New name, new ownership at long-standing Oak Creek bar

Owner Skyler McKinley in the Oak Creek Tavern with staff members Stefanie Wofford, middle, and Doree Waters.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

For nearly 10 years, Skyler McKinley chased his dream of owning a bar, so it may have been a little surprising when the opportunity found him during a skiing getaway in March 2021.

“In March of last year, I was in Steamboat just ahead of my birthday with a friend vacationing,” McKinley recalled. “I’m from Colorado, and I knew Antlers (Café & Bar), and I suggested we should drive to Yampa and see if it was open. It wasn’t, but driving there, we stopped in Oak Creek.”

That’s where McKinley’s friend found a pair of cheap sunglasses, and he found the opportunity of a lifetime, beginning a journey that would lead to him owning the Oak Creek Tavern at 105 Main St.

“It was like a 10-year or maybe a 15-year plan,” McKinley said. “But I knew someday, I would like to have a bar.”

In fact, McKinley was sitting in a bar stool when he asked the bartender a little bit about the bar, which was named the Silver Buckle Saloon at the time.

She shared several colorful stories about the century-old bar, which has been open since 1908 with the exception of Prohibition.

It’s also been known as the Big Six Saloon, and the bar was owned and run by Ed and Shirley Montieth as the Elk’s Tavern.

Ed passed away in 2014, and Shirley and her children ran the bar for several years after that. They sold to Tony Dress in 2018, and he renovated the space.

McKinley changed the name again, but he created an Elk logo as a tribute to the bar’s history.

Skyler McKinley purchased the Oak Creek Tavern in July 2021, and the new owner is hoping to make the long-running bar a gathering place for the South Routt community.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today.

“Oak Creek has a rich history. In the mining days, its heyday, the population was swelling north of 3,000,” McKinley said. “That’s why you have all these great buildings downtown that are now being occupied by bars and great restaurants.”

He also wants his bar to be a gathering place for the community.

“I love Oak Creek. There is something magical about this place and about this community,” McKinley said. “It feels more like home than home. I’ve lived all over Colorado. I was born in (Grand) Junction. I was raised in Pueblo, and I’ve lived in Denver for a long time. This, to me, is the best part of Colorado all concentrated into a single community.”

After hearing its story and falling in love with the bar, McKinley made an offer and closed on the deal.

These days McKinley splits his time between Denver, where he works a day job as the regional director of public affairs for AAA, and he is a writer. In fact, McKinley’s work regularly appears in the Westword in Denver.

But when he’s not in Denver, McKinley is often in Oak Creek running the tavern. Eight months into the venture, he is thrilled to own a neighborhood bar.

“I think a bar, especially in a community this size, functions as a town hall,” McKinley said. “We get some tourists, but it’s largely been locals. In a town this size, everybody’s a regular and everybody’s a celebrity.”

For McKinley, Oak Creek’s small-town feel, its scenic surroundings and local flavor make the town special, and he encourages folks to make the drive from Steamboat to see for themselves.

He also believes in the Oak Creek community and in the staff.

“I’ve worked in this bar for seven years … and I groom everybody’s dog and I know everybody,” said bartender Stefanie Wofford. “(McKinley) has done his best to integrate himself into our community, and it shows.”

McKinley said Wofford and bar manager Doree Waters have played a huge role in the success of the bar, which is open seven days a week.

The bar is open from 3:30-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 3:30-11 p.m. on Fridays, 3:30-10 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays.

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