Twenty years ago, Greg Dalrymple, George Connolly, and Mike Stager were slinging drinks and spinning yarns as bartenders on Breckenridge’s Main Street. They even worked together at various times: Dalrymple and Stager were part of the opening staff at the Hearthstone, and all three tended bar at Downstairs at Eric’s at one point. Like hundreds in their profession before and after them, each dreamed of one day opening his own ski-town restaurant.
Youth inevitably ran its course, and eventually the men started families and moved on to different jobs in different places. Stager became a contractor, Dalrymple a cabinetmaker, and Connolly a salesman, all working in Denver. But they kept in touch and nurtured the dream, even if it had been relocated to life’s back burner. Intermittently, they looked into acquiring a couple of places in Golden, but the deals fell through.
Then last year they learned that the Steak and Rib, for decades a mainstay eatery on North Main Street, was closing. The three old friends spent the next six months negotiating to take over the lease and finally open their own place—to be called the Canteen Tap House and Tavern—before finally collecting their first dollar bill last December.
The building’s dated interior and vibe (the trio found a February 1882 New York Times behind a wall while renovating) gave way to a lively saloon that quickly rose to the no. 1 ranking on yelp.com among Breckenridge restaurants. “It’s louder,” Dalrymple says. “It’s fun in here. It’s a scene. Sometimes a little too loud for our patrons who were used to the old Steak and Rib, but we want it to be loud and fun.”
“We call it F, B, and E,” adds Stager. “It’s the food, beverage, and entertainment industry.” He’s careful not to use the word “business.” In recent years Stager had worked with a banker-turned-restaurateur who, he says, regarded his eatery foremost as an investment—and, according to Stager, it showed. Stager wanted the Canteen to have “a feeling to it, a soul to it.”
The trio has entrusted that ideal to a number of former coworkers from their barkeep days, whom they recruited in advance of their return. Longtime local bartenders Ryan Espe and Richie MaCleese are familiar faces behind the new wormy-maple bar, and chef Adam Weidert previously cooked at Modis. The full-circle effect is not lost on Dalrymple, 50, Stager, 49, and Connolly, 46. “We were the ski bums back in the late ’80s living that life,” Stager says, “and now we see our staff living that life. We’re the ones giving them the opportunity to be the ski bums.”
The Canteen has quickly distinguished itself for its burgers (try the Hoss: bacon, cheddar, house BBQ sauce, and onion rings; or the Honeydew: fire-roasted green chiles, cream cheese, honey, and yellow mustard) and ribs, which are brined for 45 minutes then smoked for four hours to achieve falling-off-the-bone tenderness. You can choose from 13 Colorado craft breweries when you order a pint. Specialty cocktails come in 24-ounce aluminum canteen cups.
Dalrymple, Stager, and Connolly say they were not intimidated to enter a crowded restaurant market in one of America’s most established resort towns. “We were excited by the prospect of coming in and becoming players,” Dalrymple says. As any businessman knows, it helps when you know the territory.