Date Archives April 2014

The Buckhorn Exchange

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The Buckhorn Exchange is Denver’s oldest restaurant, running continuously for over 120 years. More importantly to the hard drinkers, they also were issued Colorado’s first liquor license. It actually used to be known as the Buckhorn Restaurant; the “Exchange” part was added a bit later owing to the owner’s standing offer to exchange railroad worker’s paychecks for gold and silver plus a free beer and lunch. It became such a popular practice that the railroaders practically stampeded the restaurant every Friday…and the renamed Buckhorn Exchange didn’t lose anything in the bargain, because the thirsty workers were exceedingly unlikely to stop drinking after their free mug was quaffed.

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Located as they were at the heart of the frontier, a lot of historical figures have rubbed elbows at their white oak bar. We were seated in a section with a significant amount of Buffalo Bill memorabilia and I noted the “Buffalo Bill” drink on the menu, so I ventured to ask our waitress if he’d actually dined at the Buckhorn. She informed me that he was a regular…at least at the bar. His drink of choice? Bourbon and apple juice. Brown liquor and the least tasty of the juices? That’s a hard pass from me, I’m gagging a little just thinking about it.

The Buckhorn Exchange today is first and foremost a steakhouse; they offer most of the standard cuts you’d expect. They additionally offer a variety of exotic meats and what they call “the big steak”, which is specially cut and can be ordered to feed between two and five people. I’m generally of the opinion that a steak is a steak is a steak unless you’re getting a really high-quality piece of beef, and so I usually decide not to pay inflated restaurant prices for steak unless I’m at a place where I’m certain their cows died of happiness (like John Howie). I decided this was a much better opportunity to try something new, so I ordered a split plate of elk and ostrich, with a side of bison bean soup. I would have started us off with some rocky mountain oysters, but there was no way I’d be able to eat even a half order by myself and Jason said there was absolutely no way he would eat even one, so I had to save ingesting balls for some point in the future. That’s right, the thought of apple juice and bourbon makes me gag, but not the thought of eating a testicle. Go figure.

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Shortly after our entrees arrived, a large party was seated near us; one of the members was a strong contender for biggest hipster douche on the planet. As his friends arrived, he’d loudly make a point of saying “Oh my god, did you see all of this stuff on the walls? I know, it’s so awful! And I’ve eaten here before and the food is TERRIBLE.” There aren’t words for how much I loathed him. I wanted to give him a wedgie that was so hard that it would split him into two hipster halves, only attached at the glasses. Thankfully, our waitress noted his obnoxiousness (or perhaps saw that I was sculpting my mashed potatoes into his likeness and stabbing it with my steak knife) and asked if we’d like to be moved elsewhere in the restaurant. Yes, yes we would. No fewer than two managers came to our table and apologized for moving us; they comped our drinks and dessert, and gave us a Buckhorn Exchange postcard, all of which was unnecessary–they did us a huge favor by moving us, they didn’t need to comp us further!

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P3230743Plus, they moved us to directly underneath the two-headed calf!

P3230731While nothing tastes as good as free dessert (hot dutch apple pie ala mode with cinnamon rum sauce), the rest of the dinner was good as well, especially the bison bean soup. Neither cut of meat was preferable to beef (and Jason felt the same about his bison steak), but they were both interesting in their own way, particularly the elk, which had an unusual slight cedar flavor. Stuffed to the gills, we made sure that we’d seen everything there was to see in the restaurant, including the original bar, which has been moved upstairs to accommodate diners on the lower floor. P3230730

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P3230792 Before we left, I hit the restroom and was startled to discover the above deer peering into my stall. It looks much too excited about watching humans do their business. Stop it, deer. Stop it. You’re gross.

The Worst Hair Day

While at the Buffalo Bill museum, I couldn’t help but notice his son Kit’s extremely unfortunate hairstyle, which, even for the time period, he looks very unhappy about.  Kit, I feel your pain, as this reminded me of the worst forced haircut of my youth.

