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Wall of antelope heads.

Buckhorn Exchange Restaurant - 500 Stuffed Animals

Field review by the editors.

Denver, Colorado

Before committing to wimpy dining plans in Denver, consider a historic restaurant crowded with 500 dead animals . . . mostly dead animal heads. The Buckhorn Exchange has been serving up fleshy chow under the marble-eyed gaze of its kill since 1893.

Always a popular Denver tourist destination, the Buckhorn Exchange proudly holds the first license for "Beer, Wine and Spirituous Liquor" issued in the state of Colorado. Henry H. "Shorty Scout" Zietz was the founder, a self-celebrated character of the Old West (Chief Sitting Bull gave him his nickname). Shorty ran the place for 50 years; his family took up the mantle for another forty.

Moose and game trophies.

Though the business moved out of Zietz family hands in 1978, their successors have kept most of the place intact, moving the bar upstairs and dusting off the mounted heads.

Every wall features a mixed array of game animals, from the heartiest water buffalo to the tiniest chipmunk. A display of antelope heads thoughtfully includes a pair of antelope fawns (who would have quickly fallen prey to other animals had they not been spirited here). Interspersed are glass cabinets showing off Shorty's collection of rifles and pistols. There are paintings of Western heroes: a Buffalo Bill oil decorates a dining side room; a portrait of Chuck Connors hangs over the entrance to the kitchen.

Among the heads are autographed photos of celebrities -- Fess Parker (TV's Daniel Boone) shares a wall with Bill Clinton (TV's President of the United States). You can also examine John F. Kennedy's fishing license, and correspondence from Theodore Roosevelt. Shorty Scout once acted as a guide for Teddy on a bear hunt. As a gag, Shorty and his gang snuck out one morning, killed a bear and wired it up in a tree. Then they brought Teddy out to "shoot" it. He "blasted away," but couldn't bring it down! It's true -- the story is right there on the menu, keeping century old hilarity alive.

2-headed calf.

The waitress helps us pick out the requisite two-headed calf mounted near the ceiling above our table. We feel strangely lucky. Across the room, we spot a jackalope poised to flee his hunters. Too late!

The menu lists carefully prepared haunches and chunks of animals -- buffalo, elk, pheasant -- relatives of the same characters grinning over the tables. Rattlesnake and rocky mountain oysters are featured -- de riguer appetizers at any respectable Rockies saloon -- along with fried alligator tail and bison sausage. The cowardly sounding Baby Back Ribs are served in their ribcage entirety, blackened, clotted with grease and sauce, but oh-so-tasty. We're not fooled by our salads. A Buckhorn meal could fell an already decor-weakened vegetarian. Even a hearty carnivore couldn't eat like this every night...

Roz Brown.

The place is crowded during our visit, but hanging out in the upstairs bar is an unexpected treat. The musical entertainment most nights is provided by the autoharp stylings of Roz Brown, who has performed at the Buckhorn since 1990. Roz, nearly hidden by his autoharp and cowboy hat among the mounted heads and ornate furniture, sings an oddly lilting version of "Buffalo Girls." His mostly old timey repertoire ranges from Western ballads to 60s folk songs to tunes of the sea. After a few mugs of local brew Fat Tire, his ethereal interpretations of "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "The Unicorn" put us in a sleepy, meat eater's trance.

There is no dragon or unicorn on the menu.

Buckhorn Exchange Restaurant - 500 Stuffed Animals

1000 Osage Ave., Denver, CO
East of I-25, Colfax Ave., south on Osage St. to 10th Avenue.
Lunch M-F 11 am - 2 pm, Dinner about 5 pm - 9 pm (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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