Pueblo Beerchasing Continued…..

The Rio Grande Bridge outside Alburquerque

Two recent posts will give Beerchaser followers an idea of our trip to the Southwest US last September and the first installment on the wonderful historic dive bars we visited in Pueblo Colorado.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/12/05/beerchasing-in-the-southwest-part-i-oh-ernie-bob/

The last post focused on Gus’ Tavern and Eiler’s Place, both of which have retained their rich character going back to the end of Prohibition.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/12/28/pueblo-rich-in-history-and-dive-bars/

Shamrock Brewery and Irish Pub

Our next stop that afternoon was at the Shamrock Brewery and Public House right in the heart of downtown Pueblo.  Like the other Pueblo establishments we visited, it’s housed in an historic building and has been in operation for over sixty years.

Shamrock Brewing Co. is one of the oldest Irish pubs in Colorado.  Originally constructed as a mercantile building in 1908, the first notable tenant was Johnson Bros. Motor Company in 1913.  Founded as a bicycle shop, Johnson Bros. became one of the first Xcelsor dealerships west of the Mississippi.”  (Shamrock Brewing Website) 

It’s an expansive space divided into two parts – the east side which has an impressive mahogany bar with old-fashioned bar stools and a wonderful backbar was opened as the Shamrock Cafe in 1940.

The west side – acquired later and where we had our beers – has been a cigar shop and pool hall before the bar expanded and they started brewing.

It is a family- oriented and community gathering place:

“The Pub was the main meeting place in downtown Pueblo for many years and locals still reminisce about past business deal, raucous St. Patrick’s Days and old romances.  To this day, couples frequent the establishment on the anniversary of the day they met there so many years ago.”

The Shamrock gets good reviews on both food and beer – they usually have four of their standard and two seasonal rotating.  And, of course, as you would expect, green beer on St. Patty’s Day.

But what made the Shamrock such a positive experience was meeting the Taylor family (except for their son, Travis).

Cassy Taylor is our Beerchasing friend, John and Barb Senger’s daughter, and her husband, Kirk is the Sheriff of Pueblo County.  Their daughter, Sarah Taylor Gallegos, was there with her daughter, Penelope, and this is one impressive and friendly family.

From l to r: John Senger, Kirk Taylor, Cassy Taylor, Penelope, Sarah Taylor, Barb Senger and Janet

Since I’m not part of the family, I can do a little bragging about these new friends and Beerchasing companions…..Let’s start with Cassy – seen in the picture below with husband, Kirk.

Cassy has had a distinguished teaching career in Pueblo City Schools, where she is an elementary literacy specialist.  Like the rest of her family, she is an advocate of continuing learning and besides her undergraduate degree, has two Master’s Degrees related to education.

Kirk is an elected official for Pueblo County with responsibility for law enforcement and corrections as Sheriff – first elected in 2007 and re-elected three times.

Although I only spent several hours chatting with him, he reflects the quiet confidence plus having both a background and values which make Pueblo fortunate to have him leading the Department.

Kirk is a USMC Veteran and started as a patrolman in the narcotics division for the City of Almarosa, CO. After earning his associates degree and while ranching full-time, he completed his BA.

While working as an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, he attended and graduated from law school at the University of Colorado.  He has been a leader in law enforcement serving on numerous state task forces in addition to teaching at the State  Police Academy.

Kirk is a man of faith, family, an avid outdoorsman, coaches youth athletics and is active in civic and non-profit organizations such as 4-H.   He is also a national authority on the impact of legalizing marijuana including an appearance on a CBS 60 Minutes special.

And then there’s Sara.  I was fascinated by her background because of her Navy experience – a 2009 graduate of the US Naval Academy with her degree in chemistry.  (Having had a brother who graduated from West Point, and Academy degree is an accomplishment in itself.)

But Sarah’s record since graduation at the Academy transcends the ordinary.

(Sarah – second from left)

She was the Captain of the Women’s Rugby Team and also a soprano in the Women’s Glee Club!

(Sarah is third from the left)

After commissioning, she became a Surface Warfare Officer and was stationed in Pearl Harbor with one tour aboard the USS Crommelin FFG 37 where she had two deployments to Southeastern Asia and one shore tour as a Communications Officer.

