The sights, sounds and characters you'll meet on a visit to this old-school mining town.
By Phil Lindeman and Melanie Wong
The Colorado Rocky Mountains are known for small towns set in lush, thickly wooded valleys, surrounded on all sides by towering peaks and crumbling mines – sort of the American answer to Europe’s bright, crowded ski resorts. Minturn, a town of roughly 1,000 people just two miles south of Interstate 70, fits this idyllic construction almost perfectly.
Despite sitting between the swanky villages of Vail and Beaver Creek, Minturn has easily held onto a small-town vibe. Born out of necessity, it was a hub for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad from 1887 to 1977, linking the mining operations of Gilman and Leadville to the rest of the country.
At some point, just about every longtime local has lived on or near the half-mile strip of Main Street, home to Minturn’s business district. It’s a town with no chain stores, a mayor nicknamed “Hawkeye” and the highest concentration of radio stations in the county. In the words of Battle Mountain Trading Post owner Bill Reis, “It just seems like a real town.”
Minturn has weathered myriad challenges over the years, from the opening of Vail to the closing of the Gilman mine. But the town is much more than a thoroughfare, and SneakPEAK compiled a list of must-see people, places and spaces along Main Street, knowing there’s no way to do it justice on paper.
The Minturn Saloon
Upon entering the town via a sharp curve that dumps you directly in the heart of Main St. Minturn, you are greeted by the Minturn Saloon, a decades-old institution and one of the most famous businesses on the stretch.
The restaurant and bar is covered inside wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with autographed memorabilia of movie stars and professional athletes, including from hockey great Mark Messier, former President Gerald Ford and baseball icon Yogi Berra. The saloon is also the finishing point of the famous backcountry ski route, the Minturn Mile in the winter. While skiers and snowboarders come in to warm their boots at the bar and summer adventurers come in to sit on the patio overlooking the river, all come for the restaurant’s famous margaritas.
Co-owner Andy Kaufman has run the place for 27 years, but the Saloon existed even 18 years prior to that.
“This building has been a bar, gambling and drinking joint since 1901,” he says. “It’s been various things. We realized when we bought it that we had a piece of history to protect. My partner Steve Campbell and I felt really strongly about that.”
The Yarn Studio
Knitting enthusiasts, you’ll find everything you’ll need or want to make your next project at The Yarn Studio. The whimsical store, located at the entrance of Minturn in colorful building straight out of a children’s movie. The interior is no less colorful, filled with shelves of supplies, needlework displays and a cozy couch usually inhabited by owner Kathy Morrow’s friendly pups.
She opened the store nearly 10 years ago when knitting came into style again.
“I’ve been a knitter all my life. Ten years ago the yarn craze was huge – all the kids started doing it again. You could get online and look at blogs and get good really fast,” she says.
The Yarn Studio is a destination business, she admits, but there’s something to be said for being able to come in and touch and feel different yarn before buying. Plus, Morrow’s passion and excitement for knitting and needlework are infectious.
“This is not your grandma’s yarn shop,” she says.
Radio Free Minturn and 104.7 FM “The Mile”
Located on the north end of town behind Magustos, Radio Free Minturn (AM channel 1190) is the valley’s version of a college radio station. The roster of DJs is filled entirely with local volunteers – you’ll hear everything from bluegrass to big bands to death metal on any given day. The station’s defining characteristic is eclecticism, and like other donation-based media such as National Public Radio, tunes are only interrupted by the occasional underwriter plug.
104.7 FM “The Mile” is the brainchild of Chuck Lontine, a Colorado native who has spent his career on the radio, bouncing from Boulder to Orlando before landing in Minturn. When Lontine started broadcasting last fall, he built a “Main Street aesthetic” directly into The Mile: The music is adult contemporary, daily segments highlight town personalities, and DJs regularly host live sets with local musicians. The station on the southern end of town is surrounded with large windows, giving passerby a glimpse into the oft-secluded radio world.
In Minturn, you’ll be hard-pressed to find people who actually work in the profession they studied for in college. Take the owner of barbecue restaurant Kirby Cosmos, Mark Tamberino. An engineer by trade, he came to Colorado with his wife Emily in hopes of finding an engineering job. When prospects looked slim, he decided to take over a four-seat barbecue shack from town councilman and self-taught pit master Jerry Bumgarner, or JB.
In the roughly six years since Tamberino took over, he has expanded the restaurant space and the menu, but Kirby Cosmos (named for his dog) is still JB’s Carolina-style barbecue joint in spirit. Tamberino claims pork ribs are the most popular dish – his St. Louis spares are sweet and tangy, served with fried green tomatoes and mac ‘n’ cheese – and also offers burgers, salmon and po’ boys. A favorite starter are the “pig wings,” chunks of pork that Tamberino fixes like chicken wings and describes as “packed with pork and tender as can be.”
Make it a point to stop on the southern end of Main Street and hang out at the hand-built bar. To match the award-winning barbecue, Tamberino keeps 40 microbrews on hand, including five rotating taps.
Battle Mountain Trading Post
There’s a black bear nestled near the woods on the southernmost edge of Minturn. It hasn’t been alive for decades – the former owner stuffed it for display in Idaho – but it still makes an eye-catching centerpiece at Battle Mountain Trading Post, described by owner Bill Reis as a “gentleman’s antique store.” It’s a favorite of locals and curious visitors alike, including celebrities such as former president Gerald Ford and golf star Jack Nicklaus.
At 33 years old, the post is a town institution, featuring hundreds of brag-worthy collectibles and antiques, from Western art and knick-knacks to vintage jukeboxes and snooker tables. Reis, a California native, considered closing shop three years back, but resounding interest from customers kept him behind the register. Then there’s the view.
“During the winter, I get to watch the elk as they drop off Vail Mountain,” Reis says. “I even keep binoculars in the store just for people to watch elk. You can’t beat the view in Minturn.”
Despite sounding eerily similar to a smoke shop in Edwards, Sticky Fingers deals in a much sweeter variety of indulgences. The café touts locally-roasted coffees, flavor-loaded sandwiches and every manner of baked goods, all prepared daily by owner and former hospital nurse Sage Pierson.
Now a bit more than two years old, Sticky Fingers is the kind of community gathering place that was conspicuously missing from Minturn. It’s stuck right in the middle of the main drag, and when Pierson bakes late at night, the smells wafting from the shop are intoxicating. Chances are there’s always a dog lounging beneath the hand-written chalkboard menu, where you’ll find sandwiches like a classic BLT and Pierson’s favorite, the “Perfect Turn”: turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese, avocado, tomato, sprouts and ranch dressing on whole-grain ciabatta. Along with cinnamon rolls, cookies, brownies and other finger foods, she bakes pies each day, churning out strawberry, rhubarb, apple, pecan and more for foodies with a sweet tooth. It’s only open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., though, so visit early.
The Mountain Pedaler
The town’s bike shop was originally located in the living room of founder Jim “Pope” Popeck’s house. But soon, word of mouth spread and the demand for Popeck’s services and custom bicycles forced him to move to his present location on Main St. Minturn.
Don’t be fooled by the small building, decorated with a clutter of old bike frames and colorful signs – the shop carries a wide range of bikes, including boutique and specialty brands. However, the place hasn’t lost its small-town vibe since it opened in 1993. You might have to make your way through the bikes parked and in the cramped showroom to get to the front desk, but if Popeck is around, he’ll probably offer you a drink and ask about your ride.