Denver's Buckhorn Exchange Restaurant Is Full Of History And Taxidermy

In Colorado's Mile High City, the Buckhorn Exchange restaurant has been feeding hungry mouths and thirsty gullets since 1893. The establishment has since been recognized as a National Historic Landmark, and the red-brick building is now surrounded by some of Denver's more modern, sleek buildings. Tables that welcomed cattlemen, railroadmen, and Indian chiefs (they say Buffalo Bill himself came here) in its early Wild West days, and later, American Presidents including Teddy Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter, as well as Hollywood stars, astronauts, and British royalty, still seat guests today. Yet, as many interesting stories as the walls of this establishment might tell, the unique decorations hold equal appeal. 

With hundreds of taxidermy pieces, glass displays of guns and rifles, and black-and-white photos of yesteryear, the Buckhorn Exchange straddles the line between museum and saloon. It all adds to the appeal for those in search of Rocky Mountain oysters, smoked buffalo sausage, juicy steaks, and freshly poured pints, in a unique venue where a glimpse of the days of pioneers, cowboys, and gold and silver miners can be witnessed firsthand. 

An ambiance filled with history

Founded as Zietz Buckhorn Saloon by Henry H. "Shorty Scout" Zietz, the location was convenient for those traveling or working along the Rio Grande Railroad. In the beginning, the business offered rooms for rent above the bar, with the thirsty palates of travelers and workers quenched below. During Prohibition, Zietz turned the saloon into a store for wares, while secretly leading regulars up a hidden stairwell where booze could be consumed in private. Once Prohibition lifted, the pub was granted the first liquor license awarded in the state — a certificate that is still proudly displayed. 

Aside from expanded drinking space (the rented rooms were discontinued and used to develop the pub's seating area) and a wooden bar that was brought over from Germany, relatively little has changed in the aesthetics and the ambiance of the saloon. The unique menu continues to delight visitors with unusual offerings. It's certainly quite different from most other Denver restaurants.

Menus packed with meat

Celebrities and locals alike have ordered from the menu of alligator, elk, buffalo, venison, and rattlesnake. As one TripAdvisor reviewer wrote, "Felt like I was in a hunting camp in the city. Most diverse menu of wild game and steak options I have ever seen." Those who don't include meat in their diets can opt for salmon, while vegetarians have less choice, though they could dip into the decadent desserts, such as double chocolate rocky road brownies, cheesecake, or hot apple pies served with cinnamon rum sauce or á la mode

For those visiting the Buckhorn Exchange more for the ambiance than the food, a stuffed two-headed calf, Buffalo Bill look-alike contests, live music, and many more mounted taxidermied animals will keep curious minds entertained. You may even want to dress up to feel part of the setting, as the experience is just as important as the food and drinks.