USS Crommelin FFG 37

Sarah states:

“I completed my pre-requisites for nursing school while on shore duty and got accepted to Colorado State University-Pueblo Accelerated Program for a Bachelor’s of nursing.

I was ready to come home and be closer to my family in Colorado.  I actually served as a bartender and a unit secretary at the local hospital during nursing school……I have been working as an  ER and ICU nurse for the past 5 years in Pueblo and am now going thru Walden University online program for my Masters of Nursing-Nurse Practitioner where I hope to graduate in 2021!”

Smitty’s Green Light Tavern

From the Brewery, our group walked one-half block to the Fitch Block in the heart of Pueblo and the home of an imposing three-story historic building – the oldest in Pueblo and originally the home of Stockholders’ Bank built in 1873 by Pueblo cattlemen, Charles Goodnight and Col. Michael Fitch.

The Pueblo Club – an association of Pueblo’s wealthiest – met there, President Teddy Roosevelt was a guest – and in later years, the Elks and Eagles also “lounged and loafed” in its luxurious furnishings.   In other words, it reeked of the history of this railroad, steel and mining town.

Before it became Smitty’s Green Light Tavern the building was also home to the Pueblo Telephone Exchange.

Now when the Sheriff walks into your establishment, patrons take notice and Greg – “Smitty” – was there to greet us with a warm smile and welcoming handshake.

The bar, which opened in 1933 and having four owners since, has been part of his family since his dad – Linn “Smitty” Smith bought it in 1956. Greg became the sole owner in 1985 and loves the building and has enhanced and remodeled it while always being sensitive to preserving its heritage.

This South Pueblo High School graduate is now sixty-two and his bearing and personality reflect his athletic background – he was captain of the football and wrestling teams in high school.

The clientele was diverse and low key the afternoon we were there and did not reflect the reputation that some assert Smitty’s carries as a biker bar.

Smitty’s response is:

“I’ve had the stigma of being a biker bar. They’re all my friends. They come in here and support the place.” 

(And Thebeerchaser has seen many bars where the Harley guys and gals who are regulars add character – not trouble – to the environment. The Gemini in Lake Oswego and the Corner Saloon in Tualatin are examples.)

Smitty, although the bar was hopping during “Panic Hour” (every weekday from 5 to 6 PM with beers $1 and premiums $2), joined us at our booand he radiated enthusiasm for not only his bar but the City he calls home.

Quite a few customers came up and shook his hand and chatted – and for many that was also the case with Sheriff Taylor – both well known Pueblo personalities. 

The bar’s décor is fitting the tradition of the region.   On weekends, there is live music

 

 

 

 

The Star Bar

While in Pueblo, we wanted to experience a  dinner built on the City’s reputation for green chile peppers.  Now at $5.00, the Starburger, a straight burger has a great tradition. 

And while many bars and restaurants serve “Sloppers,” the Star Bar in the Grove Neighborhood, is purported to be the origin of this amazing creation. The bar is also a Pueblo institution.

It was closed for a time and has had several different owners, but is now going strong.  Sam Romero, the current owner, was quoted stating he didn’t believe it was a dive bar.

“We try to make everybody as welcome as a regular.”

Well, Thebeerchaser has been to a lot of dives and the Star Bar appeared to be one – just look at the building this classic bar occupies – and the regulars in many bars welcome strangers contrary to the stereotype.

The dark mahogany bar, the old bar stools, the booths and the distinctive ceiling tiles all make the “dive” description appropriate as do the two beers on tap – Bud and Bud Light, sold in $2.50 schooners – cash only…..

The “Slopper” is an open-faced burger – single, double or triple – smothered in green chile and raw onions. As one November, 2019 review on Restaurant.com stated effusively (and somewhat redundantly…)

“I finally got to taste what generations of Puebloans have shared with me in their storytelling. WOW. I had a triple and added Pueblo Chile and bacon. WOW. I also had the fresh cut fries. WOW. Need I say more. And so affordable…..Add a schooner and you are all set.”

