March 9, 2007

The Bucksnort: Rustic, remote saloon hits all the right notes
"Reprinted courtesy of Evergreen Newspapers"

By Pamela Lawson
Staff Writer, High Timber Times


Joe Bye, Owner of the Bucksnort in Sphinx Park sings for his customers Feb. 24.  He performs at 8 p.m. every Friday and Saturday.  Bye and his wife, Galina, are celebrating their 10th year owning the Bucksnort. (Photo by Leah Bluntschli - The Times)

SPHINX PARK — Tacked to the dusty old wall of a saloon in Sphinx Park hangs a yellowed cartoon.

It features two hunting buddies whispering to each other, with a third man, unbeknownst to them, squatting bare-bottom behind a nearby tree.
“Shush,” says one hunter to the other. “I think I heard a buck snort.”

At least that’s the way Bucksnort Saloon owner Joe Bye remembers the cartoon plastered somewhere in the bar, last time he looked for it. Maybe they were sitting in the tree, maybe they were beside it — he can’t remember now, but he does remember that the name precedes his 10-year tenure as owner.

Bye, a former purchasing supervisor for a pharmaceutical research and development firm, was playing his beloved guitar for an audition at the Woodside Inn one night in the early 1990s when a woman in the audience said, “You ought to be playing at the Bucksnort.”
Bye, who lived on Lookout Mountain, had never heard of the place, which is tucked against giant boulders along Elk Creek. And his first experience traveling to the somewhat remote location was a scary one.

(Photo by Leah Bluntschli - The Times)

Bye had just bought a used Chevy Blazer with a stick shift but was too manly to admit he was unfamiliar with shifting gears. On the back road from Pine Grove to Sphinx Park, where the narrow lane is bordered on one side by Elk Creek rushing over the rocks below, he stalled the truck and nearly plummeted over the embankment, much to the consternation of his wife, Galina, who was traveling with him. But they arrived intact, and stepped past the colorful bikers in leather and chaps settled around the pool table.

Joe Bye, owner of the Bucksnort in Sphinx Park, sings original compositions and old mainstays.  The Bucksnort is a funky place covered in business cards in the ceiling rafters and dollar bills tacked to the walls, above, an old tradition Bye says harks back to the mining days.  (Photo by Leah Bluntschli - The Times)

For six years, Bye played his own brand of alternative folk music at the Bucksnort, with other varieties mixed in, from Hank Williams to Nirvana.
Until the day that owner Tom Payton decided to sell it — and Bye decided to buy.

The old log structure was once a mercantile store, then a lodge offering cabin rentals for fishermen and hunters. When one of the owners in the 1970s died, the business went into foreclosure, the nearby cabins were sold and a biker couple named “Ricki and Bozo” bought the saloon, turning it into a push-and-shove joint for visitors who brought along a big, ornery buddy, or were packing their own heat.

To owner Tom Payton’s credit, he marketed it as an authentic mountain saloon to the Denver Tourism Bureau.

And that brought new business and new clientele that, to this day, represent a variety of visitors — from famous people like John Elway and Mike Shanahan to firefighters, Boy Scout groups and bicyclists on their way to Colorado Springs. The mountain folk mix with yuppies, hippies, families and seniors, who thrill to a tour bus ride along the narrow passage followed by a parking challenge, which is often a crapshoot. (There are two routes to the saloon, one of which is not so scary.)

This month marks the 10th year of ownership for Joe and Galina Bye, and they are celebrating all month long. The saloon is open Friday through Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. or midnight, but come May they will open every day until fall.

At times, the Byes consider whether they might sell the place, turning over operation to a new creative spirit. But for now they are preparing for the many weddings and retirement and birthday parties headed their way during the spring and summer. They will work through the occasional power outage, which delights strangers with a genuine rustic cabin experience and prompts locals to bring down lamps so staff can cook on a fire.

Over the years, the couple’s three children, ages 26, 19 and 9, have shared duties at the Bucksnort. And the couple have managed to secure a good group of employees who, in the past, only rarely jeopardized their jobs by ditching work for a Grateful Dead or Phish concert — leaving the Byes to cook their specialty burritos and Cowboy-style frypan burgers alone.

Once Joe Bye left his own wife in the lurch when he forgot to mention that 100 bikers from a military post were headed their way and she had to cook for them alone. It is those times that have been the most insightful for the Byes, who say strangers and friends step up to help cook and wait tables or step in for him so he can jam with the other talents who stop in to perform.

And once in a while, Joe Bye sings the Bucksnort song, written many moons ago, by a former member of the band Sashay.


"...I know a place that feels just fine, beneath the mountain pine.
Goin' to put on my boots, and gas up the car can't get away too soon.
Take 285, not too far, to the Bucksnort saloon..." 
Joe Bye - The Bucksnort Song

My Woodside Home Page