The Bunkhouse Saloon’s iconic mounted deer head came down at 2:40 a.m. Sunday morning, a sure signal the Downtown bar and music venue would never be the same again. Not that we needed one; this Bunkhouse show, featuring eight of the local acts the room regularly hosted on its barely raised front-corner stage, had been marked with an air of finality all night.
The place isn’t closing—at least, not for good. Its new operator, the Downtown Project, has vowed to remodel and reopen it later this year. Saturday night, talk swirled that the new version would be 18-and-over, nonsmoking and without the gaming machines that helped keep the original afloat. Whatever comes next, the sizable crowd seemed unified in thought: The Bunkhouse would never be this again.
Not that this version was perfect. It was dingy and dark and reeked of smoke, even with no lit cigarettes in sight. Sound was spotty, bathrooms tiny and the surrounding neighborhood dicey at best. But as musicians gave their spoken sendoffs—Same Sex Mary’s James Adams talked of playing his first Vegas show there; The Big Friendly Corporation’s Timothy Styles vowed to meet the bar again “in hell”—the Bunkhouse’s real appeal was apparent. It wasn’t much, but at least it was ours.
As promised, at 2 a.m. the bar went “open,” with the longtime team of bartenders pouring drinks as fast as hands could find bottles. Then the looting began. Framed pictures, antlers, even two giant crosscut saws—all part of the hokey Old West motif—were torn from the walls as the party turned rowdy. In keeping with late-night/early-morning Bunkhouse tradition, the show’s final act, one-man-band Fuzz SoLow, began his set after 3:30 a.m. The crowd had thinned, but the room was far from empty. Such is the hold of wistful nostalgia mixed with free booze.