Carol Conway has been slinging brews, burgers, and tall tales at Huntsville, Utah’s Shooting Star Saloon for 30 years. The short, stout, nice-as-spice bartender gets lost behind the bar at Shooting Star, but she isn’t short on personality. If you act cool and laid back, she will tell you tales of Utah’s Wild West—how the bar went from a trading post with mountain men drinking whiskey in the basement to it’s current state as an après ski watering hole for skiers and riders from nearby Snowbasin and Powder Mountain.
The saloon is notorious for its “our way or the highway” attitude, a stuffed St. Bernard, ghosts and the $12,000 worth of dollar bills pinned to the ceiling. The building was built as a trading post in the 1850s, turned into a saloon in 1879 and served liquor and beer throughout Prohibition. It wasn’t until 1992 that Utah law restricted the saloon from selling booze—now it’s just a beer and burger joint, but a darn good one.
The bar accepts only cash but don't expect to grab a few dollars off the roof. They're all signed by past patrons. Photo By Ryan Thompson.
As sweet as she is, Conway is the keeper of the strict Shooting Star Saloon policies. Case in point: A male customer comes up to the bar to pay, handing her a credit card. “Sweetie, we don’t take cards,” she said. “Cash only.”
It boils down to this: If you think you’re special, put a sock in it. Conway doesn’t care.
“It’s not rude, it’s not arrogant, a cash business is a good business,” she said.
If you ask for a vegan meal—you’re in the wrong place. The bar opens at noon and closes at nine. Even if you’re Jack Nicklaus, you have to abide by the strict hours—Conway once shooed him away after coming by after hours to have a swill.
Conway says big wigs will come in and spread money out on the bar and say, “What does it take to keep the bar open past nine?” That doesn’t sway her. “We do things our way, and if you fit, you fit and if you don’t, you find a place that fits you better... [because] everyone is important here, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
The saloon has had seven owners, all have taken an oath to keep it the way it is—the philosophy, character and the Wild West feel. That’s part of the deal. In fact, the first owners are known to haunt the place—likely keeping Conway honest. After all, she’s the only bartender at the joint—works seven days a week even when the wait for burgers is three hours and 150 people are jammed in the building during high season. She likes the ghosts, they don’t creep her out one bit, they just add more ambiance to the place… like it needs anymore.
This isn't your upscale joint. Stuffed heads, vintage beer posters and memorabilia pack every inch of wall space. Photo By Ryan Thompson.
Besides the famous stuffed and mounted St. Bernard named Buck, there’s a bathroom scribbled with signatures, a ceiling filled with bills dating back to 1901 that are signed by customers, an old juke box and antique cash register—stuff that should really be kept in a museum. To top it off, there is the cardiac arrest Star Burger (two beef patties, polish dog, and cheese) for $7.25. It’s the best in the state, and tasty. Remember: just burgers and beer, no fries—don’t fret, you do get “fresh” Lay’s chips with your meal.
“People ask if there is another menu all of the time. I’m like ‘hold on, let me get the secret menu from under the bar for you,’” Conway said with a impish grin, like she sure has a blast messing with people. “We’re thinking about creating a ‘special’ menu with all of our same menu items but double the price.”
This place is old fashioned, and based on it’s success, it has the right to be. The burger hasn’t changed in 70 years since the saloon started serving food; and the beer selection rarely changes either. It is what it is, and that’s why people love it. And if you have a chance to visit, chit chat with Conway about the history—as long as you don’t bring attitude, she won’t bring it either.
Patrons include cowboys and bikers and of course the brightly-clad skier just coming off the hill. Photo By Ryan Thompson.
Open seven days a week, noon to 9 p.m.
7350 E 200 S
Huntsville, UT 84317