Denver’s Buckhorn Exchange

Where Sitting Bull sat – eating Rocky Mountain Oysters?

Buffalo Bill used to frequent the Buckhorn Exchange, and 114 years later it remains one of Denver’s finest restaurants. Colorado carnivores love its meaty menu

You have to try a Buffalo Bill Cocktail (bourbon and apple juice) when you dine at Denver’s famous Buckhorn Exchange. How many restaurants can boast that both Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull were once customers? But the Buckhorn Exchange goes back to 1893, when it opened in the same premises it still occupies on Osage Street. It’s now conveniently next to a light-rail stop, making it an easy and unique night out from downtown Denver’s hotels

The Buckhorn Exchange is as much a museum and tourist attraction as it is a restaurant. In fact, there is a kind of informal museum in the upstairs saloon, where a 140-year-old bar shares the space with old west historical artifacts. These include fascinating items like Annie Oakley’s gun, the wedding dress of Sitting Bull’s daughter, and the prized Colorado Liquor Licence Number 1.

At the Buckhorn Exchange you study the walls as well as studying the menu, though vegetarians might want to stay home. Hundreds of stuffed heads stare down at you, including zebra and a two-headed calf, although the calf is hidden away a little so you don’t look up and get put off your food. Also tucked away somewhere, the manager assured me when I visited, is what he discretely referred to as an elk’s ‘unit’.

I didn’t notice any Rocky Mountain oysters in among the decor, but they were on the menu and pretty soon were on the table in front of me. I’d always wanted to try them, and if you don’t know what Rocky Mountain oysters are, well… just suck ’em and see. My notes tell me they taste like a kind of beefy calamari, but I was on my second Buffalo Bill cocktail by then and the notes are not to be relied on. In fact they pretty soon stop.

The Buckhorn Exchange is noted for its game, and it serves all kinds of exotic meat. It’s not just for its novelty value, however – the food is seriously good. If I hadn’t been having such a fun time I’d tell you what I ate, but I think alligator tails came into it somewhere, and I know I tried a bit of buffalo. No, not that bit of the buffalo.

Depending on the season and the whims of the chef you’ll find a range of meats on the menu: rattlesnake, elk, quail, pheasant, buffalo. There’s even buffalo on the beer list, with a Buffalo Gold alongside a whole host of bottled beers that you want to try for the names alone. Who could resist a Tommy Knocker Maple Nut? Well, I couldn’t.

There was so much tempting food and drink on the menu at the Buckhorn Exchange that I was turning into an animal myself. A pig. And I woke up with a hog of a hangover, but there were so many other dishes and brews I wanted to try that the Buckhorn will be top of my list of eating places next time I’m in Denver.

February 25th sees the annual Buffalo Bill Lookalike Contest at the Buckhorn Exchange, on Buffalo Bill’s Birthday Weekend

For details of opening hours visit the Buckhorn Exchange website by clicking here.