A moose head on the wall, a creek out back, a biker out front: Colorado bars aren't all about craft beer and mixology. Metro Denver boasts thousands of watering holes, but sometimes you thirst for a down-home saloon where getting there is half the fun...and the rest is all setting, history and, yes, alcohol. Labor Day weekend is a perfect time to plan a road trip for a destination drink. To help you out, here are Colorado's ten most iconic bars outside of metro Denver, in alphabetical order.
15921 Elk Creek Road, Pine
This has not been a good summer for the Bucksnort Saloon, perhaps the most iconic bar in the state.There are only two ways to reach this watering hole in Elk Creek Canyon, an hour southwest of Denver, and one route has been blocked by construction for much of the summer. But a trek to this century-old building is definitely worth any hardship. When current owner Galina Bye first saw the place, she remembers thinking, “Wow, what a cool place,” which is almost exactly what anyone else who’s ever seen the Bucksnort Saloon thinks. Go for the beers, burgers, live music and more beers; stay for the convivial crowd. As one regular notes, it's the only place where you might see a jeep, a dirt bike and a horse parked out front.
Doc Holliday's Saloon
724 Grand Avenue, Glenwood Springs
Gunslinger Doc Holliday died and was buried in Glenwood Springs in 1887. While his namesake bar wasn't in business back then, the building where it's located was. It housed a mercantile store while Doc was alive, so his dusty boots may have shuffled across the wooden floors at some point. The vintage bar was built on the East Coast and spent time in Leadville before being transported to its current home in 1920. There's plenty of Doc Holliday memorabilia and lore in the old watering hole, so take a look around before settling into a chair — preferably one with your back to a wall and facing the front door — for a whiskey or beer.
Gold Hill Inn
401 Main Street, Gold Hill
The Gold Hill Inn is more dining hall than straight-up bar, and with its remote location in the tiny town of Gold Hill, making the trek for just a drink without grabbing some grub wouldn't make much sense. But once you're here, the lively atmosphere and six-course dinners served five nights a week from May through December make for a convivial evening spent with a group of friends. The Finn family has operated the Inn since 1962, giving travelers a welcoming respite from the dirt road just outside the front door. Live music and murder-mystery nights add charm and variety beneath the wooden rafters of this Boulder County original.
Johnny's Navajo Hogan
2817 North Nevada Avenue, Colorado Springs
The interlocking beams that form the two domed ceilings at the Navajo Hogan are impressive even as a modern architectural feature, but considering that the structure was built in 1937 without a single nail (according to the restaurant's lore), it's worth a visit just to marvel at the decades-old craftsmanship. The Hogan has been a bar, restaurant, roadhouse, strip club and dance hall over the years; its current incarnation dates back less than a decade, but it's still a classic. Live music, a full menu and craft beers now draw Colorado Springs residents looking for a good time to a bar that has seen its share of bad times over the years.
The Little Bear Saloon
28075 CO Highway 74, Evergreen
The Little Bear has survived fires, floods and fads in its decades of existence, and continues to attract fans for the music and atmosphere. Grab a booth surrounded by decades of names carved into the dark wood beams or take a seat at the bar for lively conversation with the staff. The Bear celebrated its fortieth birthday two years ago, but the building itself is much older, having previously served as a church, a general store and a dance hall. A rowdy good time for live music six nights a week is the best reason to make the trip to Evergreen; while you're there, peruse the music memorabilia on the walls, including signed posters and other gear from musicians like the Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson and George Thorogood who have taken the stage here over the years. And don't miss the bras hanging from the rafters.
Old Gold Coin Saloon
120 Main Street, Central City
Black Hawk and much of Central City have changed almost beyond recognition since limited-stakes gaming was legalized in 1991, but the Gold Coin still rings true — even if the bathrooms are much, much larger than they were decades ago. Sit down on one of the bar stools for big, cheap pours...of both spirits and a spirited history of the saloon and the town, spilled by the affable bartenders. (They'll even tell you how the ashes of a late, legendary Coin bartender were scattered behind the bar.) The Old West setting is so authentic and entertaining that you might not even notice the ka-ching of the machines in the casino next door. Don't leave without sticking a dollar to the ceiling.
The Pioneer Inn
15 East First Street, Nederland
Nearly everyone in Nederland has either worked at the Pioneer or ended up passed out at a table there at some point in their lives. At 46 years old (as of Sunday, September 3), the Pioneer is divey and comfortable, but in its heyday, the bar hosted jam sessions from national recording artists in town to lay down tracks at the legendary Caribou Ranch recording studio. The likes of Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Waylon Jennings and Carole King have all graced the Pioneer with live tunes, but these days a good burger and a few beers are the main draw, though blues nights and open-mic Tuesdays still bring in a crowd.
Silver Dollar Saloon
315 Harrison Avenue, Leadville
Leadville has gone through many boom-and-bust cycles, and the Silver Dollar Saloon has weathered them all. This historic bar has hosted everyone from Oscar Wilde to Doc Holliday. The decor is Victorian shabby with an Irish accent, and it's filled with photos from the past and such memorabilia as the last rope used in a local hanging. Make a date to drink here on St. Practice Day, which Leadville celebrates every September.
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Stage Stop Inn
60 Main Street, Rollinsville
The big red barn has been a fixture in Rollinsville since 1868, and although it's changed missions and owners through the years and even went through a recent renovation, you're always guaranteed a good time here. The big inside space often serves up live music as well as burgers, and there's a great deck for enjoying beers, the view and the company. True story: A friend once went outside to pee in the dead of winter, parking her naked butt on a bumper...where it stuck. A friendly bartender freed her by pouring a shot on the frozen flesh. Let the good times roll!
Woody Creek Tavern
2858 Upper River Road, Woody Creek
Located about fifteen miles away from the glitz of Aspen sits the Woody Creek Tavern, an unpretentious watering hole that’s been slinging strong margaritas and Mexican food since it opened its doors in 1980. Once you've visited, you won't forget this saloon: The walls are laden with multiple layers of bumper stickers, news clippings, children’s drawings, confetti and photographs of old patrons – including more than a few of the “doctor of journalism,” Hunter S. Thompson, who was a regular at the Woody Creek Tavern. As a result, this might be Colorado's best-known bar — outside of Colorado.