Backstory: The Colorful Ghosts of the Saddle Rock Cafe (PHOTOS) - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Backstory: The Colorful Ghosts of the Saddle Rock Cafe (PHOTOS)

The Grand Central Hotel can be seen at far right in this photo of Center Street, likely dating from the early 1920s. The hotel was demolished in 1955 for the Petroleum Building. The building that would later house the Saddle Rock Cafe and Arcade Bar is to the hotel’s left. Though unrecognizable, the bottom section of the building still survives. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Library.)

A small structure connected to the south side of the Petroleum Building hides a lot of history inside of its remaining walls.

For over 35-years the space at 208 S. Center was home to the Saddle Rock Cafe, which often advertised itself as being “famous for steaks”.

The location on Center was actually the second Saddle Rock Cafe, the first being on 220 W. First Street in the old Sandbar District. The first Saddle Rock Cafe was operated by Greek immigrant John Velous in the 1920s. Velous opened the second location in 1934 and, aside from a temporary retirement, ran it through the middle-50s.

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The Saddle Rock may have been “famous for steaks,” but it was was also a bit infamous for sneaking booze from neighboring Arcade Bar to its customers.

According to various Casper Star-Tribune articles, the cafe got around its lack of a liquor license by allowing its customers to order boozy drinks through a convenient hole in the wall it shared with the Arcade Bar.

It was something of an open secret for decades until 1966, when another bar owner called out councilman Kenneth Pile during a meeting. Councilman Pile was managing the Arcade Bar and, since flagrantly disregarding liquor laws was apparently bad form, declared in an April meeting that he no longer allowed the practice.

The squat one-story building that survives is now unrecognizable in every imaginable way to its original 20s-era design. An article in the Jan. 13, 1956 Casper Tribune-Herald announced the temporary closing of the cafe and its neighbor the Arcade Bar.

The Grand Central Hotel is demolished in Aug. 1955 to make way for the Petroleum Building on the corner of Second and Center in downtown Casper. The Saddle Rock Cafe can be seen just left of the old hotel, and the Arcade Bar is seen to the cafe’s left. The top floors of the Saddle Rock building, which occupied apartments, were later demolished because of structural damage. The first floor still stands though it is unrecognizable to its original design. (David Memorial Collection, Casper College Western History Center)

“The top floors of the Saddle Rock Building will be removed to make way for a new six-story office building on the adjacent lot, former site of the old Grand Central Hotel,” said the article. Concerns about the building’s stability without the old Grand Central building were sited as cause. The upstairs floors had been occupied by apartment units.

The restaurant underwent a complete remodel in 1951 by Velous. About a decade later it got another new facade, which is for the most part intact now. Velous eventually sold out to prolific Casper restauranteur E.J. “Eddie” Reid, who ran it until his death in 1961. His family ran it afterward.

The Saddle Rock Cafe ended its colorful run around 1973, when it stopped appearing in the Casper Polk Directory. 208. S. Center sat vacant until Oakes Jewelers opened there in 1975.

Most recently the space was occupied by a frozen yogurt businesses, which is now closed and listed for sale.

Mr. Velous died at the Wyoming Medical Center on Jan. 9, 1990 at age 91, according to his obituary in the Casper Star-Tribune.

The building at 208 S. Center is now unrecognizable to its original form. Built as a three-story business and apartment complex in the early 1920s, the bottom floors served as home for the Saddle Rock Cafe and neighboring Arcade Bar for decades. The top floors were demolished in 1954. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
A vintage early-60s postcard shows a bustling Center St. in downtown Casper. The Saddle Rock Cafe is seen at far left. The back of the card reads:
“A city of over 40,000 located on the high plateau country of central Wyoming is the center of a vast trading area for mining, oil, ranching and a fast growing hunting and recreational traffic.”
Originally published by Mobile Postcards, Colorado Springs, Colorado
A Nov. 11, 1951 feature in the Casper Tribune-Herald shows Saddle Rock Cafe founder and owner John Velous talking with his butcher. The article ran to publisize the cafe’s remodel and reopening.
Petroleum Building, Walgreens, and Saddle Rock Cafe. at left. Second and Center Streets, Casper, Wyoming, ca. 1956. The Grand Central Hotel was demolished to make way for the Petroleum Building in 1956. Photo by Ken. Casper Area Chamber of Commerce Collection, Casper College Western History Center.
The original Saddle Rock Cafe opened in the early 1920s and stood on W. First Street in the old Sandbar district. It is shown here under demolition, date unknown but likely early-70s. (Frances Seely Webb Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
This 1927 ad published in the Casper Daily Tribune shows the Saddle Rock Cafe’s ample offerings for Thanksgiving dinner, all for just $1.00! (According to the CPI Inflation Calculator that comes out to $14.23 in today’s dollars)
This murky clip from a 1960 Casper Star-Herald shows the Saddle Rock Cafe’s facade under renovation. The results are basically what survives of the building today.
This 1928 newspaper ad for the Saddle Rock Cafe’s original location advertises its “delicious food from our spotless kitchen.”
A newspaper ad from 1938 announces the Saddle Rock’s lunch specials, which according to the CDI Inflation Calculator would be a thrifty $4.28 in today’s dollars.
After the Saddle Rock closed in the early 70s, the space has been occupied by a jewlery store, a political candidate office and a frozen yogurt business. It is now empty. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
Some original 20s-era mosaic tile is visible in the entrence to 208 S. Center, which was home to the Saddle Rock Cafe for decades. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)