Bux's Place, Challis, Idaho
This Idaho Town Vol. I
PHOTOGRAPHY Craig Wolfrom
(page 2 of 3)
the late 1800s, the building that now houses Bux’s was the Central Hotel. “To meet the great tide of travel,” an 1879 advertisement said,“the Central Hotel has been fitted up in first-class syle where comfortable and luxurious accommodations can’t be beat.” The Central was conveniently close to a stagecoach stop, and Arthur Baxter, a local carpenter who would live well into his nineties, recalled the grand spectacle of stages arriving “late and dark at night, with the horses sweating, sides heaving and icicles hanging from their nostrils.”
Nowadays there are more pickups than coaches, but Yacomella still relishes the legacy of the old bars in Western towns. “The saloon is one of the first to come to a small town and the last to leave,” he said. “People think there’s a river of money running out of a bar. There isn’t.” So Bux’s is open seven days a week, from noon to 2 a.m., with four full-time employees.
One of them is Jonne Fritts (pronounced “Johnny”), a bartender with a knowing smile and a sly joy in her job. To her, Bux’s is the community center, which might come as a surprise to the churches and public officials. But her theory has credibility: Bux’s is frequently used for community events, and among his clientele Bill has a “council of elders” he turns to for advice. When a popular golf course employee died last summer, the memorial service was held in Bux’s. For regulars who leave the earthly realm, a shrine of black licorice and black candles stands on a pool cue case never to open again.
Fritts has been at the bar for ten years and organizes its events, concerts, memorials, weddings and the widely celebrated Annual Testicle Festival, which feeds prairie oysters to a boisterous crowd. On a couple of major holidays, Bill’s mother, Madge, the true matriarch of Challis, cooks for the regulars, who participate with appropriate decorum. On those festive days they chuckle over familiar stories, like when unruly patrons drove Harleys or rode horses into Bux’s Place. There is a general acknowledgement that such tomfoolery doesn’t occur when Madge is around.
For Fritts, Bux’s is one of the best paying jobs she has had in years, and she relishes the small-town life. “No stop lights. And I have a great time. I can stay at home and take care of things. Or I can come in and spend my money, be on the other side of the bar. Play pool. Try to behave myself.” For those who don’t behave, there is banishment: no Bux’s for a month. “Not forever,” Yacomella said. “We don’t do that.”
What seems to last forever at Bux’s Place 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.
There is, for instance, the legendary imposter crosswalk, a prank so bold it made the late night talk shows. The Custer Saloon, a standup bar in its own right, is diagonally across Main Street from Bux’s. One night, some of the locals, with obvious preparation and no doubt some double-doubles as inspiration, put aside rivalry and boundaries and painted a real-life diagonal crosswalk across Main Street, connecting Bux’s and The Custer. Next morning, the mossy do-gooders were aghast, until the event was reported on network television. The phone calls flooded in from friends and relatives across the nation: “Saw that town of yours on the tube last night!” While the prissy community scolds fumed at the municipal transgression, Challis had something to talk about for months. The crosswalk is now fading, but one suspects that on a dry winter night the cell phones will cackle between the two bars, and the crosswalk will get a fresh coat of paint. >>>