The Palace Restaurant–RIP

By Eilene Lyon

This is the second in my series about historic buildings on Main Ave. in Durango, Colorado. I earlier covered the unique Durango Depot. Few buildings remain in the 500 block of Main Ave. from Durango’s earliest days, and this area was known for many years as the seedier side of town (south of 6th St., now College Dr.).

In the 1970s, retired securities broker Jim Jackson purchased several blocks of properties surrounding the train depot and called it “Rio Grande Land.” He built new structures and led the revitalization of the downtown area. Jackson also purchased the Pusser’s Rum company (still owned by the family). When I wrote recently about my Pusser’s Rum grog cup, I had no clue about the Durango connection.

Next to the train station is a building built in the early 1890s called the Palace Hotel. My next downtown post will go into more detail about the hotel. The Palace housed a restaurant by the same name in those early days. So far, I’ve been unable to determine when that restaurant closed or whether a restaurant by any other name ever occupied the space. (I’ve heard there was a butcher shop there at one time.)

In more recent times, the Palace Restaurant was revived by Jackson’s son, Jamie. He enlarged it with an addition in 1982 that expanded the bar and dining areas and included an extensive covered brick patio. Jackson sold the restaurant to its most recent owner, Chef Paul Gelose, in 1997. (Gelose worked as Oprah’s personal chef for a year.)

This much-loved business closed permanently in August 2020 due to the Covid pandemic. We locals mourn the loss, still. Today the restaurant sits forlornly vacant. But I have a multitude of fond memories.

The green awning covers the now-vacant Palace Restaurant patio.

The building interior is rich with tapestry-style carpeting, large stone fireplace, and oodles of warm wood trim work. Plentiful windows offer views of the steam locomotives pulling into the station and the skyline-dominating Smelter Mountain. (Durango used to smelt ore from the surrounding mines at the base of this mountain.) The tables (and chairs) are durable antique oak pieces you would not want to move, lest you suffer a hernia.

The menu during Gelose’s tenure retained perennial favorite dishes, such as chicken-and-dumplings. He added variety and flare, never overpricing, and offering affordable sandwich selections for lunch and dinner, as well. Sometimes free appetizers could be had during Happy Hour. The patio in summer never failed to please tourists and locals alike.

The Palace, a cloth napkin kind of place with spotless glassware and heavy-duty silverware, was a favorite for special occasions and “just because.” I would meet my friends there to exchange Christmas cheer and gifts, hopefully served by Danielle, a consummate professional who worked there for many years. (I worked with her husband at my field biology job in the 2010s.)

The “Quiet Lady Tavern” bar area of the Palace Restaurant. (Courtesy of Jackson and Jackson)

Having dined in this excellent establishment for 35 years, I can only say that I hope this situation is temporary and a new, energetic (and well-financed) owner will come along and revive this long-standing Durango tradition.

Feature image: The Palace Restaurant by Ken Lund on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

39 thoughts on “The Palace Restaurant–RIP

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    1. A common theme, I’m afraid. We lost several other restaurants in town. So many small businesses come and go here that I don’t really keep track. Whenever I make time to stroll Main, I always find changes.

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  1. I felt so sorry for restaurants during COVID. Especially in CA where they were opened and closed several times, plus they invested in outdoor dining space and then that was closed too. You gave such a nice tribute to the Palace.

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    1. It’s a tough business to be in at any time, but especially so in a pandemic. I’m pleased that most of the local restaurant’s managed to hang in there. They are still doing the “bump-outs” for outdoor seating on Main Ave. Probably too many of them, and some not too attractive. Lost a lot of valuable parking spaces.

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      1. The “bump-outs” is under debate in many California towns including my old home of Palm Springs. I liked our trip to Santa Barbara because they made State Street closed to cars, except through the intersections. Most of the restaurants added outdoor seating.

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  2. That’s too bad when the places we’ve frequented for years close down. I love the western mystique in so many Colorado towns. I’ve never been to Durango, but I’ve heard wonderful things about it. Thanks for the bit of history and the photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So many restaurants have failed since March 2020, and those that are still open are struggling to find workers. My daughter works in the restaurant business, so I know first-hand how hard this has been for the industry.

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  4. Eilene, I remember the Durango Depot post as I had passed it along to a fellow blogger’s husband whose hobby was building and running model steam engines (I think they are 1/5 ratio of real-life trains) as they had visited Durango the year before while traveling cross-country to a few family events. He enjoyed the post immensely. I hope The Palace Restaurant gets a new buyer and new blood to open up again. So many restaurants have bitten the dust as a result of COVID already. We had a long-time Italian restaurant close down in February and it was so popular, I was sure new owners would buy it. Well, it was finally purchased to make a cigar bar, hookah lounge and conference rooms, all under one roof.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think your area there was quaint and it would take away from that. This restaurant is built over the Rouge River in a very picturesque setting. The Gateway nature trail goes right behind the restaurant and over the bridge across the Rouge River. I am sure many people were disappointed they could not do better, but it stood vacant for a while, so they were likely happy to have a buyer.

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      2. We have a huge building sitting vacant on the river here. It might even be the largest aside from the hospital. It was built by a very successful local business that did credit card processing. It got bought out and for a while the new company kept the offices here, but then they shut it down. It was purchased by the man who bought the ski area, but we have no clue what he plans to do with it. A shame to just have this empty behemoth on such a nice property.

        Liked by 1 person

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