ATLANTIC CITY — The beautiful wood bar in the Atlantic City Mercantile came from a former brothel in Lander, sometime in the mid-1960s. It’s a full-length western bar — all wood — with full-length mirror. It really sets the tone for what is an amazing steak dinner in an amazing place that’s somehow managed to thrive the past 22 years, despite being very far off of anything like a beaten track.
The Mercantile can be found at 100 Main Street in Atlantic City, which is one of several mining towns that sprang up around South Pass City in 1868, one year after gold was discovered in the surrounding hills.
The other two cities — South Pass and Hamilton — are no more. But Atlantic City has lived on.
LINK: I would link here to the story about Atlantic City
The restaurant, in addition to serving great food, offers a feast for the eyes. There are tons of historical artifacts to look at, all of which have the general effect that they should — a step back from the modern world, in a place where time can stand still, if one can just relax and let be.
The Menu Just Works
The menu has a limited, but outstanding, selection of steaks. Shrimp and lobster can be added to any steak dinner, along with beer brewed in Lander, or there’s a selection of red and white wines or whiskeys, if preferred.
“I’ve changed a few things,” restaurant owner Ron Abernathy told Cowboy State Daily. “But, you know, the menu just works with the limited people you might get plus the large number of people you might get. It just kind of works, so we stick with it.” ‘
“The steaks are grilled over local aspen wood,” he said. “I get compliments on them all the time. The best steaks I’ve had in a long time, or one of the best steaks I’ve ever had — you know, that type of thing.”
Abernathy, meanwhile, is a bit of an unlikely chef. He knows how to cook in the kitchen at home, of course, but he didn’t grow up dreaming of new things to make in the kitchen or learning generations of cooking secretsfrom his grandmother.
He was a nurse for 14 years, who moved back to the Lander, Wyoming area and wanted a business of his own. So he actually learned to cook the Mercantile’s amazing steaks from the previous owner, who stayed for a month and a half or so, to teach him the restaurant ropes.
That training included the aspen-wood smoking technique that makes his steaks a cut above most other steaks in the state.
The Atlantic City Mercantile has long been the social center of its namesake town and surrounding communities.
The location began as a mercantile, opened in 1893 by German immigrant Lawrence Giessler. Onlinehistorical accounts differ as to whether Giessler leased an existing building from Emile Granier for a dollar or constructed a brand new building for his mercantile on land leased from Granier, a French engineer who tried and failed to run a hydraulic mining operation in Atlantic City.
Giessler had come to America when he was 18 to be a cowboy, but was among those lured by the promise of gold in the hills surrounding South Pass.
While in South Pass City, he met and married Emile Stegmiller, where the couple remained — even after the town went bust — until finally moving to Atlantic City in 1890.
Giessler’s store didn’t just sell necessary goods, it also provided many services as well. The family operated the town’s post office from 1910 to the 1920s, and Giessler helped finance and manage the town’s first telephone company, which was also one of the first telephone networks in the Wyoming territory.
Giessler died in 1929, and his Mercantile remained closed until 1964, when a steelworker purchased it from a descendant to reopen it as a tavern.
A Childhood Dream
Abernathy, the present owner, purchased the Mercantile 22 years ago. It was something of a childhood dream come true, though with an adult twist.
“Growing up, it was a frequented place, and I always thought it’d be cool to buy it someday,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
He remembers classmates holding parties in Atlantic City when their parents were out of town, and just looking up at the Mercantile and thinking how cool it all was.
“Just the grandeur of the whole thing, the way it looked,” Abernathy said. “And you know, the old-fashioned looking building. It’s kind of hard to explain really. I just love all that antique stuff.”
When he moved back to Wyoming, he was looking for a business to own more than anything else. He wanted to work for himself, not someone else. He’d forgotten by then all about the Atlantic City Mercantile. But, when he read about water problems the Atlantic City Mercantile was having in the newspaper, he was reminded and got in touch with the owner.
“It just kind of ended up in my lap,” Abernathy said. “And here I am.
Clearing up the restaurants water problems cost Abernathy an additional $20,000 on top of the restaurant’s purchase price. But he has no regrets about purchasing the place, and he’s never had any water troubles since.
He’s had a great run, full of great memories, working alongside what he considers one of Wyoming’s most interesting towns.
Abernathy has taken care through the years to preserve the restaurant’s history and all of its artifacts. As a result, there’s a display on every wall, and artifacts laid out in every little nook and cranny of the restaurant.
Photographs hang on the walls amid mining implements, and there are newspaper clippings among photos. There are old antique bottles, figurines, jewelry, dishes, and even an antique sewing machine. These artifacts sit on various shelves, an eclectic mix of oddities that invites curiosity and reflection.
There’s even an old piano in one corner, tucked in behind a diorama of the store as it might have appeared in 1893. The diorama is, in turn, being watched over by a stuffed bear, wearing a little ranger’s hat that makes him the perfect stunt double for Smokey the Bear.
Some of the artifacts even hang from the ceiling — old wagon wheels, ropes, and lighted signs. Every where the eye travels there’s something historic to see.
Abernathy sees this assortment of artifacts as inseparable from the Mercantile, which is itself an artifact of history, complete with a pressed-tin faux front.
“A lot of the stuff was collected over the years by previous owners,” Abernathy said. “I don’t own it, it owns me, I guess.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.