Landmark Old Dillon Inn to close
Summit Daily News
SILVERTHORNE – Silverthorne will lose a piece of its character at the end of the month when the venerable Old Dillon Inn closes its doors for good.
The locals stomping ground, best know for its flashing neon “BA” sign and its dimly lit, historical bar, will serve up its last night of live music and Mexican food on Sept. 29, and officially closes the next day.
Bud Nicholson, the restaurant’s owner for the past three-and-a-half decades, has put the property up for sale so he can start a new chapter in his life.
“I’m ready for retirement. Thirty-five years doing the same thing, you know, it’s time for me. Over half my life I’ve been in this. I’m 60 years old. In my mind, I’m ready,” Nicholson said from his small office tucked behind the ODI kitchen.
Nicholson and his partner, Dave “Wabs” Walbert, have owned the place since 1973. There is a potential buyer for the ODI and the sale is pending.
For longtime patrons and employees of the restaurant and bar, the upcoming closure is emotional.
Laura Lyddy has lived in the county since 1978 and has worked part-time at the ODI on and off since the mid 1980s.
“I used to live right across the street. It’s the place where I learned what tequila was, avocados, two-stepping. I played on the softball team for years,” said Lyddy choking up as she recalled the many good times at the ODI. “… I’m still friends with some of the girls I played softball with who I met that first year.”
The ODI bar and the attached room where patrons gather to shoot pool started their life in the Old Town of Dillon up to 140 years ago, as far as Nicholson’s heard.
In 1961, when the old town was flooded to create the reservoir, then-owner of the Dillon Inn (as it was called back then, but was never actually an inn) Virgil Cox moved the building to Silverthorne.
A dining room, kitchen and new bathrooms were added over the years, as well as the ranching relics that adorn the bar’s walls and the dollar bills pinned on the ceiling.
When Nicholson, Walbert and a third partner, who left the venture after a couple years, bought it from Suzanne Wilson in 1973, they were only 25 and didn’t have much money.
Wilson agreed to finance the purchase and told the men if they invested the money to upgrade the place that would suffice as a down payment.
They enlisted the help of their buddies to fix it up, and in exchange, gave everyone bar tabs for a year.
Wilson had been serving steak and lobster at the restaurant, but the upscale menu wasn’t meshing with the customers, so Nicholson started offering pub-style food instead.
In 1974 he decided to try something different: Mexican food. A friend from Vail trained him for a month on how to prepare his grandmother’s recipes. At the time, there was only one other Mexican restaurant in the county and it was in Breckenridge.
“They went out of business like 15 years after that, so technically I’m the oldest Mexican restaurant in the county,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson also continued to grow the live music scene, which quickly became ODI’s signature.
He grew successful at snagging popular acts by feeding them and housing them in his band house next door to the ODI while they were on the way to gigs in bigger cities.
“Once they did it, they’d be loyal to me and they’d come back year after year after year,” Nicholson said, recalling Tennessee Hat Band, Tumbleweed and the 4-nicators as a few bands that lit up the bar’s small stage over the years.
Alamosa musician Don Richmond started playing at the ODI around 1976 with Tumbleweed and continued performing with subsequent bands until about 2000.
“It was like home away from home,” Richmond said. “We played there every four to six weeks, (it was) a place we always looked forward to going to. There was such a sense of family and camaraderie at the Old Dillon Inn, both with the staff and the patrons and everything else. It felt good, you just walked in the place and you felt good.”
The ODI started out as a venue for country bands to appeal to the cowboys working in the Lower Blue River Valley and eventually transitioned into blue grass, blues and rock-n-roll.
Local musician Randall McKinnon, who’s been playing at the ODI for the past 15 years, remembers jamming with other musicians in the band house until the sun came up.
“I probably worked on more new songs in the band house than any rehearsal place I’ve been to in my life,” McKinnon said.
Another local musician, John Truscelli, showcased his blue grass and country-rock sounds at the ODI for more than a decade.
“(It’s a) great place and everybody’s gonna miss it and lot of friends will have to find a new place to gather,” Truscelli said.
Over the years, Nicholson also made it a point to give back to the community that kept him in business whenever he could. He organized the ODI/Snake River Saloon golf invitational for 20 years, donating the proceeds to the Summit Foundation, and hosted countless benefits for locals in need of some help.
He says he doesn’t know what will become of ODI in the future, but said he would be “100 percent behind” seeing the oldest portion of the building saved, a sentiment shared by many longtime patrons.
“We’re not a historic building, but you know as well as I do, I mean this place is a landmark. People know it from everywhere and, you know, it was a wonderful run. This place has treated us wonderfully. I couldn’t have asked for better in my life,” Nicholson said.
Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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