100 Years Of Fights, Family And Foam At La Barge’s Eagle Bar

The Eagle Bar in La Barge is about as off the beaten trail as a place can get in Wyoming, yet it’s become a landmark, celebrating 100 years Saturday.

Paul Ulrich

September 07, 20237 min read

The Eagle Bar in La Barge, Wyoming, celebrates 100 years in business Saturday.
The Eagle Bar in La Barge, Wyoming, celebrates 100 years in business Saturday. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Roughly halfway between Kemmerer and Pinedale on Highway 189 lies the small town of La Barge, Wyoming. Population 394. 

It takes about 30 seconds to get from one end of town to the other, and it’s easier to tick off a list of what is there than what isn’t. There are a couple of gas stations, but no restaurant, no grocery store and only a couple of storefronts.  

By all accounts, La Barge is hardly a destination. It’s at best a pitstop on the way to the Green River for fishing, the Wyoming Range for hunting or somewhat of a roundabout way to Yellowstone National Park through Kemmerer or Pinedale.  

Locals and those who haven’t blinked while driving through this tiny Wyoming village know there’s more to La Barge than meets the eye.

It’s the Eagle Bar.

While people don’t plan their trips through the Cowboy State around visiting La Barge, they do go out of their way to hit up the Eagle Bar.

And as of this year, they’ve been doing it for a century.

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A Wyoming Love Story

There are a lot of reasons to love the Eagle. It’s on the way to great fishing and hunting spots, and has cold beer and a great atmosphere. 

First and foremost, though, owners Judy and Mike Denison are worth a stop. 

Mike cuts an imposing figure and at first glance as someone not be trifled with. He’s also quick to laugh, intelligent, generous and very kind. Judy stands about 5-foot-nothing with a contagious smile. She is authentic Wyoming — quick to hug, fiercely independent and protective of her family, blood or otherwise.  

Mike and Judy met at the Pinedale Rendezvous in the early 1980s, and Mike said it was love at first sight. Judy doesn’t remember it quite that way.  

Mike had recently moved to La Barge to work in the oil fields as a heavy equipment operator and Judy was born and raised there. They married, had three children and made the leap in 1987 to buy the town’s local landmark Eagle Bar.

Why? Because, as Mike said, “We were young and dumb."

The first few years were tough. Mike and Judy were the only two employees and worked day and night. 

Judy laments that Mike “wasn’t that good at it. He drank on the job.” 

While many may believe that’s just a perk of being a bar owner, it wasn’t the path to success for the Denisons.

Historic, But Not Ancient

The first year, they showed that it’s possible to keep the historic integrity of an Old West bar like the Eagle, but still appeal to modern customers.

The launched a beach party to wild success, hauling sand in from the river and covering the dance floor. They also barbecued and had a volleyball court and horseshoes. The beach party eventually ran its course and now their big summer event is the DoLittle Car show.  

“I still am cleaning up sand!” said part-time help Theresa Schmid Bell, who was a customer before becoming an employee. “It’s truly a family bar. They help you and there is so much kindness. Mike and Judy are like family to me.”

Mike is originally from Detroit and loves old cars. In a glass half-full way, he said he notices that “there are a lot of nice cars around that nobody does anything with."

The car show, which has become a favorite town event since 1997, is an extension of the Eagle Bar and La Barge itself.

“It’s called DoLittle because they do little with their cars and they could do a little more next year,” Judy said.

Beyond The Bar

Throughout the years, the Denisons have sponsored a number of events like community Thanksgivings, birthday parties, weddings and funerals. 

They also participate in Wyoming Cares. In fact, it’s something they kick ass at, having raised more than $263,000 for Wyoming Cares to date. That money goes to Wyoming residents who often fall through the cracks of available assistance. 

For 13 years in a row the Eagle has been the No. 1 bar in the state raising money for Wyoming Cares.

Mike is proud of the history and that the Eagle is a foundation of the community. Judy said she loves everything about running the bar. 

“I try to keep everybody happy. I am everybody’s mom, psychiatrist and everybody’s promise not to tell,” she said.

Mike also mentioned that the Eagle is so special for one reason, Judy. 

“She makes people comfortable, feel good and she listens and is genuinely concerned,” he said.

A Boom And Bust Bar

La Barge and the Eagle Bar reflect Wyoming’s boom and bust economy more than most. 

La Barge was founded on oil discoveries as early as 1907 and took off in the 1920s. In the 1930s and 1940s, oil declined and the need for railroad ties explode, which brought a solid few years of tie hacks milling for the railroad. 

From the 1950s to today, it’s been more of the same. And through it all, the Eagle Bar has maintained.

Fighting Sometimes Is ‘Just Fun’

The Eagle Bar may be about as out of the way as a watering hole can be, but its reputation has sustained it, and even attracted its share of notable customers like former governors and others.

True to its Wyoming roots, many of the infamous stories about the Eagle aren’t fit to print.

“I got to punch a couple of people before in here,” Judy said. “Mike don’t like me to fight, but sometimes it’s just fun.”

The Eagle Bar, and Mike and Judy, are true reflections of La Barge and perhaps a lot of Wyoming. There is an undeniable strength, resiliency and warmth when you walk through the doors. You know they have seen the good times and the rough, and they always have your back.  

“I love Judy, the Eagle Bar and all the people that come in,” said bartender Jami Lundahl. “They’re really good people and I have always loved it.”

The welcoming nature and sense of belonging permeates throughout the bar from the Adult Day Care sign to its unique way of recognizing everyone as a VIP.   

“I am thankful for the community that loves me,” Judy said. “I’m really not that cool.” 

“Yes, she is,” Mike interjects.

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What’s Next?

After 36 years, Mike would like to sell the bar and retire to spend more time with Judy and family. Judy isn’t ready, though, and made it clear it has to be the right buyer. 

“It can’t be some a-hole from California. Where is everybody going to go?” she said. “I have to think about my customers.”    

It’s clear that the Eagle is much more than a bar. It is authentic Wyoming, the foundation of the La Barge community and all heart.  

Someone recently told Judy she can’t sell the bar. When she asked why, she was told it was because she WAS the Eagle Bar.

The Eagle turns 100 years old this year and a celebration is planned Saturday. The party starts at 2 p.m. and who knows when the doors will close.

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Paul Ulrich