Every classic town in America, whether it’s a gaming area, historic district, an artistic hub or just a regular stopping point, sports its own version of a “Cheers” bar and restaurant. And in Cripple Creek, a town certainly not lacking in characters, that place has become The Creek, located right in the heart of Bennett Avenue.
For nearly two years, The Creek, representing a revitalization of the old Little Lode storefront and gift shop property, has reigned as an ideal spot for great pizza, home-made burgers and Philly sandwiches, not to mention a place for post city-council celebrations, karaoke singing performances (nope, the American Idol performers are not in danger) live music, jukebox numbers from a rare collectors’ machine and an abundance of stories, rumors and good times. “It’s been a lot of fun and work,” admitted co-owner Janice Nance, who owns the restaurant along with her husband Dan Nance. “We wanted this to be the place for the locals. It’s kind of like a version of the Cheers television show. You come in here and the staff will know your name and what you drink and probably what you want to eat. It’s like a big family.” The Nances, along with restaurant manager Pam Bourgeois, are now gearing up for their second-year anniversary.
That occasion is being partially celebrated by the opening of a new upstairs area for special groups, business meetings and parties, complete with WI FI and power point presentation capabilities. The area features the new Miners and Victorian rooms, showcasing a classic piano and late 1800s historic décor, and is an ideal spot for small wedding parties. “It’s a great place to get married,” said Janice Nance.
The new rooms, which also feature a pizza salad bar, also may be open to the public for special events. With the final touches being applied by the Nances, The Creek pursuit has been a lengthy journey for the Texas couple. The Creek owners never really knew the type of restaurant that they would establish in Cripple Creek. “It just kind of evolved,” said Dan Nance, who thought they would originally do a small pizza place. “It turned into a lot bigger project than what we expected.” The Nances, who have been heavily involved in the cattle business in Texas, often came to Colorado to vacation and to escape the heat. They originally frequented Cripple Creek during a trip to the Sturgis motorcycle rally and eventually purchased a home in the area. “One thing led to another,” explained Janice, who admitted she never thought they would own a restaurant. The Nances finally purchased the Little Lode property and embarked on a massive nearly year-long renovation project that strived to maintain the historic character of the building, while making the structure functional. That turned into quite a challenge, according to the couple and city officials. Much of the original brick is intact, along with a 1800s back bar.
The final product is one of the more attractive interior buildings in town, blending the best of the Victorian era and the Creek’s post-gaming period. Much more than just pizza In the last two years, the restaurant has evolved from a pizza-only joint to a diverse eatery, known for their hamburgers as much as their supreme (pizza) royalties. The Creek also has gained a niche for many enticing sandwiches, such as a triple-deck club, a Philly steak sandwich, Italian meatball hoagie, and its hand-cut onion rings. “We offer a lot more variety than what we did when we first started,” said Janice Nance. They also do daily specials, offer a carry-out menu and feature regular happy hours for bar patrons from 4 to 6 p.m. Nance, though, mainly credits their preliminary success and popularity to Bourgeois and their loyal team of employees.
Bourgeois is a familiar figure in Cripple Creek, who sports 40 years of experience in the restaurant business. She also previously worked for Bronco Billy’s for five and a half years. And in the most recent Best Of Cripple Creek survey, conducted by the Mountain Jackpot newspaper, Bourgeois was one of the top finalists for the Best Manager of a non-gaming establishment. “We try to make everyone feel special here,” said Bourgeois. “When it is someone’s birthday, it becomes a pretty big deal at The Creek.” In addition, many community leaders have played a role in the development of The Creek. A special wine rack in the main bar was crafted by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner. His wife Karen, a key member of the Gold Camp Victorian Society, also did much of the dress decorations for the new Victorian room. “This is really a community place,” said Nance. She also classifies The Creek as 100 percent kid and military-friendly. “We really want this to be a place where kids feel welcome,” added the co-owner. Besides good food, drinks and conversation, The Creek offers live entertainment the third Friday of the month, with the likes of local guitar wiz Greg Brazill. It also features regular Coyote Karaoke sessions, capped by standing room finales of “God Bless America” during which all The Creek restaurant/bar patrons and employees participate. Another feature item is a classic jukebox, signed by Elton John, Neil Diamond and a variety of famous rock ‘n roll performers. And as a key non-gaming business in town, the Nances and The Creek are big supporters of many charity events for local groups. They, like many local residents, are looking forward to the opening of the Family Dollar store within the next couple of weeks. If they had their druthers, The Creek owners would like to see the city try to spearhead more family activities and recreational amenities for kids. “We love to gamble,” admitted Janice Nance. “But we would really like to see more things for kids and families up here.” For more information about The Creek, call 689-9595 or visit them on Facebook, or stop in for a sandwich, pizza or beer at their prime location at 317 E. Bennett. The restaurant will soon feature summer hours and will be open every day for lunch and dinner until about 10 p.m.