The Columbine Bar has new business owners, and they’re looking to bring it back to its heyday.
Betsy Harrison and James Law were both part of a previous group that ran the bar for about 10 years, but they have decided to take the reins once again. On March 11, the Mancos Town Board approved the ownership change, and Harrison said their first step will be sprucing the Columbine up and figuring out the bar’s place in a changing community.
“What really does the town need at this point, and what can we do to make it an asset to the town?” she said.
The Columbine Bar is one of the oldest continuously running bars in Colorado, and a landmark in the town of Mancos. The building that houses the bar was built in 1910, although Harrison said that when they first bought the bar, it had a wooden carving stating it was established in 1903.
“I’ve never been able to verify that,” Harrison said.
Harrison and Law were part of a group that bought the Columbine in 2005 and ran it for about a decade.
“Ten years later, our lives had changed, some people’s health had changed, one of the partners had moved away,” Harrison said. “So we decided to continue ownership of the building, but to sell the business to a couple of our bartenders who had been with us for a while.”
But the bar has seen tough times recently, she said, particularly with the rise of Fenceline Cider and the Mancos Brewing Co., and since many of the “old-timers” who loved the bar have either moved away or stopped frequenting as regularly.
“The bar has always had a terrible reputation, of being a really rough bar,” Harrison said. “Some people love that, and some people just won’t go in there at all.”
So she and Law decided to retake the bar and “breathe some new life into it.” They still owned the building, so all that was required was for the previous owners to sell their company shares to Harrison and Law.
The board approval was unanimous. Harrison, who also serves as a trustee, recused herself from the vote.
Once weather warms up, their first step is sprucing up the front, and bringing more light into the space, Harrison said.
“It’s very dark in there, which a lot of people object to,” she said. “Plus I think it will make a real statement that there’s going to be some changes.”
The “sprucing up” process may take some historical detective work.
“Rumor has it that the brick that you see on the front of the building was put over the old front of the building, and that there’s actually big windows behind there,” Harrison said.
Bricks were installed around the 1950s, Harrison said, and if any community members have a photo of the outside of the building prior to that time, they would be highly interested in seeing it,.
The building’s exterior is expected to look similar to that of the neighboring Mancos Opera House and the Mancos Common Press, both of which have recently undergone historical revitalization. The Common Press and Opera House both have facades with large windows and inset doors, Harrison said – and she believes the Columbine Bar once did too.
“If all of those buildings could come back and look that way, it would be fantastic,” Harrison said.
They also plan to have a community meeting, to help figure out what role the bar should play in the town. But food is definitely on the horizon.
“Get some kind of a small kitchen going, and get some food in there, especially with the closing of the Millwood,” Harrison said.