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The Buckhorn Exchange - Denver, CO

The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver Colorado, Restaurant, Steakhouse

In our quest for authentic food, we visited Denver, Colorado last year. Before it was known as Denver, the area served as a meeting ground for many cultures. The state now known as Colorado was originally inhabited by a diverse range of Native American tribes, whose cultural heritage and traditions are still upheld by their descendants to this day..According to researchers, signs of Ancient Puebloan settlements in southwestern Colorado trace back to approximately 500 AD.

But their lives and the was region forever changed in the late 1500s when the first Europeans arrived and claimed the land as their own. The name "Colorado" originated from the Spanish due to its distinctive red-colored soil. Subsequently, it became part of the United States in 1848 following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which concluded the Mexican-American War (1846-48). Everything drastically changed again for the indigenous tribes in 1858 when prospectors from Georgia traversed the plains of the Colorado Territory and stumbled upon a monumental discovery at the foot of the Rocky Mountains: gold. Despite the relatively small amount of the precious metal uncovered, the mere mention of its presence sparked a frenzy of activity in the region, changing the Colorado landscape forever.

By 1893, Denver was experiencing the economic and psychological impacts of the depression that began after a nationwide abrupt drop in the price of silver. That same year, a quaint yet popular restaurant call The Buckhorn Exchange opened its doors catering to railway workers, businessmen, gamblers, and local chiefs with promises of a broad selection of meats and a memorable dining experience.

Today, The Buckhorn Exchange still thrives as Denver's oldest restaurant—though not much has changed. If you ask locals about the best place to get authentic food in the city, one name is mention repeatedly: The Buckhorn Exchange. This quaint restaurant is located in a two-story brick building on Osage Street in Denver's oldest neighborhood, Lincoln Park, just five minutes from Downtown Denver. Tourists and locals consider The Buckhorn Exchange a staple dining spot, and it's not hard to see why since it has served the finest Old West fare for over one hundred years.

The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver Colorado Restaurant steakhouse

The atmosphere and food leave absolutely nothing to be desired if you’re looking to step back into the Old West. With scarlet accent walls, rich wooden fixtures, and a plethora of mounted game on display, visitors might have a hard time discerning what era they’ve stepped into. The restaurant offers a large number of meats, like steaks, buffalo, elk, yak, or even ostrich. In addition, The Buckhorn Exchange offers fresh plates of fish, authentic Rocky Mountain oysters, and decadent desserts to top off your meal. You may even order a dish once enjoyed by Theodore Roosevelt or Bob Hope.

A Rich History

What sets The Buckhorn Exchange apart is its prolific history and authentic food. According to the restaurant website, The Buckhorn Exchange was founded over 100 years ago by Henry H. "Shorty Scout" Zietz, who grew up as part of a scout band in the area alongside his friend, Colonel William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Zietz earned his nickname from Sitting Bull, a Teton Dakota indigenous chief remembered for his fierce defense of his nation's lands during the 19th century. These three men formed lifelong friendships, and Zietz's restaurant is still bustling today, preserving their memories.

Rocky Mountain Oysters Buckhorn Exchange Restaurant Denver Colorado Authentic Food
Rocky Mountain Oysters

An Authentic Experience

In the earliest days of Colorado's founding, The Buckhorn Exchange served as a central dining place for laborers and railroad men as they built out the West. According to the restaurant's website, inside this establishment, indigenous chiefs, merchants, and gamblers enjoyed the finest Western plates and drinks for miles, which were popular at the time. Railroaders could even stay overnight in the upstairs Buckhorn Lodge if they needed some rest before returning to the nearby Rio Grande Railroad project in the morning.

Over the years, beloved Presidents, Hollywood stars, astronauts, and royalty have all dined at The Buckhorn Lodge. The establishment survived the Prohibition era and was issued the first Colorado Liquor License, which still hangs proudly behind the full bar today. As its many visitors can attest, this historic restaurant is a place like no other. The deluge of historical artifacts and classic Western art decorating its walls is a nod to its undeniably exceptional history, and it doesn't stop there.

The Buckhorn Exchange is full of character and charm, but a big part of its appeal lies in the food. Many offerings from opening day can still be found on the menu today, such as sweet buffalo or juicy lamb. At its core, this place is truly a meat lover's paradise with no shortage of steaks or other game, all seared to perfection. At the Buckhorn Exchange, you can try an ostrich or elk dinner for the first time—but before your entrée arrives, you can also enjoy any number of unique appetizers, such as marinated rattlesnake, fried alligator tail, or the restaurant's signature Rocky Mountain oysters.

The storied brick building is home to many special features from the past that you cannot miss during your visit. If you're seated at a table on the first floor, don't ignore those beautifully decorated stairs leading up to the second level; here, you'll enter the Victorian Lounge, where an ornate white-oak bar and back bar will greet you. These structures were made in Essen, Germany, in 1857 and brought overseas by the owner's family.

If you continue your upward exploration, you'll discover a heated roof garden designed to serve patrons. With ambient lighting and continuous Western charm, it is the perfect spot to wash down your meal with a crisp drink in the temperate Colorado air. You will also find an authentic phone booth—pretending to take an important call in this cozy stall will transport you back in time. The restaurant is also home to collections of historical American relics, guns, and game.

As Denver's oldest restaurant, The Buckhorn Exchange stands as a testament to Denver's culinary heritage and cultural resilience, displaying the evolution of the region through colonization and turbulent times in what eventually became known as the Old West. Its enduring legacy, spanning over a century, is a testament to the enduring allure of authentic Western cuisine and the indelible imprint of history on the gastronomic landscape. As patrons savor each bite amidst the restaurant's storied ambiance, they partake in a timeless ritual—an ode to Denver's rich past that encompasses many cultures and vibrant culinary traditions.


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