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Bux's Place, Challis, Idaho

This Idaho Town Vol. I

(page 1 of 3)

In the grit of a mountain town, the saloon is more than just a bar. It’s a community watering hole, and the regulars are family. Challis is less than eighty miles, but a world apart, from Sun Valley. Here in the high heart of central Idaho, Bux’s Place is keeper of the town spirit.

Bill Yacomella, the 53-year-old-manager of Bux’s Place, sat at the bar, pulled softly on a nearly expired Pall Mall and scanned his comfortably dim establishment and its midday clientele. His battered hat, virtually shapeless, rested lightly on his head with chaotic shafts of hair poking from beneath it. His eyes are a light, clear blue, and his face is surprisingly soft given his years of work on ranches, construction sites and in a deep mine (“I decided I didn’t want to stay in that hole the rest of my life”)—and now Bux’s.

The Yacomella family has been in Challis for nearly a century, and among its diversified interests are ranches, a commercial tax return company and Bux’s Place, Yacomella’s main responsibility. When he talks about construction, one senses his true passion is masonry, but small towns bristle with reality, and Coors Light has more economic traction in Custer County than a glowering stone gargoyle.

And this is a small town.

Main Street, Challis, Idaho, pop. 909, lies just outside the rectangular front window of Bux’s Place and near the junction of four mountain chains—the Lost River, White Cloud, Salmon River and Lemhi mountains—and on the great Salmon River itself. This is mining and ranching country and, aside from the occasional surge of invading hunters and fishermen, it is populated mainly by people who embrace the rhythms and demands of small-town life, close to the ground, in the majesty of a real Idaho.

What seems to last forever here are the stories—inflated, deflated, conflated—of a bar and its community.
They form a legacy that flows, or sloshes, from one year to the next, one decade to the next.

Clockwise from ABOVE The Yacomella family has nearly a century of history in Challis. Bar owners Tony and Madge relax with their son Bill, the manager, and his wife, Tami; Steve Wren sees an ocean of green on this shot; Stan Bell worked in Hollywood as a stunt man for years and said he was once fired by John Wayne himself. RIGHT Bux’s Place glows warm in the Challis night; Barfly and poet, Mike Church.Sun Valley is different. The best thing about the historic resort town, the saying goes, is how close it is to Idaho. In Sun Valley, I have witnessed a dinner party conversation lurch inexplicably and irretrievably out of control as the topics of real life were abandoned for some grave discourse on hot yoga and baby turnips. One listlessly moves the apricot-ginger-pear-parfait around a delicate plate and looks out soaring dining room windows to a vague moonlit profile of Bald Mountain. The honeyed life of Sun Valley? Presumably.

But where is the West? The dust and the drink? One pines for a worn leather stool in a small-town barroom, its windows festooned with sizzling neon signs, shouting onto empty windswept streets: Coors! Budweiser! And in the background, the crisp clicks from a contested pool table and the raucous laughter bouncing off a back bar as weathered as any patron saddled up to it.

“Our motto here in the bar,” Yacomella declared from his taproom, “is that we have an open heart, an open mind and a warm stove. That’s our philosophy of business.”

The late William Buxton, the founder of Bux’s, was partial to the phrase, “Where good friends meet,” so much that he put it on his swizzle sticks. Yacomella put it on his matches. One senses that matches have a broader reach in the local clientele than swizzle sticks. Bux’s Place is redolent with the rich aroma of smoke, strong enough to traumatize the fetishistic clean-air crowd, but just mellow enough to provoke a wave of nostalgia for those who gave up smokes years ago.

The Yacomellas bought out Buxton about the time a mining firm began extracting molybdenum (known to the locals as “molly”) from the vast, open-pit Thompson Creek Mine, about thirty miles from town. Molly has an array of industrial uses, such as improving the strength of steel at high temperatures, which makes it critical for missile and aircraft parts. The firm employs nearly 300 people, and the company recently estimated there was, at a minimum, about ten years of molly left in the site.

It is not uncommon for an isolated Western town to depend on a single-source economy, and not a lot of people want to dwell on an image of Challis without molly. But towns like Challis reek of resiliency. There is here a powerful survival instinct, a belief in continuity. >>>



Sun Valley Magazine encourages its readers to post thoughtful and respectful comments on all of our online stories. Your comments may be edited for length and language.

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Jun 28, 2010 12:08 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

This is a very wonderful article on the history, both past and present, of Bux's Place. As a person who was born and raised in Challis, I think you did a fantastic job relaying to the public what it's all about up here...aside from the bar itself, what life is like up here. There is no place on Earth like Challis, for those of us who love it...and no place on Earth worse than Challis for those who do not. My husband and I own and operate the Y-Inn Cafe, est. sometime in the early 40's, homemade lovely foods from my family to yours. There is nothing more wonderful than to have the old guys, older guys and some not as old converge on the "round table" in our cafe and talk about life; each and every day they do not miss one. We do have such a lovely community, and are so lucky to live here! Again, wonderful article, I enjoyed reading it and seeing the Yacomella's published in your magazine...they deserve it and you did a great job covering their establishment. Bux's place...history for us all :) Gotta love it!

Aug 3, 2010 03:23 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Why are there no pictures of the actual bar tenders that actually work there? That's sad, and you (as a magazine) did a really good job with the history, but you did a bad job of capturing the true essence of Bux's.

Aug 26, 2011 06:34 pm
 Posted by  Noceeum

Do you know of a stagecoach stop between Blackfoot and Challis Idaho called Nose Bleed? My Great Great Grandfather and Great Great Grandmother ran it in the early 1900s. Joe Triplett and Louise Virginia Tyndle-Triplett and my Great Grandmother Ida Triplett- Eastman. Do you have any information where this stop is or any ideas as to how I can find out more- Thank You Redgey Pedersen

May 30, 2012 05:05 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Molly is Moly (short for molybdenum). Festooned with sizzling neon signs? Really? It is an old bar with a lot of personality. A quiet place to have a beer where nobody bothers you unless you want to be bothered. The original owner, Willis Buxton, was one of the nicest people I have ever known and I miss him...he should have been featured in your article (pictures and all). Your article is so colorful it almost made my brain explode.

May 30, 2012 05:07 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

See...it did make my brain explode.......

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