History of the Antlers Cafe
IN YAMPA, COLORADO
The Antlers Cafe & Bar has been a local gathering place on the main
street of Yampa for almost 100 years.
It was built somewhere between 1904 and 1906 adjacent to the
Antlers Hotel. The hotel
was built in 1902 or 1903. The
Antlers first opened as a saloon, and then became a pool hall during
Prohibition. It then
reverted to a saloon with back room gambling.
Once gambling was outlawed in Colorado, it became a cafe and bar
until it closed for business in 1996.
The same family, the Benedicks, owned and
operated the Antlers for 60 years.
Mike Benedick was a young coal miner from the neighboring town of
Oak Creek in the early 1930’s. He
ran poker games in Yampa, Craig and Oak Creek.
He frequently ran games in his brother-in-law’s (Joe Morris)
saloon, the Antlers. Mike tended the Antlers Bar in 1933 and managed it in 1935.
Mike and his wife, Emily, bought the saloon from Joe Morris in
1937. It has often been
rumored that he won it gambling, a rumor Mike always denied.
When Mike bought the saloon, it was one long open room with a
tiny kitchen on the west side between the saloon and the back gambling
room. There had been a
narrow cafe at one time between the saloon and the hotel. It was removed by Joe Morris before he sold the Antlers to
the Benedicks. That
explains the false front windows that are located on the left side of
first year Mike and Emily owned the Antlers they lived across the street
at the Royal Hotel, which was owned by Mike’s sister.
Then Mike expanded the kitchen, partitioned it off from the
saloon and back room, and began serving food.
Emily did the cooking and Mike tended bar.
Mike and Emily moved into the back gambling room the second year.
It was three or four years before they had any indoor plumbing.
They raised three children and lived there until 1996.
built a tiny liquor store in the front northeast corner of the saloon in
1938, which is still in operation today.
Mike Benedick became a legend in his own right and is still
remembered for his tough rules. He
enforced those rules with a stern voice – sometimes with a twinkle in
The Antlers Hotel went up in flames around 1952
and the fire was battled from inside the saloon.
By some miracle, the saloon survived undamaged.
However, the hotel did not and was closed for business.
The two-story building to the left of the Antlers is what remains
of the hotel today. The
outline of the three second floor windows is still noticeable.
The Antlers continued in operation until 1996 when the Benedicks
closed it due to their failing health.
Many local people felt that the closing of the
Antlers signaled the end of an era and that the community had lost part
of its lifeblood. However,
in 1997, two old college friends recognized the importance of preserving
the Antlers and the history it contained. Charles Hamlin of Denver and Morrison Creek and John
deNeufville of New Jersey bought and renovated the building over the
next year and a half. They
wanted to preserve a piece of the “old west” and revive a beloved
gathering place for the local community.
The Antlers reopened for business in the summer of 1998 looking
much as it did when the Benedicks owned it.
In recognition of its historical significance, it was placed on
the State Register of Historic Properties and the Routt County Historic
The Antlers sits at the crossroads of Yampa’s
two main streets, which form the gateway to the Flattop Mountains.
Originally named Egeria, Yampa was first inhabited by white men
as a hunting camp. Peter
Simon, Sam Fix and Henry Crawford filed the first claims in 1881.
Both Simon and Fix owned the Antlers property at separate times
between 1910 and 1913. The
town was renamed Yampa in 1886 after the many yampa plants that grew in
the area. Yampa, from 1880
to 1900, was a shipping center for goods hauled by horse-drawn wagons
from the railroad in Wolcott to the homesteaders and farmers in the
Steamboat Springs area and Hamilton.
The first school was established in 1885.
The first store, Hernage’s was established in 1886, as was the
first inn, which was the site of the Montgomery Ranch.
That same year, a sawmill was in operation alongside the Yampa
River. By 1902,
approximately 400 people lived in the town of Yampa, the same number
that lives here today. They
were providing services to the homesteaders and ranchers, railroad
workers, timber crews and coal miners who worked close by.
By 1902, three sawmills and a brickyard were in operation.
By the time Yampa was incorporated in 1906, there were 12
sawmills. The Monte Cristo
(later, the Grand) and the Antlers Hotels were built next to each other
on Moffat Avenue in 1902 or 1903. This
was and still is the main street through town.
Both hotels were later destroyed by fire.
Moffat Avenue was part of the main stage line from Wolcott to Steamboat
and the stage stopped at the Antlers Hotel and Saloon.
The street was built double the width as it is today to accommodate
daily business, the stagecoaches, rodeos, horseraces, and July 4th
celebrations. It was also
wide enough for the cattle and sheep drives that headed to the stock
pens on the railroad line just east of the town.
By 1908, the railroad stopped in Yampa on its way from Denver to
Craig and eventually replaced the stagecoach.
The railroad brought tourists to visit Trapper’s Lake in the
Flattops and sportsmen to fish and hunt in the area.
In response to the growing number of tourists, Yampa’s third
hotel, the Royal Hotel, was built in 1910. It
remains just east of the Antlers on the other side of Moffat Avenue.
The railroad also made it possible to transport to other parts of
the country the large lettuce and spinach crops, which were produced in
the meadows around Yampa. However,
by the 1950’s Yampa could not compete with the California and Arizona
produce markets. A few bad
growing years and a dwindling labor pool also led to the final decline
of Yampa’s lettuce industry.
The population of Yampa has remained at approximately 400 people since
the early 1900’s. Cattle,
sheep and hay now support the local economy, along with the income that
comes from tourism. Yampa
continues today as a friendly, rural, family-oriented town.
The Antlers Café and Bar is once again a vibrant part of the
community and a living reminder of times past.
Famous Antlers quote ...
“I learned to cuss from Mike”
by Mark Labman speaking of Mike Benedick who was “kindly”
disagreeing with a customer!