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Only in Colorado: The Face on the Barroom Floor

The first in a new 5280 series that covers the places, people, and activities that epitomize our state.

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In most bars, a face on the floor does not usually make the best impression. But in Central City, there is a barroom where one such face is not only tolerated—it’s celebrated. It’s a portrait of a beautiful, chestnut-haired woman painted on the floorboards of the town’s historic Teller House bar, and the story behind it is as captivating as the woman’s smile.

Back in the days of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, a prospector stumbled across a rich vein of gold in a gulch tucked into the foothills west of Denver. When even more veins were discovered, miners flocked to Central City, “the richest square mile on earth.” As the population swelled, the inevitable mining camp debauchery—prostitutes, barrooms, casinos—and abundant wealth soon followed. Dozens of lavish buildings rose from the mining-camp dust, including the sumptuous Teller House Hotel and the Central City Opera House next door.

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After the gold rush, the town’s fortunes (and its buildings) declined until the early 1930s, when extensive restoration work began. In 1936 Denver-based artist Herndon Davis was commissioned to create a series of paintings to rejuvenate the opera and the Teller House. According to one legend, he painted the enchanting face as a parting shot after a fight with his boss. According to another, he surreptitiously painted it in the middle of the night on a whim. Or perhaps he was inspired by his wife, Edna Juanita, who may have served as his model, or by Hugh Antoine D’Arcy’s famous ballad, “The Face Upon the Floor” in which—in exchange for a few drinks—an artist-turned-vagabond tells some bar patrons the tale of Madeline, the chestnut-haired beauty that drove him mad.

Regardless of the exact reason, there’s no doubt that Central City has capitalized on this famous face as an intriguing attraction for curious visitors who, after a drink or two, may well start to tell their own tall tales.

Visit: The Teller House and Face Bar operate as a restaurant and bar during the Central City opera season, which runs from the last week of June through the first week of August. During the rest of the year, visitors can visit the Face Bar by taking a Teller House tour through the Gilpin Historical Society. The tours are offered Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Click here for more information, or call 303-582-5848.

(Check out Denver’s best bars of 2015)

Terri Cook, 5280 Contributor

Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.

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