Antlers Cafe serves up atmosphere

Patrons step through the doors and catch a glimpse of the past

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— Motorists who turn off the highway into the town of Yampa will notice the white building that stands at the very end of Main Street and Moffat Avenue.

Early settlers traveling by horse or wagon to the Yampa Valley probably noticed the same white building as they turned onto the same dusty road.

The Antlers Cafe and Bar has remained an icon of the valley's western heritage for almost a century.

Built between 1904 and 1906, it served as a saloon, pool hall and gambling establishment before closing in 1996, when the state of Colorado enacted a law against gambling.

In 1997, two old college friends, Charles Hamlin of Denver and John deNeufville of New Jersey, purchased the Antlers and began renovating the historical building.

When the Antlers reopened in 1998, its appearance paid homage to the past while embracing a new generation who knew little about its colorful history.

Its historical significance was also recognized soon after, when the Antlers joined the Routt County Register of Historic Places and the state Register of Historic Places.

Today, the cafe that was once recognized more for its beer than its food now holds a reputation for serving fine cuisine with a western flair, thanks in part to general manager and chef Margie Bach.

She said she has dabbled in a variety of foods to build up a local following.

"I want them to appreciate traditional fare as well as some new tastes like Thai and Southwest," Bach said. "And they have responded very well."

But she is always looking for new ways to expand the menu, she said.

Specials are customary every night, as well as favorites such as "Chef Margi's No Apologies Meatloaf" with mashed potatoes and corn or fresh Yampa Valley beef.

Bach said she would even like to offer an oyster bar by next summer.

"It's such a unique atmosphere here," Bach said. "You can't help but feel like you're still in a little of the Old West when you walk through the doors."

The Antlers' location provides a "middle of nowhere" feel, she said, which gives visitors a special satisfaction about making the trip to Yampa.

The staff serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., a lighter afternoon fare from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., as well as Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

It's a family affair for Bach, who employs the help of her daughters, Katie, 17, and Haley, 14, and shares her love of cooking with two younger chefs.

The food, however, is not the only attraction that draws visitors from outside the state.

Visitors who come in search of the Antlers say they were just as interested in the dr, day manager Pat Redmond said.

Inside, antlered trophy animals mounted on the walls range from the real to the ridiculous.

Animals such as the Colorado mountain catfish, with a mountain lion's head and a fish's body, and the mule deer, a mule fitted with a pair of deer antlers, give visitors to the restaurant something to talk about on the way home.

Black-and-white pictures near the entrance portray a much younger Yampa Valley.

"These people come from all over the country, but they've heard about this place and decide to see it for themselves," Redmond said.

Much of the Antlers' popularity stems from customers' fondness for former owner Mike Benedick and his wife, Emily.

Benedick bought the Antlers Bar in 1937, and his reputation as a tough bartender earned him quite a following, Redmond said.

Emily Benedick had only a small wood stove to use for cooking, but food was only served if her husband was not in a foul mood, she said.

"Mike wouldn't feed you unless he felt like it," she said. "It was dependent on his disposition that day."

People would come from out of town just to meet the man who was rumored to be so hard-hitting, she said.

"Hunters would come just to get abused," Redmond said. "They loved it."

The restaurant will close from Nov. 15 to Dec. 12 to give the Antlers' staff a break, but like waitress Sheila McGown, they will all look forward to returning to their customers.

McGown began working at the Antlers in May for a change from her waitressing job in Steamboat Springs.

She has appreciated the relaxed atmosphere, she said.

"People come out here because they want to," McGown said. "They've heard about it, and they want to see it for themselves."

Julie VanDuyne and her husband, Keith, heard about the Antlers from her brother and were intrigued enough to visit the place with their family.

The beautiful scenery on the way to Yampa was worth the half-hour trip from Steamboat Springs, she said.

"It's like stepping into a scene from a century ago, and then you actually get to the restaurant and find the same atmosphere has never left," Redmond said. "It's very unique."

In a market overflowing with so many variations of fine and casual dining throughout the Yampa Valley, the Antlers has found its niche as a historical landmark and restaurant that caters to all tastes.

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