From lamb chops to cocktails named "painkillers," these nine restaurants' menus are as storied as the buildings they reside in.
Dining at restaurants in historic buildings is like sharing a meal in a storybook. You can imagine peering down a mahogany bar at Basque sheepherders as they sip tart Picon Punch, or spying lumber barons with heads cocked to ogle a swishing skirt. The chefs’ creations may not last as long as the tales of bygone days, but your memories will.
In winter, Nordic skiers and other outdoor lovers trundle up to one of the oldest buildings in Talkeetna, Alaska, the rustic 1917 Talkeetna Roadhouse, for classic sourdough hotcakes, Granny’s Chocolate Potato Cake, or 10-ounce “frosty” cinnamon rolls. (907) 733-1351, talkeetnaroadhouse.com.
Monterey holds one of California’s oldest adobe buildings, its many lives reflected in the variety of cocktails served at Restaurant 1833. Drinks include absinthe from around the world and cocktails named “elixirs” and “painkillers” for the creations of an impostor pharmacist who once lived on site. (831) 643-1833, restaurant1833.com.
What was built in 1884 as the Lewis Lemon Mercantile in Ketchum, Idaho, is now the hip Cornerstone Bar and Grill, where brick walls and a midnight-blue ceiling set the mood. There’s a private “Mafia” table in a downstairs grotto and skybox seats overlooking the bar. Elk burgers, salmon, and soup are popular choices. (208) 928-7777, cbgketchum.com.
Montana has its share of fine old hotels with great eateries—the Grand Union, Sacajawea, Calvert, Fort Peck, Baxter—but if you want an uncommon taste of the old, head to Red Lodge. In 1941, Joe and Viola Regis built the art deco Regis Grocery to serve workers at the nearby Sunrise and Sunset coal mines. Today the building houses the Cafe Regis, where the blue plate special might be a pulled pork burrito with Spanish rice and pinto beans. In season, produce comes from gardens out back. “I saved some of the original grocery shelves,” says co-owner Martha Young. “It adds to the ambience.” (406) 446-1941, caferegis.com.
When they weren’t tending flocks, Basque sheepherders roomed in boardinghouses where they shared family-style meals at big tables. In the 19th-century JT Basque Bar and Dining Room in Gardnerville, Nev., they savored lamb chops, oxtail or beef tongue stew, and other practical proteins. The modern menu honors these deep traditions. (775) 782-2074, jtbasque.com.
Menu items at the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, Ore., might have been familiar to Palmer, the Western pioneer and city founder who built the mansion in 1857. But the sophistication of the dishes—including wild mushrooms, Northwest elk, and marinated sturgeon, which pair beautifully with local wines—could win raves from the savviest of frontiersmen. (503) 864-2995, joelpalmerhouse.com.
In 1920, steel tycoon L.F. Rains had logs shipped from Oregon to Salt Lake City and then hauled by wagon up Millcreek Canyon, where he built a magnificent home. The restored building today houses Log Haven restaurant, with dishes that include a grilled pork chop with pistachio quinoa, sweet onion puree, and grilled winter pears. (801) 272-8255, log-haven.com.
Late nights are dazzling under a glass ceiling mosaic at the Peacock Room Lounge of the 1914 Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Wash. A regular steak and seafood menu gives way after dinner to bar fare such as crab cakes, calamari, and coconut prawns, complementing cocktails that rival a peacock in splendor. (800) 899-1482, thedavenporthotel.com.
Set in Buffalo, Wyo., at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains, the grand Occidental Hotel was almost demolished in the 1990s. Dawn and John Wexo bought it and restored it to embossed-tin-ceiling splendor. The Virginian restaurant, named for Owen Wister’s novel, serves bison ravioli and cowboy-cut rib eye. (307) 684-0451, occidentalwyoming.com.
Photography by Bruce Gardner
This article was first published in January 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.