When you think of ski towns in Colorado, it’s hard not to envision the glitzy, multi-billion dollar resorts that attract the wealthy and the very wealthy. Places like Aspen and Vail have grabbed the headlines of top luxury travel magazines as much for their five star restaurants or plush hotels as they have for their inches of powder or vertical drop.
But it wasn’t long ago that the Colorado ski towns of today were more Old West than Ski Chic. Outlaws, horses, and saloons were standard fixtures instead of lawyers, Mercedes, and wine bars. But in some of these former wild frontier towns, the spirit of the west lives on. Four modern-day saloons in some of Colorado’s most prevalent ski towns carry on the legacy of the old west.
The Gold Pan Saloon – Breckenridge, Colorado
Opened in 1879, The Gold Pan is the oldest bar in Breckenridge. It is a legendary watering hole and the history in the place is palpable. Located along Breckenridge’s mainstreet next to trendy boutiques, cupcake shops, and creperies, ‘The Pan’ offers a distinctly different atmosphere. It’s the kind of bar where you’re more likely to run into characters like ‘Black Jack’ Ketchum or ‘Curly Bill’ than a label concious snow bunny.
Even with the throngs of tourists on Main Street, crusty residents still frequent The Pan, creating an authentic local vibe. Cozying up to the bar, patrons can quench their thirst with local Breckenridge beers and spirits while listening to the tales of the city’s glory days as a mining town on the edge of the frontier. Rumor has it that there are even bullet holes still visible in the walls of The Gold Pan, but good luck finding them in the dark, dank saloon where daylight is no ones friend.
New Sheridan Hotel Historic Bar – Telluride, Colorado
In the mining town turned ski resort of Telluride, Colorado, the Historic Bar at the New Sheridan Hotel offers the dark woods, elegant old west ambience, and stiff drinks to soothe away the aches and pains of a day on the slopes. The bar opened with the hotel back in the 19th century, making it one of the oldest bars in the west and a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
The hand carved bar, filigree light fixtures, and smartly dressed bartenders all underscore the authenticity of the Historic Bar, adding to the atmosphere in this original saloon. Thirsty customers saddle up to the bar to order a number of fresh Colorado craft brews, but the real selling point of the Historic Bar is the whiskey. A vast collection ranging from domestic American wells to finely aged scotches await behind the mahogany bar, and an everyday special offering stiff pours of Jack Daniels for only $5 is a steal in a pricey town like Telluride.
Silver Dollar Saloon – Leadville
Just a short drive away from the ski resorts of Ski Cooper and Copper Mountain lies Leadville, an iconic Old West town, a symbol of the boom and bust era that was the gold and silver rushes in mid-19th century Colorado. Local celebrities have become folk heroes, as personalities such as Doc Holliday and Molly Brown once called Leadville home. Today, Leadville appreciates a slower pace and a quieter status as a quaint Colorado mountain town, but the gritty west can still be found for those seeking it.
The Silver Dollar Saloon is a living history museum in the heart of Leadville. In addition to serving up shots of whiskey and cold bottles of beer, the bartenders at the Silver Dollar will also engage bar patrons with local history lessons. While adept at pouring drinks, each bartender is also well versed in the history of the Silver Dollar, the haunted apartments above, and the town of Leadville itself. The bar is filled with dusty antiques, but not the type you’d find on the wall at Applebees. No, these are the real deal – as authentic and historic as the bar itself.
Ghost Ranch – Steamboat Springs
The town of Steamboat Springs still maintains remnants of its cowboy past – a world famous rodeo takes over the town each summer and it’s not uncommon to see ten gallon hats paired with North Face jackets or chaps over snowpants on the slopes. In the evenings, Ghost Ranch offers an extension of cowboy ambience with its hand hewn furniture, old timey ambience, and littany of animal head trophies adorning the walls; a perfect environment to kick back and relax in after a long day on Howelsen Hill.
What sets Ghost Ranch apart from other saloons is the focus on live entertainment. Local and touring musicians frequently grace the stage with sounds ranging between bluegrass, country, reggae, rock, funk, jazz, and acoustic singer songwriters. For a true old west experience, visitors can catch one of the burlesque shows that play at Ghost Ranch and pair with a healthy pour of whiskey from the bar.
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The cultural aspects of the Old West are becoming harder and harder to find in Colorado. But thankfully, there are still a handful of these gems serving up stiff drinks in an authentic atmosphere. Now if only they could add those swinging doors so emblematic of old west saloons…