North Animas Valley residents have a new night spot a half mile from the entrance of Purgatory Resort after college buddies Kevin Wright and Joe Valerio spent two months gutting an old vacation rental cabin to convert it into a ski bar.
The duo, working 14-hour days for two months, met their goal, opening The Nugget Mountain Bar on Dec. 1, in time for the ski season.
“We wanted to have a real community feel,” Wright said. “The bar is in a U-shape so everyone faces each other, and skiers coming off the mountain can speak to locals. They can reminisce about the day and all their runs.”
The communal feel is maintained in an upstairs loft with a long, narrow group table that makes for easy mixing among different parties.
Wright and Valerio, college buddies from the University of New Mexico, used reclaimed wood from an old fence on the property to give the cabin the feel of a classic ski bar – there’s plenty of old skis, a chairlift and antlers. One corner of the bar has leather couches near a window with mountain views.
The bar has several big-screen televisions and the NFL package.
In summer, Wright and Valerio plan to add some gas fire pits and include space for cornhole and other lawn games on the deck to create an outdoor venue where families can come with their kids and enjoy a beer and sliders.
Backcountry Gourmet, which operates a food trailer at 11th Street Station in downtown Durango, has opened a second food trailer at The Nugget, and Wright and Valerio plan to take advantage of Backcountry’s breakfast burritos and open at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
They’ve come up with their own take on a hot buttered rum for breakfast.
Backcountry Gourmet will also offer its lunch menu of sliders, salads, soups and sides.
Limited dining options in the north Animas Valley have helped The Nugget, which opens a little earlier than the Olde Schoolhouse and provides a more affordable option than the Sow’s Ear.
The Nugget will keep eight beers on tap, mostly Colorado craft beers, and it boasts $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons all the time.
Business hours are noon to 11 p.m. Fridays, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays, and noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Wright bought the old cabin a couple of years ago from the estate of Dale Butt, a legend in the north Animas Valley who had reportedly bought it for $1 from the Colorado Department of Transportation during a highway-widening project in the 1980s. Wright said the $1 purchase came with one condition: that Butt move the old cabin from the entrance to Electra Lake.
Wright said locals have come in to tell him the story of how the cabin was moved up the highway to its current location.
Butt, who died in April 2015, had rented the Nugget Cabin as a vacation rental, which was a use that Wright maintained for two years. But he said he always had an idea to convert the cabin to a ski bar bouncing around in his head.
Besides a spot for skiers, The Nugget aims to be local-friendly and that includes an old Chevy Suburban the bar will use to shuttle people home who live within a 5-mile radius on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays. Wright and Valerio will also use the Suburban to pick up and drop off customers from Purgatory Resort.
“It helps the business, and I want to be responsible serving locals if people need a ride home,” Wright said.
Andrea Zeiner, a north Animas Valley resident, said she is “delighted” to have a new gathering hole in the area.
“Really, there’s no place to go up here other than the Olde Schoolhouse. This can be a new hangout, and the free shuttle is really a nice service.
“And it’s well-presented. It wasn’t just a couple of hippie-dippy guys,” she said.