RMGA Membership Meeting Review
The Buckhorn Exchange is the oldest restaurant in Denver and holds the #1 liquor license (issued after the end of Prohibition). Bill Dutton, Manager and part-owner since 1978, told us the history of the building and the neighborhood.
Originally the restaurant was only downstairs and the upstairs had 13 “hotel” rooms. There was one room without a door to the hallway, it had a trapdoor so that during Prohibition the “diners” could escape without being arrested by the Feds for breaking the Prohibition law. During Prohibition the Buckhorn was a grocery store. Pre-Prohibition the liquor was called a “fair mix” – in other words it was watered down.
Shorty, the original owner, was a friend of Buffalo Bill, Teddy Roosevelt and Sitting Bull. The bar was built in the 1870s and serviced the railroad workers who lived and worked in the neighborhood. Many of the original settlers in this neighborhood were from Essen, Germany and arrived in Denver after an arduous trip by steamship, railroad and oxcart. The railroad employment office was across the street and the Buckhorn offered employees a free beer on Friday night if they cashed their paychecks at the Buckhorn. A lot of these employees were German, used to having a beer after work and often their entire paycheck ended up at the Buckhorn. Shorty instituted a system that gave the worker some money and the rest was set aside so that the wives could come and collect it so that the family would have money for the rest of the week. That’s the Exchange part of the name – a sort of informal banking system done in the saloons.
The Native American population (particularly the Sioux) camped on the north side of the building which is now a parking lot. Custer’s sword was displayed in the restaurant until 1978. It had been given to Shorty by Sitting Bull. Shorty’s nephew’s family kept it when the Buckhorn was sold to Bill and his group.
Shorty and his son Harry were hunters and 90% of the animals displayed in the restaurant are original to their day. Teddy Roosevelt took them on safari to Africa and also had a taxidermist along with them so that trophies were preserved on the spot. Most of the animals displayed at the Buckhorn have died natural deaths and were not hunted trophy animals. An interesting item on display is a whale penis which arrived dry and folded into a box. The person who “restored” it to its normal size spent hours sitting in a bathtub massaging the item to bring it back to its normal size. There are local fantastic animals on display as well: a unicorn and a jackalope, both of which Bill declares are “real”.
Shorty died in 1949. He left the restaurant to his daughter who had married into the Jonas Furs family. Henry had to buy the restaurant from his sister. In the late 1970s Henry was very ill, not expecting to live and so sold the restaurant to Bill and others in 1978.
The neighborhood at the time was full of many two bedroom homes built in the 1950s and inhabited up to 2010. The Housing Authority bought and scraped 250 units and are completing 1,000 units – some will rent at market rate, some will be considered affordable and some will be subsidized housing. This will help the neighborhood to stay varied. Lite Rail revitalized the area. There will be 8-10 story condos across the street. The Buckhorn should do a great business because most of the land around them is government-owned and so cannot have a liquor license.
There are many celebrity photos on the walls – almost all the Presidents from Teddy to the present day – with the exception of Obama. Many movie stars and rodeo people visited the restaurant. Many Stock Show people visit the Buckhorn during its annual run in January.
Bill and his partners added game meats to differentiate the restaurant from many others – they offer buffalo, elk, rattlesnake, Rocky Mountain Oysters (their most popular appetizer item) as well as alligator and other game meats. The cut of elk they offer is called the “Denver Cut” because the Buckhorn requested this cut to have more tender meat. Rocky Mountain Oysters may also be called “Swinging Sirloin” or “the Original Sac Lunch”.
Shorty met Buffalo Bill when they were both buffalo hunters. Buffalo Bill drank too much so his doctor limited his intake to one drink a day, however, that drink was in a quart Mason jar and was at least 80% bourbon. Bill was living with his sister so he didn’t lie when he told her he’d had only one drink. When Buffalo Bill died, his coffin lay in state in the rotunda of the Capital and more than 30,000 people came by to pay their respects.
Sitting Bull’s niece’s wedding dress (leather) is displayed on the stairs. There is also a man’s suit which may be either Apache or Sioux. The white buffalo on the main floor lived only two years and was killed in a fight with another buffalo. White buffalo are revered by the Dakota Native Americans. The story is that a long time ago the Dakota Native Americans were starving because of a lack of game (buffalo) to hunt. A maiden in a white buffalo skin appeared and turned into a white buffalo. The white buffalo disappeared into the mists and a herd of buffalo appeared and the Dakotas were saved.
The parking lot on the north side of the building is plenty big enough for a coach. The parking lot will stay after the completion of the new buildings in the area. There will be a five-level garage across the street. The local parking is for businesses which will occupy the street level on many of the new buildings, not for residential parking. So, parking should be generally available for any tours you might bring in. There are restrooms on both floors, no elevator – guests may need to negotiate the stairs. The upper level has been recently renovated and the main room is very cozy and comfortable.
Bill also offered each of us a copy of the Osage Gazette – which lists additional history tidbits of the Buckhorn and also has both the lunch and dinner menus.
Written by Nancy Brueggeman CEO
WHAT: RMGA MEMBERSHIP HOLIDAY EVENT MEETING – Buckhorn Exchange
WHEN: December 11, 2017, 4:00pm – 4:45pm – Networking, 4:45pm – 5:00pm - Short Business Meeting, 5:15pm – History of the Buckhorn Exchange.
WHERE: 1000 Osage Street, Denver, CO 80204-3918
PROGRAM: Bill Dutton, Manager and Partner, will share the history of the Buckhorn Exchange.