If you are a carnivore and you are passing through Colorado, you owe it to yourself to have dinner at Denver’s oldest restaurant, the Buckhorn Exchange. Yes, it is pricey, but it is a steakhouse to remember with a menu that includes exotic wild game dishes that you can’t find anywhere else. When you see the restaurant from the outside in one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, you might never guess that the place has been designated a National Historic Landmark. It looks like any other long, narrow brick building on a pleasant tree-lined street. Then you take in the unique details such as the large antlers mounted above the second floor windows. The printing on the cheery red awning over the front door confirms that “Denver’s Original Steakhouse” was established in 1893. Consider that for a moment. That means that for more than 120 years, this restaurant has been turning a profit since it was founded by one of Buffalo Bill Cody’s frontiersmen.
When you step inside, you start to see why the Buckhorn Exchange is so memorable. The hunting trophies mounted on the walls might remind you of a taxidermy museum. There are remarkably lifelike heads mounted everywhere, representing every possible critter that can be bagged on a hunting trip from huge elks to pheasants with brilliant plumage to little desert mammals stuffed and preserved in glass cases. Most of the animal heads are more than 80 years old. Meanwhile, all the available wall space around these trophies is filled with Wild West and Native American memorabilia in the form of paintings, drawings, and artifacts. It’s a feast for the eyes, and you might trip over your own feet on your way to your table, trying to see everything.
Upstairs is the saloon where you can see the first liquor license issued in Colorado hanging on the wall. The surface of the bar itself is hand-carved white oak imported from Germany in 1857. The saloon has a daily happy hour and features live country music Wednesday through Saturday. But the menu is what you really want to experience. Here you can lose yourself in the taste sensation of old favorites such as beefsteak, pot roast, barbecue ribs, salmon, and duck. You can get a gigantic steak at three-and-a-half or four pounds to be carved tableside and shared with all its side dishes between you and your guests. Or you could try some exotic wild game dishes such as elk, buffalo, quail, or rattlesnake. The last time I was there, I had the combination plate with quail, duck, and Cornish game hen, and it was delicious. Don’t forget to try the appetizers, which include some unusual things such as fried alligator tail. The house specialty is Rocky Mountain Oysters, which finds a culinary use for all those beef testicles left over when bull calves are turned into steers each spring. Waste not, want not, right? I didn’t try these, but I hear they’re more like chicken nuggets than oysters.
The Buckhorn Exchange (http://www.buckhorn.com/) is located at 1000 Osage St, which is just five minutes from downtown Denver CO. You should make a reservation at (303) 534-9505. The hours are
Lunch: Monday through Friday 11 AM to 2 PM
- Monday through Thursday 5:30 PM to 9 PM,
- Friday and Saturday: 5:00 PM to 10 PM,
- Sunday 5:00 PM to 9 PM
Happy Hour: Monday through Friday 4 PM to 6 PM
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