23 October 2015

The Great American Bar

Actually, I don't even know what that means.  I hate coming up with titles for these posts.  In a country this vast, "Great American" anything varies widely.  In the Northern Great Lakes, it would have to include some table shuffleboard and a Friday night fish fry; in Chicago and Boston, it's Irish. I suppose in California, wheatgrass is probably involved somehow.  But out here in the Rocky Mountains, I love a good Western bar, complete with taxidermied animals on the walls and some grand old pile of wood imported from a nearby ghost town's old general store. Maybe it would also have a little something special, like bar stools with pistols for arms (see Saratoga, below).

I spend a lot of time driving around Wyoming, and I never tire of these local gems, which often also serve some great local beer on tap and occasionally even know how to make a good Manhattan. In many of these towns, it's easier to find a good bar than it is a good restaurant, and I suppose the right amount of gin is just as filling as a small sandwich, albeit slightly harder on your liver.

If you're ever out this way, here are my suggestions; they also correspond to the towns I like to visit (with a couple of exceptions):

Casper: The Wonder Bar has pretty terrible food, but a terrific set of taps, including their own local brew and highlights from some of the best beers around the state. Be forewarned, local Casper College students swarm this place on the weekends, and I've been there more than once on St. Patrick's Day when I was just bypassed for a pat-down by the local cops patrolling the front door. If you're looking for a quiet drink with friends, maybe try a Wednesday night.

The Wonder Bar, home of Wyoming State Brewing, Casper

Cody: Buffalo Bill's Irma Hotel (Restaurant and Saloon) has that classic, grandiose wooden bar polished to a high gleam, and a decent selection of Western beers and whiskeys. It's pretty quiet in here most of the time, and you'll definitely hear some old geezers talking about hunting season.

Buffalo Bill's Restaurant and Saloon, Cody

Jackson: Million Dollar Cowboy Bar downtown hosts a lot of dead animals on the wall, and plenty of Country-Western dancing on the weekends. If that's too much for you (as it is for me), try the Silver Dollar Bar in the Wort Hotel. It's got more of a luxe, gold-rush feel to it, and the cocktails are great.

Silver Dollar Bar in the Wort Hotel, Jackson
Jelm: The Bar & Dance Hall at Woods Landing Resort is a great place to watch swing dancers do their thing on the historically registered dance floor at night, though I'd stick to the beer if you stop for a drink. Still, it's a truly Western, small=town experience, as is all of Jelm. Come to think of it, this resort IS all of Jelm...

Woods Landing in the thriving metropolis of Jelm
Laramie: As the token liberal college town in the state, Front Street Tavern opted to go without the soul-crushing, dead stares of elk on the walls, but it does have a certain warm, inviting vibe thanks to the elaborate salvaged bar from nearby Fort Laramie. The taps highlight Wyoming and Colorado beers, and the cocktails are generally very well-made.  As a bonus, they're adjoined to (and run by) Sweet Melissa's vegetarian cafe, and until about 9pm you can order food from their delicious menu and have it brought over. This place is not for the faint of heart on the weekends, though--bring earplugs and be prepared to wait ages for a seat.

Front Street Tavern, Laramie

Riverton: Not a place I would normally visit unless for business, but Bar 10 is actually great. Despite the blaring country-western and troubled 20-somethings screaming about guns and (pro) Tea Party sentiments, I had a delicious Manhattan with what had to be home-infused cherries.  The aesthetic is a mix of hunting saloon (wood panel, dead critters) and 1930s oil boom with rich-colored stained glass and bronze fixtures.  As a bonus, this is also probably the best restaurant in town.

Bar 10, complete with flaming stained glass, Riverton
Saratoga: Snowy Mountain Pub and Brewery is located in the Saratoga Resort and Spa (the one with the teepees over the hot tubs--so adorable!). The bar is dark, covered in wood, and filled with animal trophies (so is the local grocery store, by the way), and the beer is really fantastic.  I have loved everything I've tried. Go here, but skip the restaurant--it is also very Western, and it's awful if you're under 90. (Pro tip: if you are over 90, you can leave your dentures at home and still slide that meal into your gullet.)

Saratoga Brewery--notice the pistols for arms on the stools!

On a personal note, I have been to a number of these bars with my most stalwart travelling friends, Verismo Trio.  There's no one I like exploring Wyoming with more.  They're probably not reading this post because they're too frickin' important, though.

VT at Bar 10 this week.
Scott: "Are you going to blog about this?" Me: "Probably not."