After many months of saving and planning, Bruce and I were finally able to explore the oldest bars in the states of the Pacific Northwest. Our first stop was The Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville, UT. The exterior is a rustic wooden saloon that looks so quintessentially western that it almost doesn’t even look like a real building. Originally built as a trading post in the 1850’s, it was converted to a saloon in 1879 and has not closed since! Holken Olsen, the original owner, kept serving alcohol to the miners and ranchers right through the prohibition era. Whenever Olsen got arrested, his wife would take over bartending until he was released.
The experience got even better when we walked inside the bar. Antiques and bizarre taxidermy decorated the interior, including the stuffed head of a huge St. Bernard named Buck. At 240 pounds, Buck held the title of largest St. Bernard in the world in the Guiness Book of World Records for more than 20 years. His owner had his head mounted after Buck passed away, but the shape of Buck’s mounted head resembles that of a bear. The taxidermist charged with the task couldn’t find a dog skull large enough to fit Buck’s skin, so he used a bear’s skull instead! We sat in “Buck’s booth,” of course,” to honor the great dog.
Julie, our bartender pointed out the long gun hung over the bar. She explained that the 1700’s-era musket was found in a nearby field some time ago. Even the ceiling was interesting. We’ve seen bills posted on the walls and ceiling of other bars, but this ceiling had more bills pinned to it than I’ve ever seen. Julie said a conscientious customer with a lot of time on his hands once added up the bills. He estimated the total worth to be about $15,000. Arriving in the less-busy afternoon, we were delighted to have some time to converse with Leslie, the owner of the Shooting Star. Bartenders Julie and Karen regaled us with interesting stories of the bar and served us up an order of their famous burgers. One might not expect too much by way of food in such a small establishment, but the burgers at the Shooting Star have been rated by USA Today as the third best in the country. Judging from the “mmmmm’s” emanating around our table after the first bite, we deemed the rating completely justified. Wow, they were good. We also sampled some interesting local brews, and our family shared the tasty Polygamy Porter. It seemed appropriate. I wouldn’t have expected such a fun and interesting bar in conservative Utah, but after 137 years, The Shooting Star Saloon is all one would hope it would be.