Hayden Since the mid-1930s, the bar inside 136 E. Jefferson Ave. has served as a gathering place for many western Routt County residents. Throngs of men and women in their 20s brushed shoulders and swapped countless stories in the venue years ago when business there was more frequent and parties inside more common, according to longtime patrons.
For at least the past decade, Hayden’s HiWay Bar has hosted a group of self-proclaimed “old-timers” as early as 5:30 a.m. on most weekdays.
“It’s quite the old bar and cafe,” said Herb Montieth, 80, a patron who has been entrusted with a key to the bar under the past two owners so he can enter in the morning and make coffee and chat with friends. “It’s just a place for us old fogies to hang out in the morning for an hour or so.”
Montieth has been traveling to the bar for beers and morning brews since he “came of age” six decades ago, and he said Wednesday that he was saddened to learn the bar would close Dec. 31.
Andrea Wheat, who owns and operates the bar with her husband, Kendal Wheat, said the reason for the closure was simple.
“Small town, bad economy,” she said. “We have taken such a huge loss every month due to the lagging economy because it has been tough for the people of Hayden to support it. We’re hoping someone comes along with deep pockets who can carry it forward and make it work again.”
The bar last week closed its kitchen and now is open from 4 p.m. to close Tuesdays through Saturdays until it shuts down Dec. 31. Wheat predicted the venue would keep a festive atmosphere before and after the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.
“We promised the people of Hayden a party, and we plan to give it to them,” she said.
A sour business climate
The Wheats, who moved to the Yampa Valley in 2005 from Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, took ownership of the bar in 2010. Andrea Wheat said efforts to turn a profit never gained any traction as hunting seasons failed to bring as many visitors to the town west of Steamboat Springs as the owners had hoped, and the effusive support from locals just wasn’t enough.
“It’s really sad to see an icon close, but financially, my husband and I cannot continue taking that huge loss monthly,” she said. “We have tried everything we can possibly think of to boost sales. We revamped our marketing efforts, we changed the menu to southern Cajun style food and extended our hours and kept it open seven days a week. We boosted the bar by putting live music in, but it just wasn’t enough.”
The bar will close on the same day the nearby Hayden Artisans Marketplace, of which Wheat also was a co-owner, plans to shutter its doors. Wheat said after the venues close, she plans to finish nursing school at Colorado Northwestern Community College in the spring.
“What makes me the saddest of all about the HiWay closing is that it has been such a place of history for a number of people, but we cannot sustain it,” Wheat said. “My biggest hope is someone will see what it has been to this town and take it and run with it and one day have it flourish again.”
According to the Hayden Heritage Center Museum, the building the bar resides in was erected in the late 1800s and has hosted businesses including a mercantile, the Yampa Valley Bank, a clothing and dry goods store, the Hayden Cash Store and a bar called Sam’s Place, which gave free beer mugs to patrons on its opening day in 1935. It became the HiWay Bar in the mid-1940s.
A hope to reopen
It is because of the structure’s rich history that Fawna Odom, who owns the building and previously owned the HiWay Bar, said Wednesday that she hopes to reopen the venue in the future.
Odom took ownership of the bar with her late husband, Bill, in 1990. She said Wheat was in the process of purchasing the building from her before it became apparent this month that Wheat would not.
“This building has always had a business in it for well over 100 years,” Odom said. “I’m not giving up on this. I’m going to go ahead and find a way to open it back up. It’s going to take awhile because it has run into the ground. But it’s always going to be the HiWay Bar. Everybody knows where it is, and that will never change. There is too much heart, soul and tears invested in this.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com