That Time Elvis Had A Drink At The Virginian Bar In Medicine Bow, Wyoming

Margaret Parr started working at The Virginian Hotel in Medicine Bow when she was 11, including tending bar there before she was old enough to drink. One of her customers was a young Elvis Presley.

RJ
Renée Jean

November 04, 20238 min read

Elvis and The Virginian 11 4 23

MEDICINE BOW — Two things happened in 1954 that might not seem related, but are in an odd quirky sort of way.

The first was that Elvis started his career with Sun Records, which would launch him into international fame by 1956.

The second was that an 11-year-old girl named Margaret Parr started washing dishes at The Virginian Hotel in Medicine Bow, Wyoming.

It wasn’t long before Parr began waiting tables and then, sometimes, tending bar. 

“We’d had a little problem keeping the ladies downstairs who were supposed to be tending bar,” Parr told Cowboy State Daily. “So, I told my boss, I said, ‘I can open a can of beer. And I guess if they need a mixed drink, they can tell me what to put in it.’ So that’s how I got to be a bartender.”  

And so it was that one night at The Virginian when Elvis Presley happened to walk through the door at the hotel restaurant that Parr, too young to drink herself, was not only waiting tables, but tending the bar. 

Eventually, Presley decided he wanted a cocktail. Parr had him tell her the ingredients before she left the dining room to go into the bar and make his drink.  

Margaret Parr talks about her experiences at The Virginian in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, which included making Elvis a cocktail sometime in the mid- to late 1950s.
Margaret Parr talks about her experiences at The Virginian in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, which included making Elvis a cocktail sometime in the mid- to late 1950s. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Russian Roulette With Liquor

Elvis’ list was pretty complicated to Parr, who was not familiar with most of what he requested.

“My dad always drank scotch,” she said. “So, I didn’t have any problem with that one.”

To find the ingredients Elvis wanted in his drink, she had to read each and every label carefully.

“So I started, you know, mmmm,” Parr said, making a humming sound as she trailed a finger through the air, reading the labels of liquor bottles once again in her mind has as she had more than 60 years ago to make this cocktail for a world-famous heartthrob.

“Yeah, we have that, and hmmm, OK we got that. And then ummm …”

Her fingers tapped on the table several times.

“What if we don’t have this?” she went back to the dining room and asked Elvis.  

“Well …”

Elvis had a substitute in mind.

Parr can’t remember what the specific liquors were or what the drink was called that she made for Elvis. What she can recall is it was something fruity, something so sweet she wasn’t sure herself if she would have been able to drink it.

“It had a kind of creamy base to it,” Parr said. “And it was quite sweet. But I mixed it, and he drank it, and he was happy with it. And I just thought, ‘Well, at least I got to wait on him!’”

Making a cocktail for Elvis, it turns out, may have been a lot more uncommon than Parr would have realized at the time. Presley later on quit drinking alcohol for the most part. His favorite drink on stage was sparkling water and Gatorade.

Tragedy Strikes

Elvis, Parr said, has a kind of tragic connection to Medicine Bow. His co-star in the famous movie “Jailhouse Rock,” Judy Tyler, was killed on a stretch of Highway 30 near Medicine Bow in 1957. 

Parr was 14 at the time.

Tyler and her husband Greg Lafayette had been on their way home to New York when a car pulled out from a curio shop along the route, forcing Lafayette, who was driving, to swerve into oncoming traffic. 

“That was about 15 miles down from here,” Parr said.

Tyler was just 24 and had been a rising star in Hollywood. She, too, was on a trajectory to fame and fortune, much like Elvis.

Elvis was reportedly so shaken by the death of his co-star he wouldn’t watch “Jailhouse Rock” at first.

In 1961, Wyoming built a new stretch of U.S. 30 and rebuilt the old highway. That effectively created a four-lane divided highway for 19 miles on the route between Rock River and Bosler that is still in use.

Other Famous Virginian Hotel Guests Parr Met

Elvis wasn’t the only famous person Parr would meet during her years working off and on at The Virginian.

Among her favorites was Hank Thompson, who is in the Country Music Hall of Fame and had a career spanning seven decades in the music industry.

“I had a picture of Hank Thompson that I had sitting on top of my dresser for a long time,” Parr said. “We had this little puddle jumper airport up here and Hank Thompson would fly in.”

Parr at that time lived up on a hill and she could see Thompson’s planewhen it flew in. 

“He’d do a big circle around the house and I could run, jump the irrigation ditch and go over to the airport to meet his plane when it came down,” she said. “There would be somebody who would be waiting down there for him and, when he circled the airport, they’d go to pick him up.”

Thompson would go over to Elk Mountain and play at a place where there was a wooden dance floor with railroad boxcar springs.

“It moved with the music,” Parr recalled. “You’d get out there, and, if you made a mistake, you were going to have sore legs, because the floor is going to move whether your leg moves or not. But you’d get back in step and away you’d go.”

Other musicians she remembers playing in Elk Mountain included Les Brown and Glenn Miller. 

“There was a whole bunch of old-timers who used to come out and play up there,” she said. 

After finishing his performance at Elk Mountain, Thompson would generally come to The Virginian to stay the night and then fly back home or to wherever his next gig was the next day, Parr said.

“It was always interesting to just wait and see who Mark Jackson was going to sign up,” she added, referring to the individual who used to line up the talent for various shows in the area. “He’d hang the sign up for the next week. He had people come in every week and it would always be somebody different. It was pretty neat.”

A Ghost In The Machine

Parr also knows a few ghost stories about The Virginian, and one in particular, that she herself witnessed.

“We had this juke box in the bar that would kick on whenever it wanted to, play whatever it wanted to,” she recalled.

There had been a state tournament in Laramie, though Parr cannot remember which particular sport. Tournaments like that generally brought busloads of children into the cafe as they were on their way home. Many of those children would also explore the bar area, even though they weren’t really supposed to do that.

“I had a little couple come in and they had a little boy with them about 6 or 7,” she said. “And they were waiting for a school bus that had taken the team to Saratoga. The little guy’s brother was one of the players on the bus, and they were going to spend the night.”

While they were waiting for the bus to show up, the boy was exploring basically every nook and cranny of the bar.

“It was very quiet and very dark,” Parr said. “All I had on were the juke box lights and the back bar lights.”

The boy was near the juke box and asked Parr how it worked.

“I don’t know,” Parr told him. “Maybe Hank will tell us.”

“Who is Hank?” the boy asked. 

“We have a ghost who stays here,” Parr replied.

“A ghost?!”

“Yea, but don’t tell anybody,” Parr said. “Because the owner tells us, tells everybody that there’s no ghosts here. But, Hank does hang out here.”

After that, the boy really started checking the juke box out. Finally, about the time the bus pulled in off the highway, he went over to check the juke box one last time.  

“That jukebox started to play,” Parr recalled. “He came that far off the floor.”

Parr demonstrated about a foot in height using her hands.

That started the boy excitedly talking, and it was all Parr could do to get the boy settled down.

“The boy kept asking his dad, ‘Can’t we wait, dad, can’t we wait? Maybe (Hank) will play another song.”

Parr, however, was glad that Hank didn’t oblige and play another song that time, right in front of the boy’s dad, especially given that she knew she wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about ghosts in the Virginian.

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter