The Silver Dollar Saloon got its start back in 1879 when it was named the Board of Trade and was a simple frame building at 315 Harrison Ave.
It was totally rebuilt in 1883, a matter that got a lengthy write-up in the Leadville Daily Herald which noted, on Nov. 11, 1883, that “The beautiful temple of fortune erected by Mr. John Morgan at No. 315 Harrison Avenue was thrown open to the public at 6 p.m.”
The paper said that at least 10,000 visitors were entertained with a big brass band playing Strauss and other music.
The building was described as two stories in height and 50 by 100 feet in dimension. Special note was taken of the tile floor with the tile having been imported from England.
The bar counter of highly polished wood was backed by glittering crystal and glass and featured a trio of the “most experienced mixologists in the country.” Only the best wines and whiskeys were in stock.
The lower club room featured games of stud poker, draw poker, faro and wheel of fortune. It had a cigar stand and a merchants’ lunch counter.
The upper club room featured faro and roulette and was designed “for those who prefer a quiet tete-a-tete with Dame Fortune.” This area was for gentlemen only.
The Leadville Miners Club, also on the second floor, featured areas for transactions of private business, reception of members and visitors, and billiards.
Today’s Silver Dollar, now only located on the first floor, retains much of the look as it had earlier.
An article by Tom Noel in the “Mountain Diggings” gives the bar’s early history. It became the Bank Saloon in 1898, and remained so until prohibition, then became the M &O (Monaghan & Olsen) Soft Drink Parlor. Because prohibition never really took hold in Leadville, patrons back in those days could enter the basement through a door under the bar and find drinks that were not quite so soft.
Marty McMahon bought the bar in 1942, beginning his family’s long ownership of the place. His son Don, and Don’s wife, Patty, were owners until Don McMahon died in 1982. Patty McMahon continued operating the bar until her death in May 2007. Her son, Tony Cowfer, then took over and ran the bar until 2017.
The Silver Dollar, named for Horace Tabor’s daughter, is known as Leadville’s Irish bar. Noel relates that it was at the Silver Dollar that Neil Reynolds, the McMahons, Don McDonald and others dreamed up the St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade, which continues to take place in mid-September each year.
McDonald was a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division, and the Silver Dollar was said to be his favorite bar.
The bar is known for the numerous photographs and other memorabilia that line its walls. They include a photo of a ghost sitting at the bar.
The Silver Dollar is among the businesses celebrating their 140th anniversary on Oct. 24 as part of a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored “Business After Hours” event. Open houses at the Leadville Herald and the Tabor Opera House will be followed by a closing celebration at the historic bar, featuring refreshments by Chef Eric Johns.