by Lesley Seacrist
Mix one part small town bargirl and squeeze a slice of big city girl, shake it up with crushed ice and pour a frosted glass of—me. It’s like splashing a bit of beer with Vermouth and Gin for making the perfect martini—impossible and unadvised.
In the big city where I live, it is nearly nonexistent to go to a mellow, sparse and wide open bar. Every weekend one hand is holding a beer while the other is tapping the person in front, to the side, in back, floating in the air shoulder to shoulder to please let me pass and burrow myself in the two feet of crawl space.
Don’t get me wrong; I have those heart thumping, bass bumping nights when getting beer spilt on me is a normal occurrence. I do the puppy face and in no time, another beer appears. And when there is good dancing and wonderful friends, a crowded bar seems like my own private utopia.
All I am saying is that most times I prefer a down to earth bar with elbow room. I have run across a couple during my lifetime and every time I order a drink at such an establishment, I rub my beer glass and wish for one in my very own city.
Actually when I say my lifetime, I mean the one year that I have been legal. But the two bars that really stick out in my mind were both in Wyoming.
Last summer on the way to Yellowstone, my best friend, her mother and I stopped for the night in Jackson Hole. This was after the beautiful, mouth open, camera out the car window view of the Grand Teton.
After dinner, we decided to take a stroll around the quant summer ski resort town square. With the desire to continue to unwind from the long car ride, a beer was on our menu. There were a hand full of possible bars to meander into, and ultimately we picked the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (www.milliondollarcowboybar.com)out of our 10-gallon Stenson.
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar opened in the 1940s in a building that’s been around since the 1890s, but there I was, a hot summer evening of 2005, opening the door and being transported to the 1890s. Inside, the glossy mahogany rails and furniture were an excellent image of the possible elegance of cowboy culture.
I leaned over the stools, my elbows sitting on a glass showcase bar meticulously lined with myriad inlaid silver dollars. The dollars charged my attention until the bartender asked for my pleasure. For me, when I visit a new bar, I order what I know is consistent, until my relationship becomes more comfortable—one Budweiser please. While the older gentleman turned to retrieve it, my attention was captured by the breathtaking oil paintings by famous western artist Ray McCarty. Hung throughout the bar, my eyes were bouncing around like a rider on bare back.
However, the real cowboys were there on the entertainment stage. With a set of country hits echoing throughout the bar, two steppers filled the floor with elaborate turns and twists. There was an aesthetic crowd, from young studs to aged beauties, all wearing hats and talent.
They definitely made us young city slickers want to abandon our free spirit urban steps to learn some honky-tonk techniques. I am currently in the midst of lessons at the Sundance Saloon in San Francisco.
Another very famous bar in this ten-horse town is the Silver Dollar Bar. A member of the Historic Hotels of America, the Silver Dollar is part of the Wort Hotel (www.worthotel.com), the brainchild of the brothers Wort. Other homesteaders and ranchers thought the family was absurd for building a luxury hotel. Of course, those who gossiped behind closed doors were wrong and the Wort Hotel became a popular hang out—the makings of any good 19th century pioneering town story, the victory of consumption and leisurely lounging entertainment.
The bars in Jackson Hole made an impression on me like a mint does on a coin.
Speaking of mints, The Mint Bar in Sheridan, Wyoming (151 North Main, www.sheridanwyoming.org) was the other memorable western hangout. Noticeable for the electric bronco riding cowboy sign outside, giving light to the dead main street late at night, walking inside the bar just gets more interesting. I am not a stranger to a room of taxidermy animals, since my family has an extensive hunting tradition, but it was like they had used heads and bodies as a form of wallpaper.
Along with the teeth and fur, polished deep red wood furniture gave the bar a dark earthy elegance. Our seats of choice were one of the few booths that gave an option of privacy when the bar was pack on weekend nights. However, for the most part we would have some stumbling guy ask us how our nights were going, or we would do the same.
I met some characters. It seems like in small town bars, the prime pick up lines proffered by the gents are to gloat about culinary skill. No joke! Every guy that hit on us decided to wow us with what they were going to make for dinner. Every guy was going to go to culinary academy. And every guy thought that steak and potatoes were going to be the way to a girl’s heart—don’t forget the rosemary (secret weapon). I felt bad that we were from the city that makes some the world’s best eats. It led me to be quite a bitch—as I would yawn and ask them to get out of the kitchen.
One of my favorite stories is when some drunken old man sitting on a stool told me why the ceiling was made out of tin. Allegedly, it was to protect the working girls upstairs from being shot from the stray bullets from the rowdy drunkards bellying up to the bar with their six shooters.
It was a good time in a good old small town, unable to be duplicated in a big city. I just had to come to realize that some of the best bars are scattered in these fifty states, and I can’t see everything in good old San Francisco—even though we all know that there is sometimes too much to see.
There are other must-see historic bars that I only hope to take a trip to sip at. The Natural Trust Historic Hotels of America (www.historichotels.org) is a good resource to research a shot of Americana, literally, in such unique establishments as…
1. The Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans has its only rotating bar called the Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge. Sitting 25 over 21 year olds, this merry-go-round is rumored to be more interesting than some might think since the Hotel Monteleone is known to have over a dozen ghosts circulating the hotel. I wouldn’t be surprised when happy hour began, they too took a 15 minute to eternity ride.
2. Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colorado, houses the J-Bar, which during prohibition times was seemingly changed into a soda fountain. However, when the bartender heard the ear-whispering word “crud,” he knew to slip shots of bourbon in the “innocent” milkshake. These days, the J-Bar serves their liquor straight up and without sneaky code words, and proves to be quite popular in the ski city.
3. Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C., isn’t shy to the big wigs that control our country. Four blocks from the White House, this hotel has housed many U.S presidents and social elites. The Town and Country Lounge is where they go get their drink on in a most elegant old English decorum surrounding. If it isn’t the dark wood and fancy hunt club feel, the 101 martinis to choose from will definitely entice visitors.
4. The Algonquin Hotel in New York City will cater to a more creative side with drinks named after famous literary works of art like the My Fair Lady and napkins inscribed by the famous Dorothy Parker. This hotel’s fabulous nature doesn’t stop there. Guests are offered the opportunity to purchase a $10,000 drink. This drink is offered on the rocks, since the ice dropped into the drink by a hotel’s jeweler would be stupid to swallow.
5. The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, might put fraud to the rights of the Kentucky Mint Julep. They have records of serving their customers “juleps” for 25 cents in 1816.