Cafe Society

Head for the Hills

Page 2 of 3

He gave it, DJ hastens to add, in the form of a vast bar tab -- yet another reason those days are now the stuff of reverie.

"Winter nights, there was -- if you can believe it -- live music," he recalls, a little mistily, "and we'd all sit around here drinking. Tom had a liquor license, but he only ever served beer and wine, and he usually closed up early. We'd all go down the road to the Bryn Mawr or the Woodside, and by the next morning, we'd be back at the Buck Snort, and Tom would serve us eggs Benedict and Bloody Marys -- no charge, of course. Boy, that was the fun part."

No wonder DJ was perfectly content, in as close to a state of Buddhist non-striving as you can get living next to a bar in a tiny town in the Colorado foothills. He never cut a window from his house to the Buck Snort for ease of six-pack transfer, but that's his only regret.

Naturally, this is when the love of his life walked into his life. She'd come with a friend for a celebratory birthday lunch-and-beer and was so taken with Sphinx Park that she stayed to stroll around. Fate arranged for a view of Himstedt, stage right, in the unaccustomed role of Perfect Man.

"It's such a classic pick-up story," he says. "I had a brand-new puppy, and I was actually folding laundry. Imagine what she thought!"

DJ and Julie were married eleven years ago and spent their first year of married life in the Buck Snort house. ("They say children born in Sphinx Park are little sphincters," DJ says fondly.) After the birth of their first child, the Himstedts moved to a more populated part of the mountains, but they've never been more than an hour's drive from the Buck Snort, romantic location that it is. They often talk of moving back when the kids are gone.

"We were a strange bunch up here, but everyone helped everyone," DJ says. "If you started building a deck, there'd be six guys to help you, instantly. We pulled each other out of ditches. We ended up in ditches a lot, too. It was a great time of life. I should have been the mayor. I never stopped loving it."

It doesn't matter that Patton left for Virginia years ago, burned out by the mountain lifestyle, or that the bar is on its second round of owners since then: Musician Joe Bye, who plays most weekends, and his wife, Galena, bought it six years ago. DJ is loyal to the physical plant of the place as opposed to the personnel, and most of his favorites are still on the menu.

"Although now they have green vegetables?" he says, a little mystified. "Salad? Oh, well."

According to tradition, DJ orders the Forest Fire ($7.50), a half-pound burger topped with jalapeños and cream cheese. A Buck Snort burger, he says, is intended to be large and sloppy: If you put it down after picking it up, you sacrifice structural integrity. Today's version is large, all right, but also gray and dry -- not that DJ notices.

Julie's old favorite, Tom's Turkey sandwich ($7.50), has also suffered some alterations: The turkey's been sliced off a pressed-and-water-injected loaf, the bun is cafeteria in texture and whiteness, and the whole thing is slopped over with more scary guacamole. That smothered beef-and-bean burrito ($7.50) may possess magical curative effects, but in the light of day, it also evokes Denny's -- and the Philly Cheese Steak ($7.50) is in no way Philly, and certainly more floury than cheesy.

Though I would never say this aloud to DJ and Julie, I fear the Buck Snort is starting to believe its own publicity: Logo sweatshirts on sale for $50? Food that's mediocre, maybe even lazy?

But in the end, I blame myself. Who in his right mind comes to the Buck Snort to eat, for God's sake? If you need to -- for the sake of re-fueling, say, after fighting one of those wildfires that keep heading this direction -- stick to the appetizer side of the menu, where genuine bar food can always be found. The Buckskins ($7.75), a selection of baked-potato halves stuffed with taco meat, bacon, cheese and guacamole (ask the kitchen to hold that last ingredient) should keep you going.

The only problem being, now you don't want to go anywhere. For one thing, you'd need one hell of a designated driver to get home, unless you lived next door -- and hey, wouldn't that be great?

Sure enough, at this very moment, the lone customer at the bar seems to be reaching this same conclusion. "You know, it's so incredibly beautiful here," he tells the bartender in a voice tinged with the eastern seaboard. "I mean, I ought to at least get a camera for the next time I come here. It's its own little world. I don't know if it's this bar or this whole little town..."

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff