Located about halfway down a dark hallway on the second floor of Durango’s Strater Hotel is Room 215. Just below the brass numbers sits a small oval plaque inscribed with three words: The Coffee Club.
On April 27, the hotel dedicated the room to the Strater Coffee Club.
Tori Ossola, the general manager of the Strater Hotel, said that for a room to be dedicated, the subject must have “contributed to our community and to the Strater itself.”
After determining that the Coffee Club fit the criteria, Ossola called in three members: Bud Poe, Rodger Folk and Bill O’Dowd. The honor came as a welcome surprise to the men. When Ossola gave the men an opportunity to choose a room, they said they trusted her to choose one, but requested that it was “away from the ice room.”
Room 215 is the 37th room to be dedicated, and the Strater hopes to eventually dedicate all 88 rooms.
The Coffee Club began meeting in 1948 at Parsons Drug, a local store owned by Coffee Club member Don Degani. When the store closed in 1991, the Club began meeting at the Strater Hotel’s Mahogany Grille Restaurant.
Like clockwork, the men would appear each morning at 9 a.m. While the number of members would fluctuate, their routine remained the same.
“They had a simple but very specific way that they’d like their table to be set when they got in,” Ossola said. “They sat at a round table in the corner of the restaurant every single time they were here, and they expected a pump pot of coffee in the middle of the table with all of the side accouterments, a couple of napkins and some pens and paper around it.”
The Coffee Club’s daily meetings at the Mahogany Grille came to an abrupt end with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant was deemed nonessential and closed, resulting in a two-year break in Coffee Club meetings.
Now, O’Dowd said, the Club meets every other week in the kitchen of Roger Folk’s home. Currently, meeting attendance hovers around seven but O’Dowd hopes the numbers will rise as the weather warms and meetings are moved to the patio.
At the conclusion of each meeting, the men played a game to determine who had to pay for the coffee.
Whoever lost the previous week’s game selects a clue corresponding to a number between one and 1,000, said O’Dowd, who has been attending meetings since 1987.
To illustrate the game, he staged a demonstration with Coffee Club members Bud Beede, Pat Lerch, Folk and Bobb Newlin.
“How many federally recognized Indian tribes are there currently in the U. S.?” he asked.
Beedee offered the first guess of 150, to which O’Dowd responded “low.”
Lerch guessed 194, also low.
As the men took turns guessing, they narrowed in on the clue: 350, low; 800, high; 444, low; 666 high, 555, low; 600, high; 575, high; 474, high; 563, BINGO. Folk was the lucky winner. (The number maybe outdated; more than one federal website listed 574 federally recognized Native American tribes as of Friday.)
Folk was lucky in the sense that he won the game, not as lucky considering he was now responsible for paying a dollar for the coffee.
Bob Beers, “chairman of the board,” invented the game.
“(Bob) always sat at a long table. Nobody ever sat in his seat,” O’Dowd said. “And nobody ever saw him pay. He always wrote an IOU.”
While the Strater Coffee Club members no longer meet at the Strater, their legacy has been solidified with their stories and the little gold plaque adorning the door of Room 215.