And is it popular?   According to an article in The Pueblo Chieftain:

“Star Bar goes through about five gallons of green chili a day. Five pound of green chilies, five pounds of pork, diced tomatoes and a bit of salt and pepper to into the pot and are simmered for at least two hours. The result is chili that’s brought customers back ever since the Star Bar began serving up the slopper forty-five years ago.”

My slopper experience replicated the reviewer’s above, although given my recent lack of exercise, I didn’t have the guts – so to speak – for the triple and wolfed down a double slopper with a schooner of Bud.

(At $7, my double slopper was a bargain and to validate that premise, I offer the following comparison)

The next night we stayed at a wonderful organic farm – the Los Pablosnos Inn and Farm on the outskirts of Albuquerque.   The expansive acreage with a picturesque old hotel and many acres with vegetables, bee hives, goats and other healthy stuff I usually don’t eat, had an outstanding, high-scale restaurant.   The cost of Janet’s glass of wine that night weighed in at 275% of my double slopper!!

Although being built in 1900 didn’t seem “old” compared to the previous Pueblo watering holes, the Star Bar, which Cassy Taylor recommended and at which she accompanied us, ended our Beerchasing adventures that day on the same high note that will notch the Pueblo bars in Thebeerchaser’s all-time favorites.

We were warmly greeted by Margarette, the manager, and we noticed the dart tournament in the back of the bar, a lively game at the pool table and the crowded poker room immediately adjacent. Part of the ambiance is reflected in the ceiling tiles – a remarkable recollection of those who have visited the bar in the past.

(I didn’t find out how one qualifies for the ceiling tile option, but since the allure of the Pueblo watering holes beckons me to return, I will find out.)

Margarette warmly welcomes our group to the Star Bar

Back to Albuquerque

And so ended our unforgettable time in Pueblo and after a stay at the aforementioned organic farm, we spent one more night and half-day in Albuquerque before catching the flight back to Portland.

The tap room at Sante Fe Brewing in Alburquerque

We went to four establishments – all which were nice but not notable: Boxing Bear Brewing Co., Bow and Arrow Brewing, Gecko’s Bar and Tapas and Santa Fe. Brewing.

We attended a climate change demonstration in the afternoon, visited an historic chapel – the San Filipe de Neri Church in a building constructed in 1793 and walked to the historic Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town

The San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church

And while the scenery on our Southwest trip – most notably the National Parks (Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes) and the historic cathedrals –  were memorable, the history of the entire region was remarkable, the food was good (I still “relish” another slopper….) and the beer was varied and well-crafted from the Second Street IPA on the first night at Second Street Brewery in Santa Fe to the schooner of Budweiser at Star Bar in Pueblo, what will make this trip stand out to us when we reminisce are the people.

Horse at Eiler’s Place

From Ernie Bob at Second Street our first night, to shaking hands with “Horse” McHorsney at Eilers Place to reuniting with John and Barb Senger and meeting the wonderful Taylor family, to having a beer with Smitty from the Green Light and to Margarette’s greeting at the Star Bar that made us feel like regulars, our road trip reaffirmed why Thebeerchaser will continue his tour.

Even if in future years I end up bellying up to the bar to order just a soda water or Hires Root Beer….I will continue to meet the wonderful owners, bartenders, regulars and visitors that have made this an outstanding retirement hobby for the last eight years!

Check out the other blog posts from our Southwest trip at:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/12/28/pueblo-rich-in-history-and-dive-bars/

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/12/05/beerchasing-in-the-southwest-part-i-oh-ernie-bob/

 

 

 

Pueblo – Rich in History and Dive Bars

A classic beer sign hanging from the ceiling at Gus’s Tavern

In the first post on our nine-day road trip through the Southwest, I mentioned that one of our stops was Pueblo – two nights in this Colorado city on the Arkansas River.  After visits to both Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes National Parks,we arrived in this historic steel town founded in 1870 – a melting pot of many nationalities.

We dined that night at the Brues Alehouse Brewery on the Pueblo Riverwalk in a large memorable building – at one time, the police station and jail.  The Alehouse had a nice riverfront patio and an expansive one on the second level.

