Antlers ready for a new start

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Unique. According to a dictionary definition, it's something that is one of its kind; without equal or equivalent.

Antlers Cafe & Bar, with its original wood bars, comical and rare game mounts and a century's worth of colorful stories and characters, aptly fits the unique label.

"I think it's a star place," said owner Charles Hamlin, who purchased the Yampa establishment with partner John deNeufville in 1997. "I've been to roadhouses and bars all over the state, and there's nothing quite like the Antlers."

After longtime owner Mike Benedick closed Antlers, Ham--lin and deNeufville saw an opportunity to rekindle the spirit that made it an integral part of Yampa and South Routt County for decades.

The partners remodeled the space, adding a modern kitchen and amenities while retaining the Antlers' Western aura. Their work earned the property a place in the State Register of Historic Properties and in the Routt County Historic Registry.

Antlers was open until last year, when Hamlin -- a Denver hand surgeon and part-time Routt County resident -- became overwhelmed with managing the cafe and running a medical practice. DeNeufville, who lives in New Jersey, largely has been an absentee partner.

A potential buyer's lease-to-own plan fell through, and Antlers -- which briefly re-opened last fall -- closed again in May. It has been listed for sale since that time.

The business can thrive, Ham--lin said, if an owner can be there full time or find a dependable person to manage it.

The Antlers story began in about 1904, when it was built as a saloon adjacent to Antlers Hotel. Through the decades, the establishment adjusted its focus, riding the waves of Prohibition -- it was a pool hall during that time -- and gambling.

It became a cafe and bar when gambling was outlawed in Colorado. Perhaps a testament to its legacy, it was spared from a fire that destroyed Antlers Hotel in 1952.

Sitting at the gateway to the Flat Tops mountains, Antlers has seen a variety of patrons, including sawmill and timber crews, ranchers and farmers, coal miners and tourists and sportsmen who came to the valley via railroad.

Now, the cafe and bar could attract hikers, anglers, hunters and skiers heading to or returning from the Flat Tops or Trapper's Lake, as well as Yampa Valley and Eagle Valley residents looking for an authentic dining experience.

Mike and Emily Benedick owned Antlers for 60 years. Mike was known for his cranky demeanor and rules, such as not walking with a drink in hand. Listing broker Donna Corrigan joked that people came to Antlers just "to be insulted" by Mike.

The couple converted a back gambling room into living quarters, where they lived until 1996. They cooked food for the cafe on a wood-burning stove.

During renovations, Hamlin and deNeufville altered the back space to accommodate a full-service commercial kitchen and walk-in cooler. They also lowered ceilings to allow for an air conditioning and heating system.

A two-room living area and office with a bathroom is off the kitchen. Hamlin kept a small, attached liquor store with a separate entrance as part of the cafe bar. There also is a small wine cellar below the bar.

Hamlin replaced light fixtures and some furniture, keeping in line with the cafe's antique style. The focus of Antlers remains its two ornate bars, manufactured by the Chicago-based Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. in the late 1880s, Hamlin said.

It's also hard to miss the two large "Ladies of Leadville" paintings, which were professionally restored to reveal the ladies' delicate gossamer cloaks.

The valuable paintings are not included in the listing price but may be purchased by the buyer.

The space also includes an antique Wurlitzer jukebox and, of course, numerous mountings, including anomalies such as the mountain catfish (a bobcat head mounted on a fish body), mule deer (mule with antlers) and Colorado cow elk (an elk with cow horns).

Four stuffed golden eagles became a part of the decor before the passage of the Endangered Species Act -- it is illegal to kill the birds. The Antlers' pieces must be gifted to the buyer.

Outside, Antlers boasts a roomy patio and 1.25 acres of land with a large lawn that could be ideal for weddings and private parties, Corrigan said.

Buyers might consider working with the town of Yampa to build a home or lodging area on the property, she said.

Antlers Cafe & Bar is being offered at $340,000. For more information, call Corrigan at Upper Yampa Realty Inc. at 736-8454.


-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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