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 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.