The Durango food, cafe and bar scenes are not friendly to night owls, hospitality workers after long shifts or college students cramming for exams. Walk around after midnight and Main Avenue is a food desert with few glowing open signs and no late-night slice in sight.
For bars, El Rancho has a reputation for keeping the party going as long as the state law permits.
“People can count on us being open,” said El Rancho owner Chip Lile. Since he took ownership of the business in 1999, it has kept the taps flowing until the witching hour. He said the bar benefits from the spillover after family-friendly spots start counting the drawer.
“People comment that they know we are always open,” Lile said.
Being a dive, “The Ranch” doesn’t serve food, save some salty popcorn. The hungriest of drinkers may be desperate enough to dip their hand in the garnish box for a lime wedge. But mint sprigs are not a suitable meal for those with a belly full of booze.
Where do people go for a bite after the bars?
The Original Durango Dawg House has been the bratwurst beacon of light for those searching to satiate their stomachs under the moonlight. The small restaurant known for hot dogs is one of the few places, besides Denny’s (where you can get a Moon Over My Hammy 24 hours a day) that is open after the bar lights come up.
But that may not be the case for long.
Dawg House owner Chris Gray bought the place in March, but business didn’t pan out as he hoped. He purchased the business for his family, but his young kids lost interest. The smoke from the 416 Fire kept tourists away over the summer. And in September, the Balcony Bar and Grill, located above Dawg House, downsized. Gray said that resulted in a huge decrease in sales; it was the night crowd who buoyed business.
“To be honest, through the course of the summer, the late nights were the only thing that kept us going,” Gray said.
Durango Dawg House is currently open from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 11 to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, until Gray sells the business. If he doesn’t sell soon, Gray said they will cover the outdoor patio and add heaters for the winter.
Like pizza, hot dogs are a midnight munchie staple, but other restaurant owners say staying open late clashes with their identity. Such is the case with El Moro and Steamworks Brewing Co., which both operate under Peak Brewing Co.
“At El Moro, we do not want to be a last-call establishment,” said Peak Brewing Co. co-founder Kris Oyler. “We’d rather serve a quality cocktail and have our doors closed before the final bell, when there seems to be more inappropriate activities happening elsewhere.”
Riff-raff aside, Oyler said both restaurants aim to offer quality food later in the evening, especially for tourists who arrive late and are hungry from their travels.
“We want them to have a good overall first impression of Durango,” Oyler said.
As listed on Google, El Moro closes daily at midnight and Steamworks closes at 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. (Both kitchens close around 11 p.m., with snacks available until last call.) But this is not completely accurate.
“The managers in the evening make the call as to what time business, or lack thereof, dictates that we close,” Oyler said.
The lack of late-night options affects more than just barflies and shift workers. College students have few places to study. Siun O’Mahony is a sophomore majoring in criminology at Fort Lewis College. She said she is a night person, and in the evenings, she will either study from home, where she ends up getting more cleaning than studying done, or there is an area near the library on campus that is open 24/7. She said she would benefit from a cafe open at a later time.
Local coffee chain Durango Joes was open late in the past.
“At one time, our College Drive location was open until 11 p.m.,” said Durango Joes creative manager Trevor Ogborn. “We found that there wasn’t enough traffic in those later hours to justify remaining open considering financial viability as well as respect for our employees’ time.”
O’Mahony said she would like to see other options that are not bars for her and friends to go at night for social reasons, too.
“Regardless if I had homework or not, (a cafe) would be a good option to stay out later,” she said.
An earlier version of this story misspelled Chip Lile’s last name.