October 2, 2014

The Mint Bar in Sheridan, Wyoming

Mint Bar cowboy sign

photo by: Pete Zarria, Flickr

The Mint Bar has been in operation since 1907.

Our collective memory of Prohibition, the roughly decade-long period in America's history when the manufacture, sale, and distribution (but not the consumption) of alcohol was forbidden, is rife with images of liberated flappers, hopping speakeasies, and decadent parties.

But Prohibition wasn’t all giggle water and dancing the Charleston; the American economy was damaged when thousands of jobs in alcohol-related industries were slashed, and a thousand people per year died, on average, from the years of 1920 to 1933 from drinking tainted bootleg liquor. The FDR-backed Prohibition repeal, ratified in 1933, was an exceedingly popular decision, bringing to a close what was known by temperance groups as “The Noble Experiment.”

While many bars across the nation were forced to close during the years of Prohibition, many more operated undercover as speakeasies, or places to partake in illegal hooch. The Mint Bar in Sheridan, Wyoming, was one such establishment.
Mint Bar decor with taxidermied ram's head

photo by: Bill Walsh, Flickr

The bar’s décor has remained largely unchanged since the 1940s. The Mint’s walls are covered with hundreds of cedar shingles marked with cattle brands from all over the state of Wyoming.

Founded in 1907 as the Mint Saloon, the tavern became the Mint Cigar Company and Soda Shop in 1920. The original wooden bar was removed, but the owners managed to covertly run a speakeasy in the back. The bar reopened following Prohibition’s repeal, much to the joy of the ranchers and townspeople of Sheridan, who could legally enjoy their "ditch," or whiskey mixed with water, once again.

The Mint saw a heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s, when cowboys and ranch hands would draw their wages once a month and come into town. As co-owner Monty Buckmaster tells it, some of them even had their mail delivered to the Mint.

“It was kind of a home base for everybody,” he says. Buckmaster has co-owned the bar for 24 years with his brother, Wes.

Other taxidermied decor at the Mint Bar

photo by: Bill Walsh, Flickr

The taxidermy pieces on the walls were donated over the years by members of the community.

The Mint Bar has become the stuff of legend over the years, with people from all parts of the world stopping by for a cold one on their way to Yellowstone or any of the West’s other natural treasures. The bar’s interior décor includes a hodgepodge of taxidermy pieces, some originating from a trip to the Yukon made by previous owner L.L. “Mac” McVean in the 1950s; a black timber wolf, a wolverine, and two caribou all gaze down watchfully from their mounts.

The walls are also lined with cedar shingles, branded with over 9000 cattle brands from all over the state of Wyoming, and idyllic, panoramic shots of ranch life. It's about as an authentic and well-preserved a taste of the Old West as you'll find anywhere.

“We don’t do any advertising,” Buckmaster says, “And we get people from just the strangest places.”

Want to drop by the Mint Bar to mingle with the cowboys? Here’s what you need to know:

Location: 151 N. Main Street, Sheridan, WY 82801

Hours: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., Monday through Saturday.

Keep an eye out for: An 8-foot, 4-inch long Texas rattlesnake skin that has hung above the bar for 35 years -- legend has it that the snake weighed over 80 pounds and was tracked on horseback for two days before it was killed.

What to order: A “ditch,” High Plains terminology for whiskey and water.

Best Yelp review: “The Mint still remains one of America’s finest watering holes. Millionaires and laborers drinking side by side. This is the America I love.”

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

@kateallthetime

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