In the summer of 1994 before 7th grade, my mom, unhappy with her own short haircut, badgered me into getting my own hair cut short so we’d “be twins”. At twelve, I was hardly the paragon of obstinacy that I am today, and eventually I was dragged into “HairCrafters” (don’t think elite master of a craft when you see the word “crafters”, instead picture the hodgepodge glitterglue kind and you’ll be more on track) with a picture of Ellen DeGeneres*. I was parked in a chair, my mom pointed at the picture and instructed the stylist to “give [me] that” and eighteen dollars plus tip later, I was just at the beginning of a three year long nightmare hair journey, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Mom, proud of what she’d wrought, proceeded to take me from house to house in the neighborhood to show off our new twin status. I stood there in the summer sun while my mom chatted with the neighbors and the kids, normal kids, splashed in the pool and had fun. Although I was invited to join, my mom told me I shouldn’t because she didn’t want me getting it wet and ruining “the cute style”. She had me so convinced that I looked great that the rest of the afternoon, I rode around on my bike with my helmet carefully strapped on, the better to surprise reveal to my friends when they came to their doors. Publisher’s Clearing House, I wasn’t, and I couldn’t quite understand their nonplussed reactions. Later, when I arrived at home, I’d found that in a hot afternoon of summer bike riding with a helmet, the sweat and immense amounts of hair product had plastered my new short locks onto my head, like a shiny, sticky skullcap.

Short hair and I were never meant to get along: my hair has that natural sort of half-assed wave, is possibly sentient, and if so, is definitely an asshole, and what looked cute on Ellen looked horrific on me. This was also the period of time when the crunchy bang wave hit Wisconsin, and I really, really wanted to fit in with my peers, so each morning, I carefully hairsprayed and gelled my bangs into the crunchiest wave I could muster, the humidity taking its toll on the style no fewer than five minutes later, allowing random pieces to escape and curl across my forehead in a particularly uncool manner.

Add to this the fact that I had braces, owl glasses, and my mom still dressed me (to this day I cannot look at a pair of patterned leggings or a beaded vest without breaking out into a sweat), and we had the perfect storm for yearbook photo day.

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That is the oldest looking twelve year old I have ever seen. When I signed my friends’ yearbooks that year, I actually drew on more hair to hide that solitary forehead bang, like they couldn’t see my solitary forehead bang glaring at them in real life at that very moment. It took three years to grow that hot mess out, and then it started falling out, so where there was once a crunchy bang wave, I now have a bald spot.

Hair, you are SUCH an asshole.

*To reiterate: lovely lady, very funny, awesome person, but absolutely the wrong style for a kid with a fat head and unruly curly hair.

The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave

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Sometimes it takes visiting a museum dedicated to another person to realize that you don’t have enough items in your home with your face and name emblazoned on them. For me, that museum was the Buffalo Bill museum. I’ll admit to not knowing much about Buffalo Bill prior to my visit, other than he was shot during a poker game at Deadwood….which wasn’t Buffalo Bill at all, it was Wild Bill, so let’s go ahead and say that I had a baseline knowledge of zero as pertains to Buffalo Bill.

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William “Buffalo Bill” Cody was one of the more well-known figures (barring my ignorance) in the American West. He was born in Iowa, and like many Iowans, couldn’t wait to leave*; from there he covered nearly as much land as a person could cover in those days, traveling across the West as a scout, a Pony Express rider, a ’59er, a trapper, a hunter, a showman, and even as a founder of a town. The Buffalo Bill museum was established by his foster son, Johnny Baker, four years after Cody’s death.

I bore that fact in mind as I toured the museum; while every museum of this type has a vested interest in making the subject as appealing as possible, by being opened by his son, there’s an undeniable bias and some potential truth-twisting.

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I had visited the restroom prior to entering the museum, and inside each stall was a short Buffalo Bill story. The one in my stall said that Cody was a great believer in women’s rights, had given Susan B. Anthony box seat tickets to his show, and when she arrived, he made a point of bowing to her in front of the entire audience. “Wow, what a great guy!” I thought. But when I saw the bit above about how his family was anti-slavery, and elsewhere in the museum that he was one of the first to call Native Americans “Americans” and recognize their rights as citizens, and that he didn’t even kill that many bison so he can’t be held accountable for their brush with extinction, I began to wonder how it was that he ended up on the right side of history in every major issue of his time. Given the caption of the above illustration, I figured there had to be a first-person account of this incident somewhere, and as it turned out, it’s free on Kindle. Cody’s father was stabbed at a public meeting regarding slavery, but his stance wasn’t quite as noble as the museum depicted:

“Gentlemen and Fellow-citizens: You have called upon me for a speech, and I have accepted your invitation rather against my will, as my views may not accord with the sentiments of the rest of this assembly. My remarks, at this time, will be brief and to the point. The question before us to-day is, shall the territory of Kansas be a free or a slave state. The question of slavery in itself is a broad one, and one which I do not care at this time and place to discuss at length. I apprehend that your motive in calling upon me is to have me express my sentiments in regard to the introduction of slavery into Kansas. I shall gratify your wishes in that respect. I was one of the pioneers of the State of Iowa, and aided in its settlement when it was a territory and helped to organize it as a state.

