THAYNE – Dad’s Bar is a Star Valley honky-tonk steeped in Wyoming tradition.
It’s a place where the phrase “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is never questioned as traditions have been passed down through five owners over the last 90 years.
Built in 1933 at the end of prohibition, Dad’s was the first business in Lincoln County to get a liquor license.
It’s a plain brown, flat-roofed, block two-story building that faces east on Highway 189. A couple of large chunks of stucco are missing from the façade. The wood siding is weathered, and there’s a large dent in the center of the front door.
The tough exterior is intentional, said owner Terry Gordon.
“I like the hole-in-the-wall look this place has and I’ll never change it,” Gordon told Cowboy State Daily. “This is Wyoming. It can be a little rough on the outside. If they come in, I know they’re my kind of people.”
Inside, it’s a big, bright open space that was recently remodeled. It seats about 80 people and has a long bar, dance floor and a stage.
There’s a parking lot out back and the locals file in through the back porch and past the open kitchen. One of the traditions at Dad’s is the kitchen has always been open. Anyone who wants to watch their meal being prepared is welcome.
Next to the kitchen is the steakhouse area, which is separated from the bar and dance floor.
Dad’s was established in 1933 by Alf “Dad” Walton. On the wall across from the bar, a tribute to Walton states: “Friends May Come, Friends May Go, But Dad’s Will Always Be Here.”
That tribute is one of the only signs on the walls of this establishment. Gordon said the remodel is ongoing and the things he hangs in here need to have meaning.
“There’s still a lot to do in here. The walls are mostly blank,” he said. “But I’m not going to go out and buy gas station signs and make it look like a Cracker Barrel. What fills these walls should have meaning.”
Gordon picked up four unique bar stools in an antique store in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. One is a horse’s ass, one is half of a cowboy from the waist down and the other two are the bottom halves of two fleshy ladies wearing cowboy boots and garters.
Gordon’s wife Martha didn’t want to buy them, but he crammed them into the back of their Chevy Tahoe and hauled them to Thayne anyway.
“It’s amazing how many people will sit there and take a picture. It happens almost daily,” she said.
The Dance Floor
The dance floor is branded with Wyoming’s trademarked bucking horse and rider Steamboat logo. Gordon is a welder by trade. He made a template of the famous Steamboat and Guy Holt and used a weed burner to firebrand the image onto the hardwood floor.
The hardwood floor was under about seven layers of other flooring types when Gordon remodeled the place about six years ago. He said that back in the 1940s, adults would sit around the outside walls of the bar while the kids roller-skated on the hardwood.
“It’s not the prettiest floor, but you know what, it feels good under my feet, it kinda moves,” he said. “The great-grandparents of a lot of people in this valley danced on this floor.”
Live Music Almost Every Night
Gordon is a Texan who moved with his wife Martha to Green River about 25 years ago. He owns a business, Mountain State Rail Car Services, that repairs rail cars for the soda ash mines in Sweetwater County. He also plays drums and can be seen on stage at Dad’,s where they have live music up to five nights a week in the summer.
The Gordons have owned Dad’s for seven years. They bring in bands from Salt Lake City, Boise and several other cities on weekends. Solo acts and local musicians play there on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“It’s really changed over about the last three years,” Gordon said. “People will fill this place up in the summer. We’ll serve 150 steak dinners on Friday nights. We’ve turned into a damn supper club.”
Country music is the main draw at Dad’s. But they bring in rock and roll bands, a jazz band and other unique acts.
“We shake it up,” Gordon said. “I like to change it up, but everybody reacts to it well. People in Wyoming are going to appreciate it as long as it’s real and good.”
The sport of cutter, or chariot, racing has been a thing in Star Valley for at least as long as Dad’s has been a hole-in-the-wall bar there. Throughout those 90 years, Dad’s has sponsored a cutter racing team, and the bar is known as The Home of Cutter Racing.
The sport originated in ancient Rome and has maintained its popularity in western Wyoming. It involves a team of quarter horses pulling a light chariot around a quarter-mile track. The teams reach speeds of over 40 mph and cover the 440-yard distance in under 25 seconds.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s when Star Valley’s chief economic driver was the dairy industry, milk was hauled to creameries with teams of horses. Gordon said the fastest teams could get to town, pick up a load of freight, and get paid for hauling in both directions.
That work helped develop the sport of cutter racing in Star Valley.
He compared it to how stock car racing was developed by mechanics building fast cars to bootleg moonshine.
On The Menu
All of the steaks here are hand-cut daily and come from a local supplier. They’re served on a hot steel plate, the same way they did it here 40 years ago.
The beef comes from Jacknife Ranch about 3 miles from downtown Thayne and is processed at Star Valley Meat Block in downtown Thayne.
“That’s pretty damn local,” Gordon said.
Prime rib is the most popular cut with Dad’s patrons. It makes up about half of the steakhouse meals served here. Lunch also is served six days a week. The lunch menu includes burgers, salads, fish tacos and many other choices.
Summer tourism traffic provides a big boost. Gordon said they struggle to keep up with demand during those months.
“Anybody who comes through the valley and asks where to eat, the folks around here line ’em out pretty quick,” he said. “All of our advertising is word of mouth.”
Dad’s employs about 22 people. Gordon said most of them are part-time gig workers who have other jobs, mainly in real estate and health care.
The Old Apartment
When the Gordons bought Dad’s it became a no smoking establishment. But he didn’t want to make locals go outside to smoke, so he remodeled a smoking room upstairs.
Next to the smoking room is a two-bedroom apartment that’s been used over the years to accommodate traveling band members. Gordon has played in bars all over Wyoming and said it’s common for bar owners to help bands out with meals and rooms.
The old apartment may be remodeled into a pool room at some point, but it will be a shame to lose it because of the music and one special family bond that was made there.
“A few really good songs were written here over the past few years, and there’s a cute little girl that lives in Mountain Home, Idaho,” he said. “They couldn’t name her Dad’s, so they named her Thayne.”