Brues gets good comments on social media on their food and Janet enjoyed a spinach salad loaded with grilled chicken and I had an outstanding teriyaki chicken bowl.  I downed a Leaderhead IPA – their flagship brew.  It was one of their nine on tap and since one of their seven guest taps was from Ecliptic Brewing in Oregon, Janet had the Vega IPA.

The Sengers (on the right) – Beerchasing regulars!

The next morning we met our good friends John and Barb Senger – prior Beerchaser companions from our time in Boulder, Colorado where they reside.

And their research skills, honed as teachers and administrators during their impressive careers in the Boulder School District, were still evident.  They had lined up a full-day’s itinerary with a diverse group of watering holes, but focused on those with robust historic roots.

Followers of Thebeerchaser blog know of my great affinity for dive bars and the two Pueblo “institutions” I describe below join the classics on Thebeerchaser’s eight-year travels.

Gus’s Tavern

There are some dive bars with more recent histories, but which still appropriately reflect the dive bar environment.   Don’t ask me for a definitive description – as former Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, opined regarding pornograpy, “I know it when I see it.” (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964).

And then there are those dives, which based on not just their ambiance, but their longevity, the founder’s roots and the stories which linger in their no longer smoke-filled crooks and crannies from years back, that earn that distinction.   Gus’s is one of the latter – and it’s obvious when one walks in the door.

The photos, old newspaper articles on the wall, the booths, the round-red bar stools, the general décor and the rich legacy of it’s original owner all create a lasting impression.  A 2013 story in the Pueblo Chieftain gives some insight:

“The building that is now Gus’s was built as a church in 1892.   Gus Masciotra bought the building in the 1920;s and ran a mercantile shop out of it.  When Prohibition ended in 1933, he turned it into a bar and it’s stayed relatively unchanged since.  Gus’s was the first establishment in Pueblo to receive a liquor license.”

The hallmarks at Gus’s Place are the cheap, ice-cold schooners of beer and the Dutch LunchAnd we discovered why…. 

As stated in this 6/10/2017 Yelp review:

“…..a plate of build it yourself lunch Sammy filled with onions, several kinds of lunch meat, and tomatoes with condiments of mustard, mayo, all laid upon really fresh white bread to build your own sandwiches.  This combo comes from the Bojon history of the area and the steel mill crews from the 40’s & 50’s and still is delicious today.”

There was a 2015 article in the Oklahoman that stated Gus’s was for sale. (The fact this situation made the news in an Oklahoma  City newspaper is evidence of the bar’s celebrated reputation):

“Current owner Evelyn Masciotra, 93, is in ill health and now resides in a nursing home, prompting her decision to sell, according to her son, Gino Mittino….In its heyday, it made Ripley’s Believe It or Not three different years for selling more beer per square foot than any other bar in the world.”

However, the bar was actually not sold until last year.  Although Gus and his son, Robert, who helped him at the bar for 28 years, are now both gone, you can still envision, them smoking cigars and greeting the steel workers stopping by at all hours for lunch or an after-shift mug.

In any event, the experience at Gus’s set the stage for memorable Beerchasing the rest of that day.   Just a block away from Gus’s (and unfortunately 1,445 mile from our house in Oregon…) we took another step back into history in this notable Bessemer neighborhood (annexed into Pueblo in 1894) with our visit to Gagliano’s Bessemer Mercantile Company.

As described by this Trip Advisor reviewer on 6/28/18:

Try to by pass this tray if you are hungry.

“This small store, now in its 97th year, is chock full or gourmet foods from A to Z. Pasta, select olive oils and vinegars, sweets, home-made sausage, old world cheeses and deli meats, frozen hand-made heat and serve pastas, European cooking gadgets and more line every inch of this immaculate and charming grocery store. If you want a deli sandwich, they will fix you up.”

And it was a good thing we had gorged ourselves on the Dutch Lunch a few minutes earlier, because the selection of meats, cheeses and bread was irresistible.  In fact, Gagliano’s supplies the “raw materials” for the spreads at Gus’s Tavern down the street.

