The Buckhorn Exchange
1000 Osage Street
Between Columbia, MO and Denver, CO we continued to follow the Sterns' suggestions. We were particularly disappointed when we discovered that the nearby lodge they suggested in Wapiti, Wyoming was in foreclosure. Why the disappointment? We were going to try Rocky Mountain Oysters for the first time. After a little reading ahead, I discovered that we could also try RMOs at the Buckhorn Exchange in Denver, along with rattlesnake and a variety of other rare meats.
The Buckhorn Exchange is Denver's oldest restaurant. It's origins date back to 1893 and it is actually considered to be a restaurant/museum. It was opened by Henry Zietz, who was a member of Buffalo Bill Cody's famed band of scouts. The restaurant/museum is filled with over 500 feats of taxidermy, including buffalo, elk, moose, bear, and even a zebra. (Warren and I joked that all that was missing was a nine foot long giraffe head!)
We arrived around 2:30 after a nice morning at the Sierra Nevada Outlet in Laramie, Wyoming. "I hope they're still open," I wished out loud, knowing that 2:30pm can sometimes be a strange time to eat lunch. As we approached the door, I looked at their hours. Lunch ended at 2:30pm. "Dangit!" I lamented.
Warren, however, read the fine print. "It says the upstairs bar is open."
"Think we can take the kids to the bar?" I asked no one in particular, and then opened the door. "Maybe we can still get a seat," I said optimistically.
I could see several tables of diners and a nice man approached me. "You can have a seat upstairs and order from the bar menu," he said, pointing me toward the stairs.
"Is it okay to take kids up there?" I asked.
"Sure, no problem," he said. "And feel free to look around down here if you like."
We all got an eyeful of the taxidermic triumphs before heading up the stairs. The bar was actually a Victorian parlor with tables made from poker tables made in Germany. Colorado liquor license #1 was proudly displayed over the old oak bar. It definitely felt like we had walked into the old west.
The bartender greeted us and told us to sit where ever we wanted and handed us the bar menu. I glanced at it quickly and then my heart sank. "They don't have what we want on the bar menu," I said sadly.
The bartender overheard me and asked what it was we were looking for. I sheepishly answered, "Rocky Mountain Oysters and rattlesnake."
"No problem," he said.
Happy again, we set off to find a place to sit. Soon after we settled in, another group came in with a small child, and then four men came and sat on some sofas nearby. The bartender took our drink order and we examined the menu more closely to find something for the boys to eat. That’s when we noticed that the rattlesnake cost $16. Yikes.
“When else will we get a chance to eat rattlesnake?” we reasoned. The RMOs were $12. We never saw the kids menu, so we ordered a buffalo burger for them to split. It came with a choice of saratoga chips, beans, or a little of both. We went with a little of both. Satchel, who was freezing, requested a bowl of soup. Navy bean and ham was the soup of the day, so we ordered that. Warren also noticed that they had a Samurai rice beer, so we ordered one of those too, even though it was a bit random.
When our drinks came out, the boys got theirs in little boots, which was just precious. (They are probably in a lot of westerny restaurants, but this was our first experience with them, so we were impressed.) Lest the boys get too excited, Warren said, “I hope that doesn’t mean it’s going to taste like feet.”
Even the bartender laughed at that remark. “Now, that’s one I’ve never heard before,” he said.
While we waited for our food, we did a little exploring. First, the restrooms. (Very nice, with swinging old west doors.) Second, the taxidermy. I spotted a jackalope across the room, so we had to check it out. Next, the boys noticed some squirrels outside the window on a tree branch. They were busy collecting nuts and building a nest. (Or something.) Satchel asked, “Do they have squirrel on the menu?” Warren and I looked at each other, shrugged, and answered not too confidently, “No.”
We noticed the bartender coming in through the back with something for another table and the monkeys said, “Let’s look outside.” I followed them and soon found myself in the beer garden of my dreams. Their second story enclosed patio was just awesome. A chuckwagon was parked in one corner and had a separate little kitchen space, sparkly lights decorated the ceiling, and the overall atmosphere was super cozy.
Back inside, it was chow time. Everything came out at once and we suddenly realized just how much food we ordered. The bartender brought over a couple of TV trays for our overflow and we looked in amazement at the feast before us. The rattlesnake was served on top of a cream cheese/chili lime dip with multi-colored tortilla chips. (We were expecting it to actually look like a rattlesnake, I think.) The RMOs just looked like, well, fried oysters. They came with tartar and cocktail sauce.
I made Warren try a RMO first. Hesitantly, he put it in his mouth. “It’s good,” he assured me. I tried one, dipped in a generous amount of cocktail sauce. It was good. In fact, I might have thought it was a regular old oyster had I not known better. Next, we convinced Jiro to try one. He loved it and proceeded to eat several. Satchel, who was quite happy with his soup and burger, could not be swayed.
The rattlesnake, get ready for it, kind of tasted like chicken. The dip it came with was very tangy and spicy, and we easily ate it all up. Again, Jiro was happy to try it, but not Satchel, a complete reversal from our ordinary experiences.
While we were enjoying our meal, Warren had one great one liner after the next, and the funniest part was that he really wasn’t trying to be funny.
“I wonder if it is one testicle or two?” he asked me. (I asked the bartender, and he answered “two” between giant gasps of air and audible laughter.)
RMOs are traditionally made from the young calfs, Warren told me, then explained, “You probably don’t want the adult ones...because of the semen.”
While encouraging me to keep up with my half of the order, he said, “Eat more, I’ve been stuffing myself with the big ones!”
Finally, he suggested that should we ever order RMOs again, we get them with bratwurst.
When we were all done, we paid up, took one more gander at the patio, then went downstairs to check out the decor there. We ran into a few other staffers there, and like the ones we had already encountered, they were super friendly and very tolerant/accustomed to tourists. We snapped a few pics and then headed back to the car and our next adventure. We all agreed that the stop at the Buckhorn was the highlight of our culinary tour. Thanks Jane and Michael!