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 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.)
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)