Booze

The Bucksnort Saloon, Iconic Colorado Bar, for Sale. Again.

The building housing the Bucksnort Saloon celebrated its hundredth birthday in 2019.
The building housing the Bucksnort Saloon celebrated its hundredth birthday in 2019. Courtesy of the Bucksnort Saloon
Out on the Western frontier, the saloon played an important civic role. Whiskey (and, not incidentally, the threat of a hanging) was key to the founding of Denver City on November 22, 1858, according to historian Tom Noel, who knows a thing or three about bars. In fact, the first Denver government was established in a saloon called the Apollo Hotel in what is now Larimer Square. And today, deals political and otherwise continue to be hashed out in watering holes across the state.

Even so, it’s getting tougher and tougher to find a classic bar in Colorado, as development swallows choice properties in both urban areas and the mountains. And increasingly, other old-timers are giving up the ghost. The latest casualty: the Bucksnort Saloon, at 15921 Elk Creek Road in Sphinx Park/Pine, long one of the most iconic bars in the state.

The Bucksnort got its start over a century ago, when Lydia and Howard Newhouser ran the Sphinx Park Mercantile out of a circa 1920 wooden structure perched at 7,040 feet in the narrow canyon above Elk Creek. The store catered to railroad workers on the narrow-gauge Denver and South Park Railroad, which ran to Buena Vista, as well as miners who lived in the area and early vacationers trying to avoid the heat (and smell) of a Denver summer, living in rustic cabins that dotted the area of Pine and Sphinx Park.

The spot has always been a community gathering place, and as the mercantile business trailed off in the ’50s, Pete Smaltz hosted square-dancing events there. The store closed entirely in the ’60s, and the building turned into a venue for live performances and dances, then a full-fledged bar/restaurant. By the ’70s, it was known as the Bucksnort, reportedly because the then-owner’s dog was a noisy sleeper. Or maybe it was because of a certain decor item left by a rowdy patron.

Either way, the Bucksnort soon developed a national reputation as a must-stop in Colorado.

In 1997, Galina Bye bought the place with her now-ex-husband, Joe Bye.

As she told us five years ago, on the twentieth anniversary of her ownership, she’d never really intended to run a bar. A native of Ukraine, Galina had moved to New York in 1981 when she was eighteen to join a brother who already lived there. She landed a job at the Long Island Transportation Authority and met and married musician Joe Bye. Galina was musical, too, and after they moved to Colorado in 1992, they played around the Denver area. One night they decided to head to this place in the mountains that they’d heard about from friends. They turned off 285 onto Elk Creek Road but thought, “Nothing can be here,” she remembered, “so we turned around, right before that last turn. We got lost, almost fell off the cliff, then wound up there as the band was finishing up.” Joe had a guitar in the car and began playing.

“Wow, what a cool place,” Galina recalled thinking, which is almost exactly what anyone else who’s ever seen the place thinks. But none of those people buy it. The Byes did, after the couple learned from then-owner Jack Hargiss that the place was for sale. “It was sort of a mistake,” Galina admitted. “We had no idea how much work it would be.”
click to enlarge Inside the Bucksnort: burgers, beers and bucks. - COURTESY GALLINA BYE
Inside the Bucksnort: burgers, beers and bucks.
Courtesy Gallina Bye
And the workload didn’t lessen after the couple divorced. Galina was running the Bucksnort on her own, with the help of their three kids, when her art career started taking off. She’d been painting since she’d taken a class with a Russian impressionist, and began showing her work in Evergreen; she even had an exhibit at the Center for the Arts. Deciding to focus on her art, she put the two-room, 2,000-square-foot Bucksnort and three rustic cabins as well as a parking lot on the market for $595,000 in 2016.

The price included all of the accoutrements, including the patio outside, the rustic decor inside, and the walls and ceilings covered with dollar bills left by patrons. Five years ago, Galina estimated the display at between $5,000 and $8,000.

When a great offer didn't come in, she took the Bucksnort off the market, but she finally sold it in 2018 to new owners from Texas.

They bought at a tough time, running smack into the pandemic and then major septic problems that got them sideways with Jefferson County, a spat documented in testy Facebook exchanges, with owners LJ and Kathy Weller encouraging fans of the place to call a certain Jeffco official to complain.

By then, though, they were already looking for a buyer; the Bucksnort — along with four lots — was listed for sale early this year for $700,000. The bar kept struggling along, though, closing occasionally to deal with labor shortages and Jeffco challenges. And then it closed more often. And finally, it closed for good.

A new Facebook message appeared this weekend. Right above a photo of an "Available" sign for the Evergreen Commercial Group, owned by Bill Downes, is this message: "Call Bill."

The Bucksnort stops here.

This story has been updated from a piece that originally ran in 2017.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun