Elk Chili at Thunder and Buttons in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Elk Chili at Thunder and Buttons in Colorado Springs, Colorado

In the late 1800s, as many as 21 saloons lined Colorado Avenue in what was then “Old Colorado City.”  Legend has it a rowdy resident known as Prairie Dog O’Byrne purchased two elk, hitched them to his carriage, and raced them through town, upsetting the local gentry.  O’Byrne named the elk Thunder and Buttons.  When a local entrepreneur heard the story, he knew he wanted to name his saloon after the elk. 

The restaurant has changed hands a few times over the years, and a modern Colorado Springs grew up around the original Colorado City.  But, Colorado Avenue in the old district remains a vibrant, charming area with modern restaurants and shopping, while still preserving some of that old western feel. 

Today the saloon operates a “from scratch” kitchen serving traditional saloon food, with a few contemporary twists.

Location:   2415 W. Colorado Avenue, Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

Menu: The Elk Chili is what attracted me to Thunder and Buttons.  It is a hearty, award-winning, meaty chili topped with cheese and onions and served with house-made smoked cheddar cornbread muffins.  I don’t recall ever eating elk before and somehow thought the chili might be a bit gamey, perhaps like deer meat.  I was wrong.  If I hadn’t been told I was eating elk, I would have thought it was beef.  It was heavy on the chili powder, which might have been what covered up any gamey flavor, but whether that is the case or not, the flavor was rich, mild and delicious.

Fried calamari, fried pickles, jumbo soft pretzels, and nachos are what you would expect to see on a saloon menu.  The Asian Quinoa Lettuce Wraps are a modern, healthy option that is both vegetarian-friendly and gluten-free.

Several styles of burgers are on the menu, along with typical sandwiches like the Southwest Turkey Melt, a BLT, and a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich.  The Schnitzel Sandwich is one you don’t see everywhere, made with a hand-breaded pork cutlet topped with sharp white cheddar cheese and served with horseradish cream sauce and slaw. 

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Six house specialties are offered for those looking for a full dinner.  A small number of offerings tells me the kitchen focuses on doing a few things well.  Grilled salmon, fish & chips, beef medallions, Asian pork and pineapple skewers, BBQ chicken tacos, and steak & scampi provide an appealing variety of choices at reasonable price points. 

If you show up for brunch on Sunday between 11 am and 2 pm and you happen to be over the age of 21, a free mimosa comes with your meal.  How is that for an incentive to get out of bed on Sunday morning?  A breakfast burrito, thick-cut sourdough French toast, or a lobster omelet are all delicious choices to accompany your mimosa.

Shopping locally, Thunder and Buttons serves Lockhart Farms meat, Rocky Mountain Tomatoes, and bread from LaBaquette Bakery.  The bar uses Colorado brewed beers and spirits.  A chalkboard menu shows what is available that day. The menu is labeled with vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Thoughts: We were thrilled to find an old western-style saloon for dinner, which enhanced the theme of our western vacation.  We were ecstatic to find a place that is attractive to tourists but priced for locals.  Even better, a night out where we didn’t have to dress up!

 I like to support local businesses when I travel. Knowing most of our food came from local farmers is not only good for our health but a nice way to thank the people who live where we vacation.

Our waitress was friendly and efficient.  This is a place where hikers and bikers might walk in extremely hungry and thirsty, or others might want to relax and spend an entire evening enjoying the music and local atmosphere.  The staff appears to have a good read on what the patrons are looking for, and willing to accommodate. 

Sunday is all-day happy hour.  On Monday a late-night Happy Hour starts at 9 pm.  There is karaoke on Wednesday-Saturday.  If you are looking for local recommendations for things to do, great hiking trails, or the best local breweries, I am sure you can find an opinion from a fellow patron at Thunder and Buttons. 

It might not be as lively as the days when Prairie Dog O’Byrne raced Thunder and Buttons down the street, but it is still a great local find for a bit of western culture.

Price Range: Appetizers $8-13.  Soups and Salads $4-9.  Burgers and Sandwiches $12-14. Entrees $13-22. 

Victoria Hart

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