Las Vegas has been called the entertainment capital of the world, but sometimes the best fun to be had is in quiet, little known places. Sure, Vegas has the happy hour Ferris wheel and the fountains at the Bellagio Casino. But for some of us, Vegas is like staring at a laser while you hug a Taser. You either go blind or get the shakes. It all depends on your response to intense forms of artificial stimulation.
In the wilds of southern Idaho, near the remote Canyonlands wilderness, is a wonderful little spot to spend an hour or two, the Cowboy’s Pastime Bar and Grill in Bruneau. We’ve enjoyed dining numerous Saturday nights on deep-fried finger steaks or char burgers and tater tots at the Pastime. Chase this epicurean delight with a glass or two of boxed Chardonnay and you walk away having both your hunger and thirst quenched. Still it’s the grill’s ambiance that draws people in. Where else can you dine sitting on a saddle beneath a cowboy boot hanging from the ceiling rafter?
The grill’s name, the Pastime, says it all, especially when you’re seeking a way to while away the hours on a long evening in sagebrush country. On any given Saturday night at the Pastime, you might see a string of interesting characters wander through the big wooden door. They saunter past the giant photo of local ranchers, all lined up on their horses, Stetson’s atop their heads. It’s an honor to be in the picture; you’re officially the Real Cowboy Deal. One winter evening I saw a man stroll into the grill, draped in a long, dirty trench coat, almost Charles Dickens 19th century in its cut and style. Frozen cow dung fringed the skirt of his coat. I’d never seen a coat like that, a cowboy duster.
The patrons at the Pastime, these nighttime nomads of the Bruneau desert. are distinctive from the crowds in town, not just by their dress, but they talk different too. I’ve eavesdropped enough to know. They’re not the chattering class, they’re the working class, and topics of interest are less about the latest TV show or tech toy, and more about the land, the cattle, and the weather.
If you want to do more than eat or drink a beer at the Pastime, there’s the pool table. One time I even saw a chicken rodeo at the Pastime (disclaimer: no animals were hurt). Kids and a few adults were trying to coax some unwilling hens into their crates in a barn-like room attached next to the restaurant.
No, the Pastime is not Vegas. But it’s much easier on the nerves, and it has a charm all its own.