Alpine wine saloon celebrates roots

March 17, 2019

In the heydays of West Texas ranching, a small Alpine hotel next to the stockyards and railroad tracks served as a small rest stop for the working ranch hands and cowboys. More than a century later, it’s no longer a hotel, but the building still serves as a haven for locals and travelers to enjoy.

Ritchey’s Wine Saloon and Beer Garden, as it’s now called, was first opened in 1886 as the City Hotel, before being bought by the Ritchey Brothers and renamed the Hotel Ritchey. Mark Hinshaw, the food and beverage manager at Ritchey’s, said the hotel remained open through the early 20th century, later becoming a bar and restaurant in the ’50s, before shutting down for nearly half a century.

It had fallen into disrepair after being shut down and Hinshaw said there were rumors of hippies squatting in the building in the ’60s and ’70s. Other legends still carry on about the place, including that it was a brothel at one point and one guy getting shot in a gunfight outside the building.

About six years ago, the building was bought by Mattie Matthaei, who renovated the building and made it usable again. Plumbing and electricity were added, as well as a second floor balcony, and the bar was assembled from pieces of a bar out of Fort Stockton about as old as the building itself. They even had a professor from Sul Ross State University use local mud to make the walls in the backroom look close to how it would have when the building first opened.

“We’re constantly trying to maintain the sort of historical vibe, or continue the narrative, rather, of what the Ritchey was,” Hinshaw said.

The saloon has the look and atmosphere of an older bar. There’s no televisions, acoustic music plays softly from small speakers to not drown out conversation, groups can pass the time with a game of dominoes or cards, or look at some of the old, leather books on shelves in the upper parlor.

Ritchey’s has only been reopened for a year, Hinshaw said, and they’ll be celebrating their one-year anniversary on March 30. They regularly have local musicians play acoustic sets on Sundays, or bigger musicians will play sometimes on Thursdays and Fridays, and they also have speakers and poetry readings as well.

The bar still has a similar role as it did more than a century ago, serving as a quiet place for both locals and travelers to rest. And it’s still a convenient stop for travelers, as Amtrak runs right across from the building.

“I do get people that come off the Amtrak and have like a half-hour and have a couple of beers and kind of talk to them as to where they’re going, where they’re from,” Hinshaw said. “But overall, everybody from Marfa and Marathon and the folks that live here, they just love having an adult place you can come to that has a great wine and beer selection. There’s no TVs, it’s just where you can kind of hang out.”

Additions are still planned as well. Hinshaw said they will be adding a kitchen, possibly by the end of April, and will start doing cheeseboards and Mediterranean olive plates.

Liz Rogers, an attorney in Alpine, was one of the minor investors in the reopened Ritchey’s, and said she was sold by Matthaei’s business plan, and said she had a strong background in historic preservation of other buildings in Austin. She also said she was sold because this is one of the few hotels still standing along a railroad in America. While the rich cattlemen stayed in nicer hotels in the area, Hotel Ritchey was for the working class men.

“So this was much more of a boarding house kind of thing,” Rogers said. “So I just loved it, and I’m so glad it’s still standing.”

Shane O’Neal of Alpine has been going to Ritchey’s since it reopened, particularly for the great view from the balcony.

“You got to like a bar in a town with a balcony that overlooks most of the town, especially with the great views we have out here in West Texas,” O’Neal said. “It’s very much the bar where everyone knows your name.”