Durango’s historic Strater celebrates a landmark

Michelle Thom, general manager of the Strater Hotel, and Rod Barker, who is the third-generation owner of the hotel, raise a champagne toast, as Durango’s iconic landmark celebrates its 125th birthday on Aug. 25. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Megan Tuthill

Michelle Thom, general manager of the Strater Hotel, and Rod Barker, who is the third-generation owner of the hotel, raise a champagne toast, as Durango’s iconic landmark celebrates its 125th birthday on Aug. 25.

A cake with 125 candles on it would be a fire hazard – not to mention how hard it would be to blow them all out – so the folks at the Strater Hotel decided to play it safe with roses on the cake and cupcakes sans candles for the hotel’s big birthday party Aug. 25.

About 150 attendees got a fun look at a different part of the hotel’s history at the street party on Seventh Street next to the hotel. Not only did they pull out a wagon in which the earliest guests were transported to the Strater from the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Depot, they pulled out the Strater’s old Ford Model T courtesy car, which was used to pick them up at the airport, particularly when it was located where Fort Lewis College stands today. Extremely cool.

The hotel has the distinction of being the longest running account with Early Times bourbon whiskey, which Strater owner Rod Barker calls a great bar whiskey, and the Kentucky-based distillery co-sponsored the party. Representatives from the company were on hand for the festivities, and they even had flown in a barrel actually used to age bourbon. Did you know the oak is charred first to give bourbon its distinctive taste and red color? Early Times has a long heritage, as it was founded in 1860 and is the second-oldest continually produced whiskey in the U.S.

According to hotel legend, Barker’s grandfather Earl A. Barker Sr. bought a train car full of Early Times to be able to serve his guests during Prohibition. (As far as I can tell, many Durangoans seemed to regard Prohibition as a suggestion rather than a law, and the statute of limitations applies in any case.) Early Times was still produced during Prohibition because it was purchased by a company that held a “medicinal whiskey” permit.

Now the best-selling Kentucky whiskey in Japan, Early Times’ Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Attendees at Churchill Downs in May downed 90,000 juleps.

Once the constitutional amendment was repealed, the Strater and Early Times partnership resumed. Robert Citto, the food and beverage director at the Strater, created an Early Times Prohibition Drink in honor of the birthday and long business relationship, and a number of people were enjoying them. Citto generously shared the recipe if you want to make your own toast to the Strater.

In a shaker, combine 1 ounce of Midori, 1 ounce of Early Times, ½ ounce of crème de banana, 2 ounces of orange juice and 2 ounces of pineapple juice. Shake the ingredients, pour into a cup filled with ice and top with ¼ ounce of grenadine. Garnish with one of my favorites, a maraschino cherry. (I drank a lot of Shirley Temples at the Strater in my childhood.)

The hotel served a menu of Rocky Mountain General Store green chile cheese bratwursts and green chile smoky links; mini-pepper steak Herbert (the hotel’s award-winning filet mignon with mango chutney); grilled corn on the cob, mixed berry and peach cobbler and homemade cherry pie. Emily Spencer, whom I officially have dubbed the Strater’s events guru, said they just wanted to cover costs for feeding all those people, so even a serving of the steak was only $4.

Blue Moon Ramblers and Wild Country provided live music, and new banquet manager Danica Tarkington made a really cool (literally and figuratively) ice sculpture to fleetingly commemorate the event.

Barker and his wife, Laurie, had a busy day, because the Louis L’Amour Room officially was designated a Literary Landmark earlier in the afternoon.

Members of Mrs. Camp’s Town Ladies and Gents, including Tom Doak and Suzanne Parker (dressed as a free-thinking suffragette), Bonnie Brennan and Aleka Tisdel, as well as Laurie Barker’s parents, Leonard and June Hahl, recaptured the hotel’s earliest years, while a number of servers dressed in various periods, including saloon girls and flappers.

In a commemorative “newspaper,” Rod Barker reflected on what 125 years (86 of those under Barker ownership) has meant by the numbers: more than 10 million meals served; more than 4.7 million guests hosted; more than 12 million drinks, cocktails and sarsaparillas poured; more than 25,000 people employed; more than 800,000 theater guests; more than 134,000 hours of live entertainment; and more than $340 million in payroll (adjusted to 2012 dollars). Wow!

And of course, it was a day to remember all who have made her the anchor of Main Avenue – Henry Strater and his brothers; H.L Rice; Charles E. Stillwell; Hattie Mashburn (I love that a woman, the executive housekeeper, no less, was able to co-own the hotel); the “Earls,” Earl A. Barker Sr. and Jr.; Jentra Jarvis Barker, who died earlier this year; and of course, Rod and Laurie Barker.

Happy birthday, Strater.

durango colorado

Nothing says happy birthday better than cake and ice cream for the birthdays of Mary Nowotny, Cynthia Cathcart, Pat Emmett, Carol Bruno, Naomi Griffith, Sam Burns, Stephanie Dial, A. J. Sidener, Kate Baker, Laura Bohachevsky, Billy Downey, William Hall, Rose Hilgedick, Amy Raulston, Dee Booton, BobHoughton, Kerri Joseph, Jaden Rambo, Molly Bertrand, D’Aun Taylor, DarenCaldwell, Tatum Shacklett, Kevin Sullwold and Heather Lundquist.

durango colorado

If you live, or have lived, in southeastern La Plata County, the weekend of Sept. 8 and 9 will be a busy one. From 5 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8, the Allison Community Presbyterian Church will hold its annual Steal Fry in the Church Yard, 2724 County Road 329. It is a great way to catch up with neighbors and friends. The cost is $12 for adults, $4 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children younger than 6.

The next day is the Allison, Arboles, Tiffany Reunion at noon at the Allison Grange Hall, 10909 Colorado Highway 150. It’s a potluck, and paper goods and beverages will be provided. There are always good stories that come up at this reunion.

Thanks to Norma Conley for the heads-up.

durango colorado

Celebrating the first of the September anniversaries are Jake and Carrie Forsythe and Lance and Erin Hamlin.

And belated anniversary greetings go out to Floyd and Laura Jaramillo, who celebrated 30 years together Aug. 28.

durango colorado

Here’s how to reach me: neighbors@durangoherald.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items.

I am happy to consider photos for Neighbors, but they must be high quality, high resolution photos.