By Mike Maltais
If buildings could talk, the first thing the late Antlers Saloon and Cafe might say is “I’ve been shot!”
And so it was at least once in its long and colorful existence.
The storied structure that has anchored the northeast terminus of Glover Street in Twisp since the early 20th century breathed its last on Dec. 31, 2013 — not from a bullet but from more conventional causes. And when Antlers shuttered its doors New Year’s Eve it also closed the latest chapter of a book full of memories that will long endure.
The building that housed the last Antlers was born of a tragedy 90 years ago after a fire that was described in the July 25, 1924, edition of the Methow Valley News: “The major portion of the town of Twisp is now in ashes as the result of a disastrous fire …”
Resilient Twisp citizens bent to the task and like a mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, the present building that housed Antlers rose on the site of the old Twisp Hotel that was one of the 23 buildings destroyed in the three-block conflagration.
The new Antlers came into being four years into the National Prohibition Act — also called the Volstead Act — which was passed in 1919. It wasn’t until late 1933, when Prohibition was repealed, that Antlers could fully embrace its new incarnation.
Throughout its run, Antlers welcomed a string of owners, each of whom put his or her mark on the place. They included Stan Nickel, who orchestrated some target practice, Bob Brandenburg, who started a musical tradition, final owner Robin Madison, who expanded the food menu, acquired a liquor license and eased the rough-knuckled relic into the 21st century. That included inhaling Initiative 901, Washington’s 2005 statewide indoor smoking ban that compelled patrons to light up outside Antlers’ smoke-cured walls.
Nickel installed an ice cream-soda fountain “for his daughter, Sally, when she went off to college,” recalls Twisp resident Renda Grim.
It was Grim’s grandpa, Billy Paradis, in fact, who helped Nickel anoint Antlers in its official baptism of gunfire.
“He was just a little guy, 4 feet, 10 inches tall,” Grim said of her gramps. “He was so tiny that when he worked at the mill as a truck mechanic he could fit down into the engine compartment of a Kenworth truck and would work on the motor from there.”
Grim added that though he was small and used a walking cane, Paradis was not one to trifle with.
“He could be wicked with that cane and he always carried a .38 revolver,” she said.
As the story goes, Nickel and Paradis were discussing marksmanship over drinks when someone got the idea to test their skills on the big mural of a whitetail buck painted on the concrete south wall of the watering hole. The pockmarks made by the slugs still remain and in light of that pedigree it’s little wonder that deer hunters were drawn to the saloon every fall to post photos of their trophies on that same wall.
One of the more enduring fixtures at Antlers was of the movable and musical sort.
On New Year’s Eve in 1972, a history teacher and piano player named Bill Hottell, fresh from a year of teaching and musical gigs in Ketchikan, Alaska, wandered into Antlers — then owned by Bob Brandenburg — and sat down at the piano.
What evolved from that encounter was a 41-year relationship that found Hottell, his wife, Diana, and various others — the Hottell Ragtime Band — making regular appearances in the place right up to the night it closed its doors for good.
Well, almost regular.
“A fellow who owned the bar after Brandenburg — I don’t remember his name — built a stage right in the middle of the bar,” Diana Hottell recalled. “The top of the stage was at bar level. We just walked in one night and there it was.”
Performing from such an elevated plane was more than Diana could tolerate, “so one night I just walked out,” she said. Following an indeterminate hiatus the Hottells were back in their regular spot performing on familiar floor level.
But something still wasn’t quite right. The piano player was always facing the wall — the one with the bullet holes — and was missing out on all the action.
“So Bill bought the mirror that hung over the piano so he could see what was going on,” Diana said.
And a lot was often going on.
Jim Lince, an Antlers regular whose late mother, Lois, once bartended there, recalled some of the brawls that often broke out.
“Ole Scott and Cliff Libby — they were both wilderness packers — would beat up on each other, then sit down and share a drink when it was all over,” Lince said.
The 60-foot-long, horseshoe-shaped wooden bar was at one time just half a bar, Lince remembered. “That’s when there were two pool tables in the place.”
Over the years, patrons laboriously carved names, designs and messages into the wooden bar top, where remembrances of long-gone hunting friends like “Waldo Red” remain.
Antlers witnessed the rise and demise of Twisp’s major employer, the Wagner Lumber Mill from 1941 to 1983, and fed and entertained many of its workers. It survived the flood of 1948, considered by the National Weather Service as Washington’s second-worst natural disaster after the October 1962 Columbus Day wind storm.
Last Sunday a small crew and two tractor-trailer rigs dismantled in a matter of hours what took almost a century to build.
But the memories remain.