At first glance, the Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville, Utah, might seem like an ordinary dive bar. It serves local brews and epic burgers. There are some neon beer signs, a pool table, a jukebox, and quirky paraphernalia on the walls.
But the Shooting Star is no run-of-the-mill watering hole. It’s a liquid landmark.
One hundred and forty years after its first pour in 1879, the Shooting Star stands as the longest continuously running bar west of the Mississippi — and that includes during Prohibition. The historic saloon is now a popular après-ski and post-mountain-biking destination for those riding the mounds at Powder Mountain or Snowbasin Resort in the Ogden Valley, about an hour’s drive north of Salt Lake City.
Once inside, it’s impossible not to notice the thousands of dollar bills plastered on every inch of the ceiling. There are names and notes written on every bill, and locals estimate the entire collection is worth around $14,000.
“Dollar bills went up after a gentleman in town — his name was Vern Stoker; they called him Whiskey Joe — came back from World War I shell-shocked,” says Leslie Sutter, the current and seventh owner of the establishment. “People in town would give him odd jobs, feed him, provide clothes and stuff. When he passed away, they put a dollar up on the ceiling as a tribute that he’d always be back up at the bar.”
Eventually, that one dollar multiplied into dozens, then hundreds, and then thousands.
“During the [2002 Salt Lake City Winter] Olympics, it blew up. Everyone wanted to put a dollar up — and now we can’t stop it,” Sutter says. “We have to get on the ladder and schlep it up there. It’s a pain in the ass.”
Cash isn’t the only thing that distinguishes the space. On one wall, there’s an Alaskan trophy moose head mounted to its real-life height. It’s installed in the saloon simply because its recipient couldn’t fit it through the doorway of her house.
There’s also Buck, the mounted head of a 298-pound Saint Bernard that held the Guinness World Record as the planet’s largest dog for seven years. Buck passed away in 1957 but has been a permanent wall fixture since the 1970s, a canine patron saint of sorts.
It may be unnerving to sip a Utah craft brew next to a massive dog’s head, but that discomfort eases after your second (or third) round. After all, drinking is the point at this long-standing institution. The flow of booze even endured the 13 years of Prohibition.
“The only way to access the valley back then was either by horse or by rail,” Sutter says. “The sheriff would come up on a mule, or on rail. We knew he was coming.”
Early warnings — and possibly a bribe or two — curbed police raids, although it wasn’t always easy. The original owner, bootlegger Holken Olsen, took turns with his wife to keep the business alive. One would spend time in jail while the other kept the place running.
“When you’re far away, you ‘figure it out,’” Sutter says.
Having successfully figured it out for 85 years since the end of Prohibition, the Shooting Star Saloon is still around, and it shines bright.
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