The Cottonwood Grill (701 Yampa) fuses Asian and American cuisine for gustatory gurus looking for riverside romance, and comfy couches surrounding a four-sided fireplace enhance cosmos and oysters from the rabar at Three Peaks Grill (Pine Grove and Mt. Werner).



TRAVELERS’ ONE-NIGHT STANDS Year-round Chaps Bar and The Cabin Restaurant (Steamboat Grand) feature valet parking, certified sommeliers and Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence for eight consecutive years. 3 Saddles Bar and Sevens Restaurant (Sheraton Hotel) are always open for comfortable and chummy rendezvous. At the top of the gondola, Hazie’s gourmet cuisine complements breathtaking views on summer weekends, while the patio and third floor of the Thunderhead, The Oasis Bar and Grill, is a favorite for wedding parties; more than 30 are booked this summer. At the base, two bars in the Gondola Pub and Grill serve cocktails and ribs.

Long-time local Sureva Towler has authored numerous local history books, including The Boys at the Bar: Antics of a Vanishing Breed of Cowboys and Hellions, (Johnson Books, 2006). F

New Haunts

Kyteler’s Irish Pub: Get your Guinness on at a new Irish pub in Wildhorse Meadows. It promises Irish fare and ambiance, as well as top-notch meals prepared by Siobhan, an executive chef trained in New York. Sweetwater Grill: Fans of the Yacht Club location rejoice: The Sweetwater Inn is opening this summer with suds and great cuisine, as well as an expansive rooftop deck overlooking the Yampa River.Vintage Wine and Cocktail Bar: Cork connoisseurs will delight in this nebar in Torian Plaza next to Terry Sports. This lounge offers upscale cocktails, wines by the glass or bottle, and entrées including breads, stews, cheeses and desserts. T Bar: Remember Hot Dog: The Movie? The classic ‘70s ski bum bar is resurrected at the old ski patrol building, complete with 15 keg-barstools and PBR on tap. The 733-square-foot facility offers wine, beer and homespun sandwiches, and is open in summer for post-riding libations.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Thanks to Maggie Crawford, the teetotaling wife of the town’s founder, Steamboat Springs was “dry” even before Colorado’s prohibition laws took effect in 1916. Because deeds to downtown properties issued by the Steamboat Springs Town Company prohibited liquor from being sold, manufactured or served as early as 1885, thirsty cowhands found solace in  pool halls, bawdy houses and gambling parlors across the long-gone Second Street Bridge in Brooklyn. Booze went for 15 cents a shot, women for $2 a visit, and hi-jinks became firmly embedded in the lifestyle of the Yampa Valley. Unlike long-timers, who deny they ever ventured into Brooklyn’s Red Light District, long-hairs, who powered the 1960s “building boom,” delight in sharing shots and stories from Steamboat’s legendary saloons. They remember when townies binged on Harvey Wallbangers and everyone went out for bacon and eggs when the bars closed. At the Mountain: The Buttonbush was run by ski bums who stashed joints in the cash register. At the Inn at Thunderhead, locals rode their horses into the bar and both were served. In Edith Smith’s little white farmhouse, a Cleveland artist named Larry Torian presided over a gourmet restaurant until the nearby condo took the site and his name. Of Ski Time Square’s legendary “Triangle” — Mattie Silk’s, Dos Amigos and the Tugboat — only the Tugboat survives. RIP Chicorita and Animal Beer night. Downtown: The Pioneer Building housed a raunchy hotel and bar dating from the 1890s. The Hatch was a basement bar renowned for fist fights, divorces and hippie haircuts, while the party-hearty Cove upstairs was where the idea for this very magazine was hatched. Before the recent closure of Antares, the former shipping warehouse housed Gorky Park, where you could sample every type of vodka known to man. And the Cave Inn turned a bowling alley into a disco where K2 Skis sponsored wet T-shirt contests.