Eiler’s Place

Only .3 mile from Gus’s Tavern is another bar whose founding also dates back to the end of Prohibition.  Eiler’s is in a neighborhood that’s “long been know as Old Bojon Town (Croatian, Serb, Slovian and Yugoslavisn), after the Eastern European immigrants who came to work at the mill (Colorado Fuel and Steel Mill).”  7/16/14 KRCC  Public Radio

Eilers is across the street from the big Catholic church and near the elementary school in a grand old building which was originally a grocery owned by the Glovich family – Matt and Josephine, who lived next door.  Matt died only two years after they opened:

“She was left with five kids to support.  The neighbors said, ‘You need to get a liquor license. It’ll help.’ She borrowed $20 to buy some glasses and turned the grocery counter into a bar.  She started with a keg of beer and a few bottles of whiskey.  ‘She had some backbone, I’ll tell you,’ said her great granddaughter, Sue Mikita, who has co-owned the bar for the last six years with her brother, Ray ‘Ray Dog’ Vertovic.”  (Pueblo Chieftain 2012 on plaque in the bar.)

Now Eiler’s is a larger bar and not as dark as Gus’s place, but still reeks of the ninety-year history.  The two big screen TVs over the bar detract just a little from the ambiance.

As we walked in, there were some older guys – obviously regulars – in a booth just to the right of the entrance.   (When I say “older”, it’s a relative term.   They were older than Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russel Wilson, but younger than I.)  We could hear them talking and one said, “Well, I’ve been in jail two times,” with a response, “That’s nothing – I’ve been in jail three times!”

Eiler’s Initiation including Schlevo

When we sat down, John Senger told us that we had to have the “Bojon initiation” on our first visit to the fabled bar.   That means you down a shot of Schlevo (Slovian plum liquor) followed by your PBR – perfectly appropriate for Thebeerchaser.

When the bartender found out about the blog, she brought out some old photos from the early 50’s.  They included the one below and she then said:
“See that guy over there?” pointing to one of the guys in the booth by the door.  “He’s the second baby from the end on his mom’s lap in the photo.”   The photo was consistent with this story from public radio:

“They’d bring in their kids and we’d take their picture of the new babies and we’d put them on the wall – we have books and books of these things.  Kids are always welcome and the kids love to come because the customers would buy them candy or Pepa (the original owner) would feed them.”

So I went over to the guy she pointed to and introduced myself and asked if he would be in a picture with me.  He stuck out his hand and said:

“I’m James “Horse” McHorsney.  But you should just call me ‘Horse.’  I live across the street and I’ve been coming here for at least forty years.”

Horse and Thebeerchaser

After one more stop as described below, we left Eilers and met the rest of our group including John and Barb’s daughter, Cassy Tavlor, her husband, Kirk, their granddaughter, Sarah and great granddaughter, Penelope, at the Shamrock Brewery and Pub.  Kirk Taylor is the Sheriff of Pueblo County and his job includes responsibility for Pueblo County Corrections.
I told the story about babies in the picture from Eiler’s and showed them the picture with the regular.  Sheriff Taylor, smiled and said, “Oh that’s Horse….I know Horse!”
Walter’s Brewery and Alehouse
Walter’s – another historic establishment – and perhaps I’m over-utilizing that word, but in Pueblo, that’s just part of the background.   This brewery, however, doesn’t just go back to the end of Prohibition, but to the 1800’s when Martin Walter purchased the Pueblo Brewery for $7,000 and the Walter’s brewery known in Wisconsin, began its long run in Pueblo.
It thrived until 1975 when it was sold and reopened in 2014 by a group of Pueblo entrepreneurs.  As with other Pueblo bars and breweries, its primary clientele for years were the steel workers.
The Alehouse had thirteen beers on tap – not your typical microbrews, but concoctions such as Pueblo Chile, Chile Clamato, Chile Red Lime – reflective of the region’s affection for the peppers they grow.
But we tried its trademark Pilsner:
“History in a glass!  The one that started it all for the Walter family.  The pre-prohibition, 1800’s German pilsner recipe is the beer that made the Walter family famous.”
Our Beerchasing day was not finished, however, so stay tuned for the visits to the Shamrock Brewery and Alehouse, Smitty’s Greenlight Tavern and the Star Bar – all part of the bountiful Beerchasing scene in the City of Pueblo.