Playing Bar

Bars aren’t just about drinking.

Playing Bar

Bars aren’t just about drinking.

BY Julie kling

The Virginian has a “strong drink for a good price” and also pool, darts, karaoke, and cornhole.
The Virginian has a “strong drink for a good price” and also pool, darts, karaoke, and cornhole. Photograph by Price Chambers

YOUNG MEN WITH gapped teeth and backwards baseball caps fill the game room at the Virginian Lodge on a Wednesday. The unpretentious bar, better known as the Virg, is gearing up for karaoke. It doesn’t get busy until around 10 p.m., though, so manager Dustin Morehead takes me out back. He needs a smoke break, and I want to hear tales about the regular brawls that broke out back in the day. The Virg, which is still owned by its namesake and founder Virginia Napierskie, is “more western than uptown,” Morehead says. “Virginia’s late husband, Glenn, always wanted to make this a place where you can get a strong drink for a cheap price.” Back inside, I get a Jameson Whiskey for $3.75 and watch as Kyle, whose last name I didn’t catch, points his gun at the screen of the Big Buck arcade game and a man in a Blues Brothers’ suit sings Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” alone on the dance floor.

Bars aren’t just meant for drinking. In the interest of in-depth journalism, I searched out the valley’s watering holes that go beyond the basics, offering darts, trivia, pool, karaoke, disco dancing, and shake-a-day in addition to alcohol. Mark Allison, who has bartended at the Town Square Tavern since it opened nine years ago, says more and more people want to find community at bars. “There’s always something going on, from live music to dice and Jenga,” he says. “If you want to get people to stick around these days you have to give them a reason to get off the couch.”

Enter the Tavern’s Wednesday family friendly trivia night. Ski instructor and DJ Tom Haigh, a.k.a. Crazy Tom, moved his spermology show (“spermology” is the study of trivia) to the Tavern from Cutty’s Bar & Grill two years ago. If your team knows things like who sings the Winnie the Pooh song “Return to Pooh Corner” (Kenny Loggins), you might win a bottle of Wyoming Whiskey or 20 percent off dinner. But you better not get caught cheating (using your phone to Google answers or call friends) or texting. “Ironically, I use a DJ system, a laptop, and PowerPoint to get people off their phones and get them to start exercising their brains,” Haigh says. Tavern spermologists work with their teammates at card tables. Haigh poses a question and everyone scribbles his or her answers on a piece of paper. After the question, everyone’s answers are collected and put in a bucket. The first correct answer picked out of the bucket wins.

Someone used this cup and six of these dice to win $12,888 in the shake-a-day at Eleanor’s Again.
Someone used this cup and six of these dice to win $12,888 in the shake-a-day at Eleanor’s Again. Photograph by Bradly J. Boner

THE VIRG DRAWS in people looking for more old-school entertainment. Indeed, walking into the bar, which was built in 1965 and remains mostly the same, feels like stepping back in time. In some ways, it is. A grid on a white board over the foosball table is a reminder of an old bet. The TV is a 12-inch Toshiba. Morehead says he plans on moving that and getting new pool tables—every Thursday night, the Virg hosts a pool tournament that draws competitors from as far away as Pinedale—and two new dartboards. Bringing the bar into the twenty-first century, the darts will be hooked up to the Internet and have cameras. Shooters at the Virg can compete with people at other bars around the world in real time. Darts not your thing? Some nights the bar pulls out its cornhole “board” and dice; a group of locals likes to play Pitch, which Morehead describes as being similar to Euchre. “When they get too drunk they argue a lot,” he says.

Although they’re not regulation-size, the four pool tables at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar—open until 2 a.m.—are the most popular in town; you have to lay quarters down on a table and wait your turn. If you’re more interested in playing than being a part of the Cowboy’s scene—although the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar definitely needs to be seen at some point—head to the Stagecoach Bar at the base of Teton Pass in Wilson. Its two pool tables are often available every night but Sunday, when the Stagecoach Band holds “Church” at the bar. The band that has played from 6 to 10 p.m. every Sunday night for forty-five years (not including the Sundays that Christmas and New Year’s fall on) leads the valley’s best two-step scene. Whether playing pool or at Church, the Coach is “like Cheers,” says regular Brian Schwartz. “It’s a very friendly environment, and there is not a thick wall between locals and tourists. I don’t think that happens in Telluride or Aspen.”

Wednesday Trivia Night at the Town Square Tavern
Wednesday Trivia Night at the Town Square Tavern – Photograph by Price Chambers

REQUIRING LESS SKILL than two step and available at more bars is shake-a-day. If bars didn’t donate a portion of the pot to charity, shake-a-day would be considered gambling. It’s a Yahtzee-style dice game that you win when you roll five of a kind. At most valley bars, buy a drink and you can then buy a chance to roll for $1. These dollar bills accumulate in a pot until someone rolls five of a kind. Do that and the pot, minus the portion donated to charity, is yours. Besides paying to roll and five-of-a-kind winning, the shake-a-days at valley bars have different rules. Three or four of a kind might win you a drink, a free roll, or nothing. At the Snake River Brewery, better known as the Brewpub, if you roll two of a kind twice, you get a free beer. As of press time, the record for the biggest pot belonged to Eleanor’s Again Bar & Grill, a gritty (for Jackson) bar hidden in the back of Plaza Liquors in Grand Teton Plaza. In 2013, there was a line out its door for the chance to roll for a pot that eventually made it to $12,888.

Aside from the valley’s shake-a-day record, Eleanor’s is also known as one of the best places to play darts in town. Cutty’s, the Brewpub, the Virg, and the Coach also have dartboards, but Eleanor’s is the most active. Dave Dussault, who grew up shooting darts outside Boston, hopes to change that. He’s trying to start a luck-of-the-draw tournament that rotates between bars. It’d be on Wednesdays and have a $10 buy-in. “There’s actually a lot of people who shoot,” he says. “The nice part of the luck-of-the-draw format is that you get paired with the best shooter or the worst shooter, so it levels the playing field.” And if it doesn’t, there’s plenty of alcohol around.


The Virginian: 750 West Broadway; 307/733-2792;

Town Square Tavern: 20 East Broadway; 307/733-3886;

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar: 25 North Cache St.; 307/733-2207;

Stagecoach Bar: 5755 WY Highway 22; 307/733-4407;

Eleanor’s Again: 832 West Broadway; 307/733-7901;

Cutty’s: 1140 WY Highway 22; 307/201-1079;

Snake River Brewery & Restaurant: 265 South Millward St.; 307/739-2337;

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