There used to be a restaurant in Nederland, Colorado called "The Branding Iron." It was owned and run with an iron fist by Vivian Ayers - her sister Celia held down a stool at the end of the bar and provided a certain amount of style to the place with her bright red hair and sailor's vocabulary. Sam, a sherman tank sized German Shepard kept an eye on things from the kitchen door. The help was a revolving crew of drifters and potential hippies, always on their way someplace else. We were lucky enough to be "regulars." We were good for a Friday or Saturday night just about every week during the summer, and even a few special winter and fall excursions.
The burgers were good: toasted buns and lean beef. A deluxe cheeseburger meant that you got lettuce, tomato and onion on the side. Kids never got deluxe cheeseburgers. Parents got the steak sandwich. There was an allure to the steak sandwich, but it seemed like an awful lot of work compared to the ground beef version. Everyone had onion rings. People who didn't like onion rings had onion rings at the Branding Iron. Decades before any of us had a concept of tempura these were the real deal. We would fight over the crumbled bits of batter left on the plate after the rings were gone, my father using his to scoop up any and all stray salt. It may not have been particularly healthy fare, but what doesn't kill us makes us stronger - especially if it tastes good.
The decor was wood. Tables, chairs, walls - all carved with initials of past and present. Behind the jukebox, someone had taken the time to inscribe the political ditty: "Why change Dicks in the middle of a screw? Vote Nixon in '72!" The Branding Iron was where the seventies happened in Nederland. There was plenty of spirited debate about Viet Nam, Watergate, and long hair as we held court at our table in the front room. My parents nursed their cocktails while the kids drew on placemats or went across the road to buy comic books.
There were times that we brought guests who weren't quite ready for the full-on BI experience. On those occasions, Viv would set us up with table in the back, behind the bar. We called it the Redneck Room, since it seemed to attract a more conservative clientele. When Pioneer Days came around once a year, we knew we had to get there early to stake out a table and then watch the action. I have a hazy memory of a guy going through the plate glass window at the front one time. I have a much clearer vision of the hush we all shared as we watched Nixon give his resignation speech. Looking back, I'm surprised that there wasn't more hooting and hollering - but that wasn't the kind of place the Branding Iron was. We shared the history quietly, and moved on.
Years passed, and we tried other places - the Stage Stop in Rollinsville had some of the same flavor, the Beaver Inn had the same initials, but the Branding Iron was a place and time. And those onion rings...