Death Valley-adjacent drinking that delivers as you hope it will.
On occasion, in a low budget western movie, there’s a saloon or a watering hole or whatever the wild west equivalent of a dive bar might have been, and I’m not sure how anyone does anything other than wish they were playing cards in the corner amid some casual gunfighting.
Beatty, Nevada, may not quite live up to that fantasy billing, but it’s a small town, it’s on the edge of Death Valley and it’s down the road from a legitimate ghost town. That’s a pretty good recipe for a dive bar, especially one attached to an establishment called the Sourdough Saloon and down the street from a pair of diners your legitimate grandmother might work at.
Plaques for chili cook-offs from years gone past, framed photos of a profoundly western variety, extensive wood paneling (of course) and a painted car hood above the bar depicting a man in a hat brandishing not one but two firearms, these are the things that make Happy Burro’s walls some of the finest dive bar walls I have ever seen.
The back patio resembles a ramshackle array of lightly used tubing, some of it adorned with corrugated metal roofing, some of it attached to tarping, some of it bare. Rarely do dive bar environments extend outside, but Happy Burro seems to have nailed the aesthetic, an ambiance that includes wanted posters, old license plates and the irresistible siren song of a painted sign reading ‘Cold Beer.’
Rare is the bar small enough to feel like a cozy, neighborhood haunt while still serving an exceptional food staple like the chili that comes out of the small kitchen behind the bar. Bar seating is limited, but worth fighting for to have a front row seat to the food and to the locals rotating through for their nightly respite from whatever Beatty, Nevada, has saddled them with.
At the risk of burying the lede, the bathroom urinal bike handles must be mentioned, perfect after a long night of drinking and chili consumption when the walls and floor and world won’t stop moving. The aforementioned handles are bolted to bare plywood walls and provide perhaps the only dividing mechanism in an otherwise free-for-all bathroom environment.
Happy Burro Chili & Beer is near perfect (it does after all feature both chili AND beer) and it sits a handful of miles away from Death Valley in the center of small, western town that provides perhaps our best chance at being part of a poker game gone wrong west of the Mississippi. Worth a trip, worth a seat at the bar, worth the chance of casual gunfire over a cup of chili.