Is that hash?" My dining companion nudges me as I feed pineapple to his dog, obediently lying behind his barstool. He drops a lump of something dark green onto my plate. In the dim light, the lump does look remarkably like hashish, although mighty fresh for being baked under a chunk of ham on our Hawaiian pizza.
I'd ended up in Victor a week earlier after heading south from Highway 67 on a whim, and discovered a mining town inhabited by some of the friendliest people, best eats and most visually entertaining restaurants anywhere near Pikes Peak. While Victor has been home to an array of saloons, dance halls, and cafs throughout its history, only five businesses currently offer food.
Now, on a return visit, having trekked up Gold Camp Road with intrepid Indy photographer Scott Larrick and his dog Sasha, we found ourselves seated at the bar at It's Someplace Else, a diner housed in the old Bank Exchange saloon, built in 1896.
"I don't know, how do you feel?" I respond to his low-voiced query, breaking the wet clump apart with my spoon to reveal shredded basil leaves masquerading as primo Canadian.
Sasha looks disappointed with her fruit and stares at our basket of Corny Potatoes. The golden concoction is made with mashed potatoes blended with creamed corn and rolled in cornmeal, then fried until the outer layer becomes crispy. I'm going to found a society which presents awards for the Most Ingenious Use of a Historically Unappealing Food, and give the very first one to Corny Potatoes. Served with something akin to Arby's Horsey sauce, they are exceptionally tasty. No wonder the dog felt like she was getting the shaft.
When our main meal was brought out, Sasha realized the evil eye tactic was useless and moved into position for "unbearable cuteness." Good strategizing, because the pizza at It's Someplace Else is worth begging for. Appropriately greasy, but not so much that the cheese is clumpy, the drug-free pie had good crust depth, attractive dough bubbles, and even distribution of toppings, everything you look for in a good pizza.
Besides the food, Someplace also sports the largest public display of "donated" bras in Victor, which hang from the heads of long-dead game. But this is nothing compared to the joint around the corner.
On my earlier visit, I had discovered Zeke's Place, the oldest saloon in Victor, so heavily adorned that I wonder if its contents, not its age, are the cause of its sagging facade.
Even though the tavern is a half-block away from the main drag, it seems more remote. Rough.
I felt like Clint Eastwood when I walked into the low, dark room, with the sun at my back, the screen door slamming behind me. Besides the bar mistress and an older man asleep in a chair, the place was empty. My fantasy was fueled even more when the woman seemed surprised that I meant to come in, and I caught myself saying, "Kin ah trouble ya fer some lunch?"
My dog was allowed in at Zeke's, and she sprawled on the floor while I read some of the signs on the wall. "Our credit manager is Helen Teller. If you want credit, go to Hell 'en Tell 'er," "We Support the Mine" and so on. Every picture, saying, sticker and pin ever to enter the place has been hung up, on or around the bar and it appears the policy is to never take anything down.
The woman behind the counter went out of her way to be friendly. She made me a cheeseburger, good and greasy like bar food should be, and offered the dog water.
I was oddly comfortable, sitting in a strange, dark bar with a mountain between me and home. And that's kind of how Victor is, welcoming and honest. Walking out of Zeke's, I was mistaken for a local and asked directions, and it was a sad thing to admit that I didn't belong to this fine town.