The History of the Antlers Cafe

     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 the building. 

     The 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. 

     Mike 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 his eye.

     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 Register.

     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!


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Page last updated: July 18, 2002


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