Serving fresh and familiar fare at the Coachlight

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Chris and Taryn Lee are poised to put a fresh look on the historic Coachlight Restaurant and Tavern in Ouray, Colorado.
Plaindealer photo by Alan Todd

by Alan Todd
atodd@ouraynews.com

 

 

There will be a lot of experience and a lot of history revived when the Coachlight Restaurant and Tavern open in just a few short weeks.
Taryn and Chris Lee, owners of the successful Bon Ton Restaurant located in the St. Elmo Hotel, have purchased the Coachlight and plan to reopen the main floor restaurant and upstairs tavern with favorite Coachlight fare and new menu offerings.
Walking into the main floor, one notices the historic Ouray photos adorning the walls. The Coachlight has been a fixture in Ouray for 140 years, as a hotel and a restaurant, and at one point it even had a bowling alley. None of its history is lost on the Lees.
"Fresh takes on old favorites," Taryn said, is the motto for the Coachlight. "It is inclusive of some things from the Coachlight past," she said, "and a fresh outlook on other fare."
The couple met in Ouray and were married here almost five years ago. Taryn is a native of Ouray, and Chris has lived here for over 16 years, moving from Tucson. They have strong ties to Ouray and want to accentuate the history of the Coachlight.
"This building is the same age as the Beaumont," Chris said.
The Lees had been considering expanding into a new restaurant venture for about a year and finally decided on the Coachlight.
"It's been on our agenda for about a year to find something," Chris said. But he didn't want a fixer-upper, especially with having to run the Bon Ton at the same time. "Fixing swamp coolers and sprucing up the garden was enough," Chris said of the relatively minor work needed to get the Coachlight up and running.
There will be a full service restaurant on the main floor, which includes seating for 75 inside and out on the covered patio.
The Tavern upstairs will seat 20 inside and another 20 outside on the upper deck. Patrons for the Tavern can enter the side door on the east side of the building, and the Tavern will stay open later than the restaurant. The Tavern will open at 11:00 a.m. until close and will serve light tavern fare. Its full bar will service both the Tavern and the restaurant.
The restaurant will be open for lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., serving casual lunches including salads, sandwiches and burgers.
Dinner will be a little higher-end plated entrees and will be served from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Chris encourages everyone to stop and enjoy the view from either deck.
"One of my favorite things to do when it was pouring down outside," Chris said, "was to come sit on the patio downstairs and have dinner. I'd stay nice and dry."
Eventually the Coachlight will host events and parties and do catering. But right now the focus is on having it be a nice restaurant and a place to get a drink. "We're going to have a lot of Colorado beers," Chris said.
"We also know what locals like,” Taryn added regarding drink choices, "so we'll carry their favorites."
Locals and visitors alike can expect great food and service from the Lees at the Coachlight. Collectively they have 28 years of restaurant experience, including owning the Bon Ton Restaurant for the past four-and-a-half years.
"We have a pretty strong background in all sorts of restaurant experiences," Taryn said, relating the differences between the Bon Ton and what will be the Coachlight. "We're comfortable with both types." Taryn said the Coachlight will be a little more "low-key" than the Bon Ton, but it's definitely in their wheel-house. "It's not really anything out of our element," she said.
Chris is convinced the Coachlight has a built-in following, even though it has been vacant for several years. While getting the restaurant and tavern ready, Chris said, people have been stopping by every day. "Someone stopped by today and saw the door open," he said, "and asked 'can I walk through here?'" Chris said the visitor told him he used to come to the Coachlight every day 20 years ago when he lived in Ouray.
As the Lees put together fresh takes on old favorites, they're counting on a new tradition of serving familiar and fresh faces.
The Coachlight Restaurant and Tavern is located at 118 7th Ave. in Ouray. The phone number is 970-325-4361, and the website is coachlightandtavern.com.

On the side:

The following traces the history of the Coachlight, back to its days as the Belvedere Hotel and the Tirol House. History is courtesy of "History of Ouray: A Heritage of Mining and Everlasting Beauty," by Doris H. Gregory.

• The lot and an adjoining lot were purchased on July 25, 1877 for $86.05 by George Wilder and Ira Munn. Munn was a prominent merchant in the Chicago Grain Market before moving to Ouray and being involved in the establishment of the town.
• In 1887, the Denver Rio Grande Western arrived in Ouray.
• Munn built a sawmill, assay office and sampling works on the land.
• The original name of the Coachlight was the Tirol House. The spelling is believed to a derivative of "Tyrol." Fred Mascon and his first wife, Virginia, who lived at the Tirol House, came from the same section of Tyrol, Austria.
• The name was changed to the Belvedere Hotel, and a 1908 Sanborn Map shows the Belvedere with a bowling alley on the back end of the hotel.
• The turn of the last century had to be a rowdy time for the Belvedere, as the same Sanborn Map shows it adjacent to 16 houses of ill fame, referred to as "female boarding houses," on 2nd Street between 7th and 8th avenues. Ironically, the Bon Ton boarding house and dance hall was one of the 16 houses.
• A garage was built in the north end of the basement in the late 1970s, and the remains of a still were discovered behind a partition.
• The basement had flooded at one point, and while debris was being removed in the 1970s, an unopened bottle of wine and a rare bottle of Hiebler's Montrose Whiskey was uncovered.
• In 1967, F. Kelly and Carole Nicholson bought the hotel. They had been operating a restaurant on Main Street and 6th Avenue called the Coachlight. They turned the Belvedere Hotel into a restaurant and carried the name "Coachlight" to the new location.
• The Nicholsons purchased a large collection of stained glass in 1968 from the Presbyterian Church in Montrose and installed it throughout the restaurant.
• Hotel rooms upstairs were finally eliminated in the early 2000s, as the upstairs was transformed into a tavern.