Behind the Bar: Legends of The Gold Pan in Breckenridge (video)
IF YOU GO
What: The Gold Pan Saloon
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., restaurant open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., restaurant open 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Location: 103 N. Main St., Breckenridge
Contact: email@example.com or (970) 453-2992
While Breckenridge houses many historic buildings, one bar located right on Main Street has seen it all. In the days of the Colorado mining boom, bars were used not only as a locale to eat and drink, but also served as dance halls, funeral parlors, voting centers, a place to get a haircut or attend a church service. It is rumored that the Gold Pan Saloon has the longest-standing continuous liquor license west of the Mississippi, and it has more than 150 years worth of captivating history to accompany it.
The Saloon started off as a tent in 1861, like many structures of its time, serving Taos White Lightning, a whiskey laced with tobacco, red pepper or other chemicals. In 1905, it held a bowling alley, which remained open until its move to Fairplay in 1935. It survived Prohibition by serving soft drinks up front, illegal drinks in a back room and a brothel upstairs. It even housed one of the first unemployment offices in the county, as well as a tunnel that is reputed to have run in all different directions under Breckenridge. As the story goes, the tunnel is said to have been intentionally collapsed when Main Street was paved.
Changing hands, names and businesses in the location throughout the years, the bar officially opened as The Gold Pan Bar in 1952. In the ’60s and ’70s, it was a locals’ hangout for employees of the newly-formed Breckenridge Ski Area.
THE RESTAURANT TODAY
The Gold Pan Saloon continues its tradition as a ski-area employee hangout, and it still houses the original bar. Serving breakfast and lunch by day, the bar becomes an animated spot for visitors and locals by night with live music and has become a traditional stop for bachelor and bachelorette bar hops.
Reggie and Pam Gray moved to Breckenridge about 40 years ago, purchasing The Gold Pan around 1985. In 2012, their daughter Megan moved home to Breckenridge to help run the family business after spending 15 years working in hotel and restaurant administration in New York and then Atlanta.
“My sister and I grew up in the restaurant business here in town, and I guess you could say it’s in my blood,” Megan said.
She reconnected with a Summit County high school friend, Chris Stromberg, right after moving home, eventually marrying him. The two now spend their time managing both The Gold Pan and a tavern they opened in Steamboat Springs two years ago called The Barley.
“It has such a legacy, and we wanted to continue that,” Megan said about her decision to come back to Breckenridge and takeover running the establishment for her parents. “It’s family run, owned and operated; and, of course, having the oldest bar in Breckenridge is not a bad thing — although that does come with some challenges because something’s always broken in a hundred-year-old building.”
The Gold Pan has offered employee housing in its upstairs unit for as long as Megan can remember, providing both rooms and parking for their workers.
“It’s a great benefit for our employees, and we know where to find them if they are late for work,” Megan laughs. “A guy came in just the other day who used to live there 25 years ago. So people come back to The Gold Pan, and it’s really fun because it truly is a family affair, and I think that really makes this special — people return years later, and it still feels like home.”
This summer, The Gold Pan debuted a new drink called the Gold Standard. Made with Absolut’s new Elyx vodka, the drink is a playoff of the trendy Moscow Mule. The recipe was a collaboration between both representatives from Absolut and the bartenders at The Gold Pan.
“It’s a refreshing summer drink, and everyone loves Mules right now, so this is our version of a different type of mule,” said bartender Jena Stricklan, who has worked at The Gold Pan since moving to Summit four years ago.
Made with vodka, St-Germain, pineapple and passion fruit juice and ginger beer, the hefty drink is served in a copper pineapple.
“It’s worth about $120,” Stricklan said. “We are the only bar in town using these pineapples right now.”
The Gold Standard is priced at $18.79, reflecting the year a permanent structure was built to house the drinking establishment, and is poured as a drink for two.
“The pineapple itself is a symbol of hospitality, so we wanted to incorporate that into the drink to invite people in and give them something fun,” Chris said.
THE GOLD STANDARD
3 ¼ ounces Absolut Elyx
One splash of St. Germain
12 ounces of Gold Standard juice, 1 part passion fruit juice, 2 parts pineapple juice
Top with Ginger Beer
Add a couple dashes of Dram bitters
Garnish with lychee and sage
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