Thrillist names The Buckhorn Exchange Colorado's Most Iconic Restaurant

The Buckhorn Exchange in Denver has been around since 1893, serving local big game to Wild West diners, Indian chiefs, U.S. presidents and more. 

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January 6, 2015 4 min read

Denver's Buckhorn Exchange offers local big game like elk and deer for lunch and dinner.Located at 1000 Osage Street in Denver, The Buckhorn Exchange has been a neighborhood staple since 1893. Thrillist included the steakhouse on its “Most Iconic Restaurant in Every State” list for good reason – it was the city’s first steak house and is still alive and well, serving local fare to residents and tourists alike. Take a break from Boulder culinary school to visit this historic eatery.

The history
The very first liquor license in the state of Colorado was issued to this eating and drinking venue. According to The Buckhorn Exchange, Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz founded the restaurant on November 17, 1893. The founder received his nickname from friend Chief Sitting Bull because of his lack of height. The restaurant hosted every persona known to the Wild West, from miners and railroad builders to Indian chiefs and gamblers, businessmen and even big names in the silver industry. President Theodore Roosevelt ate at this establishment in 1905. He asked founder Zietz to be his hunting guide and the duo headed to Colorado’s western slope for some big game. Four other presidents – Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan – have also eaten at the Buckhorn. Other famous visitors include Charleton Heston, Roy Rogers, Bob Hope and more.

The restaurant
Diners eat off tables topped with red and white checkered cloths as the heads of deer and antelope, and even an entire stuffed mountain lion, look on. The atmosphere of this Denver restaurant is much like a hunter’s lodge. In total, the walls hold 575 taxidermied animals, including indigenous creatures like big horn sheep, moose, deer and buffalo and even a jackalope and a two-headed calf. There are also 125 firearms hanging throughout the establishment, including rare guns from the late 1800s.

The first floor is the main dining area, also known as the Buffalo Room, which seats 20 and is the only part of the restaurant that is wheelchair accessible. The second floor hosts the lounge, bar and Roofgarten. The Roofgarten can hold 60 guests and is a popular location for private events like anniversaries, rehearsal dinners and parties of all sorts. It has a glass roof and is open during the summer. When winter comes around the sides are enclosed for cozy dining in all weather.

The food
The Buckhorn is open for lunch and dinner and it is recommended that visitors make reservations to ensure that they have a spot. Appetizers are referred to as “Great Beginnings” and include Rocky Mountain oysters, fried artichoke hearts, smoked rattlesnake and more. For lunch, enjoy grilled salmon with wild rice and red chile hollandaise sauce or try the broiled elk medallions. Burgers are made from beef and buffalo and come with a range of toppings like the Mexican (topped with Monterey Jack cheese, green chilies and guacamole) and the Canadian (topped with Swiss cheese and Canadian bacon). They also offer salads and sandwiches, like the famous Gramma Fanny’s pot roast sandwich. Dinner here is an old-fashioned affair, offering true steakhouse cuisine similar to what was served when the restaurant opened in 1893. Choose protein options like beef, ribs, buffalo, elk or fish and add toppers like sautéed mushrooms and onions. To serve a table of 2-5 guests, opt for “The Big Steak,” which ranges from 1.5-4 pounds of beautifully cooked New York strip steak. Yak and ostrich meat are available as an entree on occasion so be sure to email or call ahead to see if these delicacies are in house when you plan to visit. Don’t forget to try the hot Dutch apple pie with cinnamon rum sauce and vanilla ice cream. The Buckhorn also has an extensive wine list and offers coffee drinks throughout the meal.

You’re sure to leave this establishment with a bit of Colorado state knowledge and a seriously full belly.

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