- Griffin Swartzell
- A cheesy, meaty sandwich sadly sogs the sourdough.
The Ancient Mariner was a destination dive in Manitou for decades. And while the nautical theme has been ditched, that destination element hasn’t changed now that the venue has become Armadillo Ranch, under the ownership of former Manitou Springs city administrator and first-time restaurateur Jason Wells.
Armadillo Ranch greets Manitou Avenue with a bright façade and a sign featuring dancing armadillos that resemble the Grateful Dead’s teddy bears. Inside, the bar remains largely unchanged except for a few ’dillo additions. Chef Lyn Harwell, formerly of Seeds Community Café, designed the menu, which predominantly features barbecue and Italian offerings as well as bar bites. (Readers may recall that the Indy reported on allegations of past financial misdeeds surrounding Harwell and Seeds, but for the purposes this critique, we’re more interested in his menu chops here.)
Location Details Armadillo Ranch
When we arrive, the vibe’s subdued but welcoming. We’re informed that ownership hasn’t printed cocktail menus, so we meet bartender Sean St. Pierre to learn about his specials. We start with a Manitou Red Hook, a variation on a variation of a Manhattan. The traditional Red Hook swaps the Manhattan’s sweet vermouth for Punt e Mes, but Armadillo Ranch still has the Mariner’s dive-y clientele and selection, so St. Pierre keeps inventory and costs down by using a two-to-one sweet vermouth and Aperol mix instead. It’s a lighter drink than we’d expect, and Redemption rye plays nicely with bitters and subtle fruit notes. It’s garnished with a neon red maraschino cherry: Proper Luxardo cherries, like Punt e Mes, aren’t on the menu here.
The Rolling ’Dillo, another St. Pierre original, mixes Wild Turkey 101 with pineapple juice, lemon juice and turmeric simple syrup. It’s fruity and sweet with faint earthiness from the turmeric. And it’s mighty strong, just like that Red Hook.
While we’re knocking back beverages, we order the Manitou Grilled Cheese, served on sourdough with a pile of brisket, onions and greens. It’s sweet and meaty, and unmelted cheddar cheese curls at the edges of the sandwich. The sourdough has notable tang, but its moist fillings sog it quickly, which hampers any cheesy bliss.
For a side, we can get Louisiana-made Zapp’s chips for a buck or fries for two. We confuse a Zapp’s flavor, Cajun Crawtater, for a unique side and ask if it’s fries tossed in crumbled chips or something. With a glint in his eye, our server wonders what that would taste like. And while I’m sure such a potato-on-potato mess could be made to function, the fries don’t need it. They bear plenty of seasoned salt and come crisp throughout, perfect to some and anathema to others.
We also try an ABC Burger, a signature dish from Seeds Community Café. It’s a good burger. Blue cheese and avocado slices play nice with Callicrate ground beef that’s been cooked past our requested medium temperature but still tastes rich and beefy. Curry ketchup plays a supporting role, sweetening and adding subtle spice flavors. Side house potato salad mainly tastes of mellowed, sweetened grain mustard and celery, with bits of red bell pepper making occasional cameos.
So, ultimately, Armadillo Ranch plays in familiar Harwell territory. But when we walk out into the Manitou night, it’s our fellow bar patrons that we remember most vividly. That, more than anything, is what a good dive bar offers: new friends and interesting conversations. In as much as it has that going for it, Armadillo Ranch has picked up The Ancient Mariner’s torch just fine.