Butch’s Place, a western -style tavern comes complete with swinging doors, tables covered with red and white checkered oilcloth, and posters of locally produced ale and whiskey. A single gas fired stove provides heat for the dining area. The tavern, on Route 10 in Kirby, Wyoming, (population, last count, 375) between Thermopolis and Worland has been a landmark for over twenty years.
Of course the main attraction to Butch’s Place was Butch. Marty and I don’t remember Butch’s last name and never knew his first name. He was just Butch. His wife, Linda helped manage the restaurant and also held a job working for the Town of Thermopolis.
Butch was a gregarious, accommodating host. He was known for his “okey doky” to any request. In spite of Butch’s claim that he didn’t cook, just “only put food together” there were several items on the menu that were unique to his establishment. A favorite amongst the children were the twelve -ounce hamburgers, whether they were ordered unadorned or smothered. His was one of the first restaurants in the area to serve buffalo burgers, cooked to perfection. A single order of chicken salad was large enough to satisfy a family of four, and the lightly grilled sirloin finger steaks were a delicious specialty. One dish that I haven’t seen before were his “hog wings”, which are pork shins, about the size of chicken drumsticks, very tasty and tender. They were cooked so that the meat fell off the bones.
A few years ago, Butch retired and sold the business. Although the food was still good, twelve- ounce burgers were no longer served, and we missed Butch’s and Linda’s camaraderie and conviviality. The tavern might have changed hands more than once.
You can imagine our surprise, upon visiting Wyoming last winter, to learn that Butch’s Place had closed. The rumor is that the recent owner’s girl friend decided to put pool tables in the dining area, which infringed upon the seating capacity and detracted from the character of the eatery. One of the employees was enraged and pulled the plugs on the refrigerators and freezers. The food was contaminated and it took quite a while before the restaurant was cleaned, sanitized, and safe to be used. To date, nobody has shown any interest in rehabilitating the facility and starting up again.
Back in Thermopolis, we observed other changes. Restaurants come and go for many reasons. As a result of a poor economy there were fewer bathers at the pool. In other years the pool was crowded with visitors from neighboring communities, particularly over the weekends. There were winter athletic meets at the high school and participants from different schools usually included a swim in their busy schedules. We may not have been in Thermopolis during the right week, but the out of town athletes were also rare.
The Quality Inn that we’ve stayed at has the capacity to park the tractor-trailers operated by truckers working in the oil patch. They haul large pipe, massive generators and other equipment to nearby oil fields. With the glut of oil and low prices for fuel, many oil wells hat have been capped and thousands of people have lost their jobs. This has had a ripple effect on the entire economy in the region. Consequently, truckers at the motel were not as numerous as other years.
Thermopolis is still home to the “World’s Largest Hot Springs” and we delight in ducking our heads under the hot water to get the icicles out of our hair. It’s also fun to see children making angels in the snow before jumping in to the pool. Water aerobics, which I find therapeutic, are still offered at the “Teepee” pools where we swim. It’s fascinating to watch the birds migrate in squadron formation, while we ‘re swimming. I love counting boxcars and tankers as the railroad trains whiz by the pool, but I have to admit that I lose track when there are more than two hundred cars on one train. We also enjoy watching the stars come out, whenever we swim in the evening. Some things I hope will never change.