Food Review: Thunder & Buttons
By John Hazlehurst
Few locally owned bars/restaurants stay in business for more than a couple of decades. Their customers age and don’t go out as much, or gentrification changes the neighborhood, or the owners move on to other pursuits. That’s why Thunder & Buttons is such a treasure to those who despite their silver hair still enjoy an unpretentious, comfortable and reasonably priced night on the town.
T & B’s first opened in 1978 at 2415 W. Colorado Avenue in the heart of the Old Colorado City national historic district, and is still there 42 years later. Despite fire, floods, economic downturns and a changing neighborhood, it has not only survived but thrived.
On a recent chilly Wednesday evening, four of us met there for drinks & dinner. Street parking was easy and available, and there’s free parking in a lot just south of the building. Entering, we were struck by the ease, warmth and conviviality of the space.
Roomy booths, an old-fashioned bar and informal high-top tables welcome customers. We grabbed a booth across from the bar and settled in, part of a diverse and somewhat older crowd. Thanks to extended Happy Hour every Wednesday, house wines were half price (three bucks!) and eminently drinkable. Our server was quick and attentive, and the kitchen was happy to make menu changes to accommodate special dietary needs.
The menu itself is a remarkable hybrid of old-fashioned bar fare (burgers, fries, quesadillas, chili, and buttermilk-fried chicken), semi-fine dining (grilled salmon, steak & scampi and beef medallion) and extraordinary daily specials. We chose the shrimp & scallop special, “with asparagus tips, cherry heirloom tomatoes, roasted cipollini onions & baby spinach in a champagne cream sauce, toped with Parmesan and fresh herbs, served with garlic bread.” It was spectacular – perfectly cooked with meltingly soft scallops. At $16, it was only $3 more than the restaurant’s signature (and equally delicious) O’Byrne Burger, a cheeseburger made from locally sourced all-natural beef.
And what about that name? In 1888, Old Colorado City resident John “Prairie Dog” O’Byrne bought two young elk that had been auctioned at the Denver stockyards, named them Thunder & Buttons and “broke them to drive single or double.” Contemporary photos (a couple are displayed in the restaurant) show O’Byrne driving his high-spirited team though Colorado Springs and Denver, where they spooked horses and infuriated the “society people” in both cities.
In his 1922 autobiography, O’Byrne remembered the unruly Colorado City of the 1890’s.
“It made no difference what time of day or night you came to Old Town,” O’Byrne recalled. “The excitement and amusement were continuous.”
O’Byrne would certainly be pleased to know that he and his elk are still a lively presence in a much-loved local establishment and that Old Town is once again “right in full bloom.”
Thunder & Buttons
2415 W. Colorado Ave.
11 a.m. – 2 a.m.