Gentlemen, I voted that it should be a white state–that negroes, whether free or slave, should never be allowed to locate within its limits; and, gentlemen, I say to you now, and I say it boldly, that I propose to exert all my power in making Kansas the same kind of state as Iowa. I believe in letting slavery remain as it now exists, and I shall always oppose its further extension.”

The autobiography cuts off before his Wild West show days, so a number of my questions are unanswered, but if his own book is to be believed, he certainly did kill a hell of a lot of bison: there’s an account of killing sixty-nine in a day in a killing contest, he attests to killing 4,280 over the course of his 18 month stint with the railroad, and it seemed like every time he spotted a herd, the entire thing was doomed. This isn’t the work of a conservationist, and I don’t know why the museum would attempt to portray him as such. No one is infallible, and I think the truth ultimately serves the public (and his legacy) better. When you see a few small not-quite-truths, it throws everything else that’s actually true (like the Susan B Anthony thing) into question. He was an interesting man, and it seemed like he was the Forrest Gump of his time, having a hand in just about everything of note during that time period–he even helped Marsh during the Bone Wars! There’s really no need to tell any half-truths to make him more compelling. Besides, it’s not like he was otherwise unlikeable from a modern perspective–I particularly enjoyed his bits of self-deprecating humor sprinkled throughout:

“Had the villains captured me they would have undoubtedly put an end to my career, and the public would have never had the pleasure of being bored by this autobiography.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis issue included no fewer than 17 new sex tips involving pemmican and hard tack.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI want–no, need a lamp with my face tastefully painted on it.

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One of my favorite parts of the museum was the “Kids Cowboy Corral”, where I ignored the “kids” part entirely and tried my hand at lassoing a plastic calf. As it turns out, even when your “mount” and your target aren’t moving, this is really difficult to do, and I only succeeded in roping the calf’s ear. Jason cheated, and placed the lasso around the calf’s neck before taking a seat on the horse. In the Old West, they might’ve stabbed a man for that.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t know why I find having little locks of hair on display so creepy. I just do.

An entire section of the museum was dedicated to Buffalo Bill artwork, and they left it to the viewing public to decide whether each was an example of folk, fine, or funky art.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt first, my attention was grabbed by the horse being shot in the forehead. As I look back on it later, I have to wonder–where is that guy’s neck?!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADefinitely fine art.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could also use some really badass personal stationery. Wax stamp with my face on it mandatory.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart of Buffalo Bill’s storied spoon collection. Supposedly, he hired a guy whose sole job it was to polish them. So where are the rest?

At the end of the museum, they offer up an area for you to vote on your preferred museum experience–guided tours, audio tours, self-guided, etc. I took one look at the general public’s remarks and became incensed on behalf of the museum.

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What are the odds that the majority of these were from one giant illiterate asshole family? Really, you and your shitty children were bored from too much reading? They had two videos, a dress-up station, a place to rope a calf, and a place to touch all sorts of animal pelts that you would probably otherwise never be able to touch. That’s not interactive and entertaining enough? What else do you need? A bank of game consoles so they can play “Grand Theft Stagecoach”? Someone walking around in an anthropomorphic bison costume? Maybe try the water park next time if you can’t handle all the reading at a fucking museum. It really irritates me when a museum that was this well-done gets slammed for not pandering to the lowest common denominator. I walked into the museum knowing nothing about Buffalo Bill, and from all the (gasp) reading I did while there, I left knowing quite a bit and wanting to know more. That’s a success, and I’d be very sorry to see it change format and lose some of the information contained therein.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s like they knew I was coming.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABetween these plateaus is the Coors plant, where they turn water into tinted water and can it.

Buffalo Bill was so immensely popular that multiple states battled over his corpse, each claiming that they should have the right, or that Buffalo Bill had stated his desire to be laid to rest there. Ultimately, he ended up in Golden, and Denver parked a tank near the grave while it was covered with over ten feet of concrete to prevent anyone from stealing the body.

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The gift shop had a lot of your standard gift shop crap–snowglobes and t-shirts and pins and generic Colorado/vaguely Western stuff, plus an entire wall of creepy collectible dolls. I would have liked to have seen more Buffalo Bill-specific merchandise, more poster replicas, lasso kits, old West weapon replicas…things that you wouldn’t find at the very next gift shop down the road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause if there’s one thing we need, it’s more armed kids walking around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the door of mixed messages.

If you have any interest in the Old West and don’t mind doing some reading, the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave is one of the better museums I’ve seen. It was definitely among my favorite activities on our jam-packed Colorado trip.

*According to a recent (2013) poll, this is a lie, Iowans generally speaking have a lower than average desire to move elsewhere.Damn facts, messing with my hack jokes!