Colorado is rich in wild west history. While there are not many operating businesses left of those days, Denver’s ‘oldest’ still-operating restaurant, established in 1893, can be visited today. The Buckhorn Exchange is known to be Denver’s oldest restaurant, packed full of unique decor and memorabilia creating quite the dining experience.
The Old West has been alive at 1000 Osage Street since Buckhorn Exchange was established in November, 1893. A vibrant combination of cattlemen, miners, railroad men, tribal chiefs, gamblers, businessmen, and others made the Buckhorn Exchange what it is today, a place full of rich history of the West. The Buckhorn Exchange is named for the previous Rio Grande Railroad yards across the street that housed railroad workers overnight.
The restaurant has held up to certain traditions, even as specific as some culinary favorites from the past that remain on the menu today.
Among several U.S. presidents that dined here, President Theodore Roosevelt - who often visited Colorado to hunt big game on the Western Slope - swung by the Buckhorn Exchange via his Presidential Express in 1905. A photo featured in the restaurant today shows the train and a flag flying from the engine. This photo is among hundreds of pieces of memorabilia of the Old West at the spot, creating a museum-style ambiance that adds to the restaurant experience.
As the west boomed with business, the bustling restaurant and saloon scene slowed in 1916, when Colorado implemented Prohibition. According to the restaurant’s website, the Buckhorn Exchange owner turned the front of the building into a grocery shop. Word has it the owner, called “Shorty Scout,” would stuff a bottle of bootleg whiskey in a hollowed out loaf of bread.
Other tales tell of a hidden passageway to the second floor of the restaurant where patrons could drink and avoid police raids. The second floor is now the restaurant’s Victorian Lounge where ornate bars that were shipped from Essen, Germany in 1857 still stand.
The year 1933 brought the Prohibition repeal and the Buckhorn Restaurant was issued Colorado Liquor License #1, which is proudly displayed today.
In 1949, Shorty Scout died. His son acquired the Buckhorn Exchange and began decorating the walls with animal displays from his hunting expeditions. There are more than 500 taxidermy pieces native to Colorado displayed in the restaurant, including deer, moose, buffalo, mountain sheep, and birds. Some of the most intriguing displays are a two-headed calf and a jackalope, which you must see to believe it.
Other displays of the memory-filled Buckhorn Exchange include a 125-piece gun collection that includes Winchesters, Derringers, and a rare palm pistol from 1891.
A few menu items offered by the Buckhorn Exchange include boneless rattlesnake marinated in red chile and lime, sirloin game tips with options of beef, buffalo, or elk, and fried alligator tail, served with seafood cocktail sauce. The traditional menu item Buckhorn Exchange has held true to is “The Big Steak.” Seen in old newspaper advertisements and listed on past menus, the dinner option is intended to serve up to four people with a large-portion steak, ranging in prices of $87 to $220 per plate.
If you’re looking for a local favorite eatery, or an eye-opening museum, or a place to hear stories of the Old West, the Buckhorn Exchange has it all.
Note: While it’s hard to say which restaurant is truly Denver’s oldest, the Buckhorn Exchange claims the title. It was registered in 1972 as a historic landmark by the City and County of Denver.