Tom Ross: Dancing at the Diamond B.J. in Steamboat
January 8, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Welcome, y'all, to Steamboat Springs, known this week and only this week as the campus of Far North Texas State University.
It's a little-known fact that an 1836 map of the Republic of Texas reflected a tall chimney of land that protruded from the rest of Texas and extended north all the way into the upper Yampa Valley, into the West Elk Mountains north of Ski Town USA and beyond into what is now southern Wyoming.
With the MusicFest at Steamboat in town this week, Steamboat does feel a little like a northern suburb of Amarillo, and it's a refreshing change. But there's something missing. Steamboat lacks a sprawling honky-tonk with a wooden dance floor the size of a cow pasture.
If you've been hanging around Steamboat Flats long enough, you might still recall a brief, shining moment in the early 1980s when genuine Routt County cowboys and ski instructors in Resistols gathered at the Diamond B.J. to do the two-step in a rotating wheel on a wooden dance floor that measured nearly 3,000 square feet.
The Diamond B.J. was the closest thing Steamboat had to a Texas honky-tonk 28 years ago, when it thrived, if only briefly, in a strip mall on the city's west side. You might recognize the building today as Robinson Brick.
"We opened in 1983, and I don't think we made it more than nine months," Mike Gagnebin said Friday. "I went away on a vacation, came back, and it was locked. We didn't make it to the next rodeo season."
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The Diamond B.J. was named after principal investor Bud Johnson, who also managed a Western wear store called Cowboy Mercantile. Gagnebin and his wife, Beth, were partners in the Diamond B.J.
"It went the way that so many businesses in Steamboat went," Gagnebin said with deliberate vagueness. "There just wasn't enough money behind it."
To be sure, the Diamond B.J. wasn't the only, and possibly wasn't the most authentic, cowboy bar in Steamboat in those days.
There was the tiny downstairs joint beneath the Harbor Hotel, The Hatch, where all the hunting outfitters hung out and mixed it up with the cowpunchers.
"I used to hang out there when I worked for an outfitter," Gagnebin confessed. "At Diamond B.J.'s, we tried to keep it upscale. The (cocktail servers) all wore boots and skirts, and the clientele dressed nicely, too. We had some great live bands, and in addition to working behind the bar, I made a deep-dish pizza that some called the best in town. You could buy a bottle of Budweiser for $2.25 or $2.50."
But mostly, people came because it was a great place to dance where everyone was welcome.
"It went well at first, and it really went well with the cowboys," Gagnebin said. "All the (city) cops and the sheriff's (deputies) were there dancing. Steamboat used to be a cowboy town. It's not anymore."
I was startled by the news that Steamboat isn't a cowboy town any longer. Just Thursday night, I spied a young cowboy at the Routt County Planning Commission meeting. He wasn't dressed in white linen, and he wasn't singin' "Whoopie tie-yie-yo, get along little doggies." But I guarantee you, he was the real deal.
Nope, Steamboat doesn't lack for real cowboys, it just lacks a big, well-lit wooden dance floor where seldom is heard a discouraging word.
Thanks for the memories, Mike. I miss that honky-tonk in the strip mall on the west side of town — the one that didn't quite make it to rodeo season.