Chili & Beer at the Happy Burro! ~ Beatty, Nevada

Chili & Beer at the Happy Burro! ~ Beatty, Nevada

When traveling to a destination in central Nevada, the long stretches of road can go on for what seems like forever.  Signs that say something like “No Gas For Next 75 Miles” are indicators of the wide open spaces ahead.  The vast scenic desert landscape extends from horizon to horizon and not one living soul is in sight.  Then suddenly a hint of civilization appears in the form of hand painted plywood sign nailed to an old mesquite cattle ranch fence post.

Some things never change and travelers on horseback back in the days of the old west dealt with the same scene.  Wooden signs nailed to fence posts advertising a saloon or trading post out in the middle of nowhere were a welcome sight for old west travelers after crossing vast stretches of the desolate desert landscape.  The old west trading post saloons in small towns out in remote places offered a spot for some rest, warm beer, rotgut whiskey and maybe some rattlesnake chili that had been simmering all day. One might even go as far as to say that chili was the fast food of the old west.  When travelers showed up hungry after riding a long dusty trail, a ladle full of chili served in an enamelware bowl with a big piece of cornbread was a mighty appealing sight!  

Yes, chili has always had that wonderful reputation of being a meal that could cause unexpected intestinal distress even back in the days of the old west.  The slurs spoken about the chili at a saloon in the old days were usually meant to lighten up a conversation in a funny way.  It was like referring to modern fast food as being “the gift that keeps on giving!” 

Hunger does have a way of making a person eat stuff that they would normally think twice about eating and this is how many people that do not like spicy food feel about chili.  Chili is a culinary adventure in its own right, especially when doing a long road trip.  Some people, like myself, are plum crazy when it comes to chili.  I have been known to travel an extra hundred miles, just because I sensed that a good bowl of chili could be found in a small town a little further on down the road! 

When I see chili on the menu at a tavern or restaurant that that has a cook that makes everything from scratch, I do give it a try.  Some folks fear chili when traveling, because of its potential for the “cast iron stomach rusting” consequences, while others have no fear of the almighty chili and they are willing to take the risk.  When good bowl chili sits well on the tummy, there is no better feeling when traveling out west!

Chili is like eating a bowl of wild west history.  This experience can be enhanced even more, when the bowl of chili is served in an old saloon located in a historic western town out in the middle of nowhere in Nevada. The creaky wooden sidewalk and floor boards add to the charm.  A saloon dog sniffing your legs to see where you have been is like being welcomed home.  The antiques and old west memorabilia create a feeling of stepping back in time.  The old signs for whiskey, local brothels and gold strikes add to the chili eating charm.  An old rusty shotgun mounted on the wall behind the cash register lets everybody know that the check must be gladly paid in full and this traditional old west show of force readily facilitates compliments to the chef! 

If there ever was a chili capitol in the State Of Nevada, it would have to be the old historic town of Beatty!  I am sure that megatons of chili have been served in this town during its long history of catering to pioneers, gamblers, gold rush miners and sight seeing tourists that have passed through.  Beatty was close to being a ghost town many years ago when the local gold mine played out in the neighboring town of Rhyolite.  Fortunately, Beatty was a gateway to California, Death Valley and destinations further up the road in Tonopah and Carson City, so this chili eating destination never faded into the past.

Recently I did a road trip from Las Vegas to the historic Goldfield Ghost Town that is just north of Beatty, Nevada.  Beatty is about halfway between Las Vegas and Goldfield, so this town is a good choice for taking a break from the road to get a bite to eat. There are a few restaurants and saloons in Beatty that serve up some good old fashioned western style vittles, like a big bowl of steaming hot chili!

When passing through Beatty a a little after nine in the morning, I noticed the Happy Burro Chili & Beer sign painted on the side of an old saloon building and I figured it was a good time to give this place a try.  This old western saloon just looked like the kind of place that serves up some awesome chili.  The sign outside said “Chili & Beer … Not Just For Breakfast!” and the thought occurred to me that I had this combination for breakfast many times as a poor college student. A Chili & Beer also appeals to bikers, who are the main clientele at the old western saloons on the weekends. Once again, Chili & Beer is my kind of breakfast, so the Happy Burro Saloon became my morning dining destination while on the road! 

The Happy Burro certainly offers a classic old west saloon atmosphere.  Saloon dogs hang around to greet guests in the morning, before the outdoor temperatures start to rise.  This saloon is packed wall to wall with interesting old memorabilia and antique collectibles.  Indoor and outdoor dining is available and the comfort level is the same, because this is an old fashioned open air saloon that has no modern air conditioning.  Fans and shade are the only relief from the desert heat, just like in the days of the old wild west.

The saloon keeper and locals at the Happy Burro were genuinely fun to chat with while there and they filled me in on the details of the saloon and surrounding sites.  One of the locals mentioned that the old historic Beatty Underground Church was located in the alley behind the saloon. The saloon keeper was telling me about the goings on at the Happy Burro and what kind of clientele frequents this place.  Old fashioned saloons are a prime weekend destination for Harley Davidson Motorcycle Rally enthusiasts and car club events.  Small town saloons in Nevada generate some serious income from this crowd, so the “Bikers Are Welcome” sign is always posted.

Tourists make up the bulk of the daily business in old western town saloons and the Happy Burro is no exception.  Tour buses with a load of hundreds of hungry tourists have been known to show up on a quiet day out of the blue, so the nice peaceful nostalgic old west saloon atmosphere can quickly turn into a major lively party with little forewarning.  When at a saloon along a major tourism route, there really is never a dull moment!

The people at the Happy Burro were all excited about a famous feature of this old saloon that they practically demanded that I see for myself.  These folks were all talking about the Happy Burro restrooms that were featured on a national network TV show.  Well, I grabbed my camera and headed to the restrooms, while they were still tidy before any other customers showed up.  I just had to laugh when I saw the men’s room urinal.  It was fit with gorilla style motorcycle handlebars and the clutch lever flushed the commode.  The photo can be seen above and this customized urinal is every biker’s dream come true!

To make a long story short, the chili at the Happy Burro was top notch and and the small mason jar of beer was ice cold! This certainly was a rather nice biker style breakfast while on the road. Apparently the Happy Burro Chili recipe has been around for many years and it has won many chili cook-off contest awards, so it is well worth giving a try! The fun old west atmosphere simply cannot be beat and this is why the Happy Burro Saloon belongs high on the list of western chili eating destinations!


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

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