The floors creak with age, and the wood planks are seasoned with alcohol, tobacco and probably a little blood.
The stale scent of years-old booze drizzled across the room for reasons too numerous to count is oddly welcoming to the senses. It only takes a quick glance around this space to know this is where an eclectic mix of folks gathers to drink.
It's where the old hippy sits next to the cowboy at the end of the bar, where they laugh at each other's jokes. It's where the college kid drinks hard because he can. The next stool over is occupied by the kid's dog–a mutt named Bourbon. It's where the middle-aged woman, who might have been pretty once, spends her afternoons staring sadly into a beer mug, as if remembering the days when she used to turn heads when she walked through the doors. There are stories in this old bar. Lots of stories.
And there's a bar like this in almost every mountain town in the Rockies. From the Dirty Shame in Yaak, Montana to the Buffalo Bar in Silver City, New Mexico, and all points in between, neon signs invite all comers to sit down, have a drink and wash away the day. Bars like the Moose, in Dillon, Montana, or The Lariat in Buena Vista, Colorado, shelter secrets, introduce future lovers, shield the rest of the world from language heard nowhere else and stand sentry over an occasional fist fight. Or worse.
But on their worst days, these taverns are an escape, a recluse for the tired and thirsty. A safe haven, where, amid the "How's it going?" and the "How ya been?" and the "How was the fishing?" there is rhyme and reason and an affordable glass of Irish whiskey to douse a million worries. On their best days, these retreats are places of celebration, where the camera can be passed around and memories captured for eternity in megapixels. Where beer goes down easy and the jukebox alternates between classic vinyl and hip hop, with a little Jimmy Buffett thrown in to make smiling that much easier.
Amid the chaos of a Rocky Mountain tavern, there is stability. Comfort. Walking into a familiar mountain town watering hole is like slipping on an old pair of sneakers. The faces are different, but the characters are all the same. The cryptic (and not so cryptic) scrawlings on the bathroom walls are generally the same, but the names and numbers differ, presumably to protect the innocent. The mounted elk, deer or moose oversees the space, holding court over a diverse mix of patrons who only meet there, and nowhere else.
We all have our bar stories, and we all have our bars. In these sacred haunts, familiarity breeds fondness. Memories of good conversations, good music, maybe a dance or two, all soak into the walls and become part of the ambiance. Bars, unlike any other structure, actually emote–you can feel it when you walk in the door of a good one. It coats all who enter, and the willing gladly absorb the feel of a good Rocky Mountain tavern.
Take a minute the next time you walk through the doors of your bar, or through the doors of any good pub. Let it feel you, and take the time to feel it. Smell the stale beer, or the popcorn machine. Listen for laughter. Or tears. Look around.
Find an empty stool. Order a Jameson on the rocks, and tell the bartender I said hello.