Millsite Inn in Ward Set to Close at End of September
Carol Byers remembers her husband, Scott, telling her that “Time passes and changes things.”
“In other words, appreciate what you’ve got,” Byers said from inside the Millsite Inn that sits along the west side of the Peak to Peak Highway in Ward. “That one always stuck with me.”
Carol, Scott and his brother Kirk Byers have owned and operated the remote bar and pizza joint since the 1980s. Scott Byers, 70, died in an intensive care unit in February about a week after a traffic crash, and that became the impetus to close up shop.
The trio had threatened to retire before, but when Carol and Kirk Byers lock the doors at the end of the month, it will be for the last time.
“We can’t do it without Scott,” Carol Byers said. “It was hard enough with the three of us. (Scott) was a force. He was a big person and a big voice and a big presence.
“Thirty years is a long time.”
Carol and Kirk Byers still make everything from scratch including the soups, pies, hamburger buns and dough, which can be a challenge at 9,000 feet above sea level. They keep Budweiser on tap and it is considered an emergency any time it runs out.
Carol Byers met her future husband “over at that two-top” when she came in looking for a job in 1988.
“A summer job turned into a 30-year marriage,” she said.
Carol Byers added that her husband started off as an aeronautical engineer but grew weary of the job and decided to cash in and buy the Millsite in 1985. Kirk Byers said he started working at the Millsite in 1983.
Although it’s a local watering hole, employees recalled meeting people from all over the world, and during poker runs, rival outlaw motorcycle clubs could be seen sidled up to the bar together and enjoying a beer.
The building has grown and evolved over time, but Carol Byers said it dates to sometime in the late 1930s. Over the past 33 years, it has taken on the personality of the Byerses. Kirk Byers’ striking water color landscapes grace the walls. Carol Byers sells her silver jewelry out of a shadow box placed near the front door, and she has some of her illustrations on display.
Although the stained glass chandeliers above the tables came from an Applebee’s and most of the chairs were picked up from a shuttered Bennigan’s, it all looks as though it has always been at the Millsite, along with the smoky essence from decades of wood-fire stoves.
Carol Byers spray-painted the table tops through machine-made lace after deciding table clothes would be a disaster (pizza and kids). She claims a ghost named Carl haunts the premises.
On Thursday afternoon, Kirk Byers stood in the kitchen and darted back and forth between the fryers and a table top where he was assembling ham sandwiches and working the pizza oven. When asked what he planned on doing when the doors close at the end of the month, he was in no mood for small talk.
“Everything you can imagine that doesn’t involve work,” he said. “Except cut firewood.”
After the lunch rush had passed, Kirk Byers, in much higher spirits, said he plans on spending more time on his watercolor painting — the landscapes are of local peaks and ridges — and skiing, sometimes at the resorts, but often just hiking up the mountain behind the restaurant.
He said that Carol, Scott and he were already pretty jaded, because restaurant work is a grueling enterprise, but Scott Byers’ untimely death sealed the deal.
“When (Scott) died the fun just totally went out of it,” he said. “We were just kind of marking time as it were, making sure we didn’t screw up the reputation.”
Back at the bar, Pam Davis sat at the copper-topped bar and drank a glass of whiskey with a water back. She now lives in Mexico, but took a job at the Millsite in about 1990 for a dollar and hour and tips after she lost a job.
“We had so many laughs here,” she said. “You wish you had a recorder.”
Davis remembered Scott Byers regaling customers and employees with weird stories that could involve random llama mishaps, and employees used to leave out empty packs of cigarettes and broken lighters to tease him before he quit smoking. Sometimes she’d drop a chip in someone’s drink and say “Nacho beer.” “Restaurant stuff” as she put it.
“It became a family over a dollar an hour and a job which is pretty damn cool in my book,” she said.
Denver resident Andy Priest spent three summers working as a cook at the Millsite in the early 1990s (Davis is his aunt) and he has worked bartending jobs in the years since, but he’s never met so many interesting people.
Priest said he made pizza for Japanese new-age musician Kitaro who once lived in the Ward area.
“Part of his family was up here at Brainard Lake fishing, but they didn’t know what they hell they were doing,” Priest said. “They didn’t speak English so I kind of set them up with a bobber and some salmon eggs and taught them how to cast.”
He said Kitaro came into the bar and thanked Priest profusely and, he thinks, bought him a few drinks.
″ I don’t know. It’s just different,” he said of his time at the Millsite Inn. “That and Ward is just kind of a different town from everywhere else. You don’t just move to Ward. Ward has to invite you.”
Carol Byers said there are a few offers for the property, which is appraised at $463,000. They’ve already turned down a few offers that weren’t up to snuff, and Kirk Byers said the Millsite had been under contract at the time of Scott Byers’ death.
Carol Byers isn’t sure what’s next, but she has a few ideas and it’s “time to turn the page.”
“This has been a joy,” she said. “It’s had its moments like everything else. But overall it’s been a hell of a ride.”
John Bear: 303-473-1355, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/johnbearwithme