October 27, 2016

The Buckhorn Exchange in Denver, Colorado

Exterior of the restaurant and bar

photo by: Jeffrey Beall/Flickr/CC BY ND 2.0

The Buckhorn Exchange is a designated historic landmark by the City of Denver.

After years of traveling as a scout with Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz set down roots at 1000 Osage St. in Denver, Colorado, to open Zietz Buckhorn Saloon—today known as The Buckhorn Exchange. The saloon-turned-bar and restaurant first welcomed customers in 1893 as a convenient spot for a beer and a bite just across from the Rio Grande Railroad. With rooms for rent on the second floor the watering hole attracted railroad travelers, miners, cattlemen, and silver barons as they traversed the country.

Zietz—who was given his nickname from Chief Sitting Bull, himself—had a great affinity for hunting and contributed to the bar’s extensive taxidermy collection; today more than 500 pieces still decorate the walls. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt stopped and ate at the Buckhorn and even enlisted Zietz as a personal hunting guide during his visit to the area. And he was not the only Roosevelt (or president) to visit the Buckhorn—Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan all ate and drank at the 123-year-old bar and restaurant.

Not even prohibition (which started in 1916 in Colorado) could halt this establishment’s steady march toward becoming Denver’s oldest restaurant. Once alcohol was banned, Zietz converted the saloon into a grocery store but would allow favorite customers up a private staircase to partake in certain libations, according to local lore. And when Prohibition was finally repealed, the Buckhorn, then called Zietz’s Buckhorn Restaurant and Bar, was issued Colorado’s liquor license no. 1, which is still on display today.

Taxidermy on the walls

photo by: Emily Mathews/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Zietz's son Henry Jr., continued his father's taxidermy collection and was also an avid hunter.

Taxidermy on the walls

photo by: Emily Mathews/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

There are 575 taxidermied pieces in total inside the Buckhorn Exchange.

Zietz’s son took over the business after his death in 1949 but eventually sold the restaurant and bar to a group of local investors in 1978. They discontinued the room rentals on the second floor and instead opened it as an additional drinking venue, installing the 1857 white oak bar brought by Zietz’s family from Essen, Germany that was originally on the first floor. Despite this change, much of the two-story, painted brick structure remains the same as always, including its decorative metal ceiling and hardwood floors.

The bar and restaurant is still a beacon for tourists and locals alike with notable guests such as Garth Brooks, Steven Tyler, Vanna White, and Marilu Henner stopping in to sample the eclectic menu which includes buffalo, elk, quail, alligator, and rocky mountain oysters.

Location: 1000 Osage St, Denver, CO 80204

Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m; Dinner: Monday-Thursday and Sunday, 5:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:00 p.m-10:00 p.m.; Happy Hour: Monday-Friday, 3:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.

You’re having: The Buffalo Bill cocktail—an apple juice-bourbon combo and favorite of the famed rider and performer.

Best Yelp Review: “Some of the best meats in town. No place for a vegan!

Katharine Keane is a former editorial assistant at Preservation Magazine. She enjoys getting lost in new cities, reading the plaques at museums, and discovering the next great restaurant.

Forty of the most important, most interesting, and quirkiest American places 40 years old or less. See the list and vote for your favorites now through January 18.

Vote Now