A quirky bar for a ‘crusty’ town
Vail, CO, Colorado
It wasn’t until a fact checker from Esquire Magazine called a few months ago that Andy Kaufman, owner of the Minturn Saloon, had any inclination his bar was going to be on the recieving end of some national publicity.
“The guy wasn’t able to tell me what the story was about. I asked, ‘Is this good news or bad?’ We were really unaware that Esquire magazine had even come through,”
Kaufman said, saying he didn’t know the writer of the piece, Rob Story, either.
It was good news, as it turns out. The Saloon was the only Colorado bar featured in Esquire’s annual spread called “The Best Bars in America,” featured in this month’s edition. The story is a hall-of-fame collection of 56 bars from across Americana that celebrate “those harmonious and radiant places that serve us drinks, keep us company, and put up with our regretable behavior.”
In the paragraph-long piece, Story calls the Saloon a “quirky, riverside joint,” which Saloon regulars would be hard-pressed to argue with. He goes on to say the bar “typifies crusty, disheveled Minturn.”
Kaufman didn’t take offense, though.
“I think in the best terms is what they mean. Minturn is a reflection of Colorado history. It’s an old railroad and mining town and has evolved over the last 120 years. Compared to the newly created resort areas, it surely does have that feeling of age and I think that’s a positive.”
The building the Saloon calls home is circa 1901, and has continually housed a bar or restuarant, Kaufman said. Kaufman has owned the restaurant with Steve Campbell since 1986.
During the winter months, The Saloon is the oasis at the end of the off-piste Minturn Mile backcountry trek for skiers and snowboarders. In the summertime, people gather on the large deck, which overlooks the roiling Eagle River, to sip margaritas. The recipe was passed down from the previous owner and has been modified only slightly over the years, Kaufman said.
“The margaritas, that’s what people come looking for,” he said.
The back of the restaurant’s menu tells a story from The Saloon’s more colorful days, when one of the town’s young boys served as a runner between the bar ” where the men that worked on the railroad and in the nearby mine gambled in the back room ” and the homes.
“His job was to relay the message from the wives at home that it was time to come home. Women weren’t as welcomed as they are now,” Kaufman said.
Minturn resident Bec Jones frequents The Saloon not only because it’s close to home, but for the “everybody knows your name” feel, she said.
“If you’re a local and they see you come in, your drink is made before you even get to the bar. It’s cool in that regard. It’s very Cheers like.”
It was hard for Jones to choose a favorite part of the establishment ” “both the staff and the bar have a lot of character and both have been there for so long,” she said.
“There’s not a bartender in the place that hasn’t been there for at least 10 years.”
Though Jones was happy that The Saloon was named in Esquire, she wasn’t all that surprised. She’s run into plenty of people even outside of the valley that know the spot well, including a couple of people on a recent trip to Las Vegas. When she told them she lived in Minturn, they not only knew of the small hamlet, they asked if she knew Bruce at The Minturn Saloon.
“I said, ‘of course, he’s a friend of mine,'” she said about the Saloon’s longtime bar manager.
Growing up in Minturn Dan Chavez was quite familiar with The Saloon, though he didn’t end up at The Saloon much until he was old enough to drink, he said. Even though he now lives in Edwards, he still makes the trek east to hang out at The Saloon from time to time, he said.
“It’s a cool place. In the winter time it’s super chill with the big fireplace going. And it still has the small town atmosphere ” it’s not like the glamourized Vail bars.”
Caramie Schnell can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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