Snake River Saloon building hits milestone
KEYSTONE – When Irving Phelps ran a business at the site of today’s Snake River Saloon in Keystone, he implemented the best and possibly the cheapest marketing plan around. The owner of the only local lodge located on the west side of Loveland Pass along Highway 6, Phelps would flip the switch on a big, red light on the corner of the building to alert motorists the pass was closed.That was back in the 1960s before the Eisenhower Tunnel was finished.”They’d keep the doors open all night,” said Jim Shields. “People would come in, drink and party, then find a corner and throw down a sleeping bag.”Shields was one of those customers in 1974 the night he rolled into town from Minnesota. He had heard about a new ski area in the Snake River Valley (Keystone Resort), and he drove to the area to meet Bob Starekow and Kent Peoples at a local motel. Shields couldn’t find his friends so he decided to wait – in the bar that he now owns and runs, The Snake River Saloon.
The Snake, as it is known locally, was built 50 years ago as the Loveland Pass Bar. It stood solitary in a field, the Snake River a straight irrigation ditch flowing slowly out back.Shields first worked there as a bartender, when employees simply shuffled downstairs to clock in. The apartment above the restaurant and bar that is now a band house was then used for employee housing.”How times have changed,” Shields said, sitting recently in the establishment’s main bar. “The Snake River Saloon was a landmark.”It still is, but it is surrounded and somewhat dwarfed by log-sided condos and townhomes that have been built since the ski area opened in 1970.Duke and Lucile Smith were the first owners at the site. Customers included mostly railroad workers, miners and men from the Eisenhower Tunnel project.Phelps and his wife, Betty, bought the place, renamed it the L.P. Bar, and it became known for mad and outrageous parties.In 1974, the year Shields arrived in Summit County, Jerry Jones purchased the establishment and renamed it the Snake River Saloon.
Mick and Deb Smith starting refining the place shortly thereafter with specialties like grasshopper pie. Shields and Starekow (who now owns Silverheels on Frisco’s Main Street) took over in 1976.Since then, the place has developed a deeper history. Framed photo collages dating back to 1975 line the walls throughout the bar.”Everybody knows where their picture is,” Shields said. “They can come back 10 years later and say, ‘There I am!'”Shields lived in the band house in the 1970s for a few years with his wife, Jane. “On windy nights you hear lots of creaking,” he said. “It almost seems like the building wants to move.”
Ghosts? No, Shields said, but supposedly Duke Smith hid a treasure on the property. “But I’ve crawled around every inch of this place and I haven’t found it yet,” he said.The treasure (if it ever existed) is still buried, but an original 1954 menu that had been trapped under a cooler was unearthed by the restaurant staff. It is framed now and hangs in the entryway by the swinging wooden doors.Another relevant piece of history is also framed in the entryway. It’s a 1980s Playboy Magazine story that extols the aprés ski party atmosphere at the bar. The article, complete with bunny ears and racy language, was a far cry from the original flashing red light that Phelps used to advertise the place.Yes, how times have changed.Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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