It was the last hour on the very last night at Dram Apothecary’s bread bar in Silver Plume, and I had been kicked out. It wasn’t because I was rowdy; the owners finally asked me to leave because, as a relative stranger and a journalist, I had overstayed my welcome. And, for far too long, they had overextended theirs.
The latter reason is why on Saturday, May 21, owner Shae Whitney closed her beloved but short-lived mountain stopover. “I’m an introvert, and I can’t keep doing this,” Whitney says. “I mean, it kills me.”
In fact, when she opened the small bar with her business partner and boyfriend Brady Becker, it was never intended to be a regular endeavor. “It’s been weird to watch it evolve,” Whitney says of the bar, which began as a tasting room for her line of apothecary syrups and bitters and a place to receive friends and family and also to act as “the town living room” for Silver Plume.
In the four years that it’s been open, Dram has transformed this “ghost town” (actual population: 170) into a nationally recognized hub for the craft beverage movement. From the hours of 4 to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings, Silver Plume’s population burgeoned with visitors flocking to Dram’s tiny bar and patio, situated in a former bread shop. This last evening was no different, with a steady stream of customers and well-wishers descending upon the valley.
Dram owner Shae Whitney (center) chatting with customers.
Visitors came from as close as Denver, Boulder, and Breckenridge and as far away as Kansas, Alabama, and California. There were a handful of locals. The crowd had gathered to experience, one last time, the inexplicable magic of Dram’s setting, space, and service.
Rick Caldwell, 69, has owned a home in Silver Plume since 1989 and lives there permanently with his wife, who runs the town’s historical society, since 2000.
“The first day they opened, they didn’t announce it or anything. It was a Saturday a lot like today,” Caldwell says. He was sitting on his front porch when another local guy came by and yelled, “The bar’s open!”
“I think in general people were very excited about it,” Caldwell says of the town’s reception of Dram. “Over time, I think some of the locals started to feel unwelcome here… But I’m going to miss it like hell.”
Dram was the only business open Saturday evening in Silver Plume, aside from the Windsor Hotel bed and breakfast (which is for sale) and the vegan Cilantro food truck, which comes to town on the weekends solely to provide Dram patrons with a food option.
The bar’s cocktail menu fit on one side of a diary-sized piece of brown paper. In addition to the succinct beer, wine and natural sodas list, bartender Andy Hamilton made four seasonal cocktails plus a few daily specials, each featuring one or more of the Apothecary’s syrups or bitters.
As the night unfolded, candle wax melted out over the bar top and a bonfire raged in the backyard. Hamilton sprinkled crushed rose petals over goblets of gin and juniper rose syrup, and the lights played just-so off the vintage lace curtains. We stopped to appreciate all of it from our perch on a Victorian sofa. Everyone, it seemed, was engaged in caption-worthy conversation.
“It’s like you get all the benefits of the community of Denver, but you also get to feel the mountain here,” says Sam Pike, 28, who came for the closing with his girlfriend Laura Schmalstieg, 26, from Denver.
They visited Dram nearly a dozen times together over the last two years. “I purposefully bring out-of-town friends here because it convinces them to move to Colorado,” Schmalstieg says. “There’s this intimacy and timelessness about it that kind of stops you.” Adds Pike: “I’m so sad knowing that this time is coming to a close, but I don’t think I’d want it going further than this knowing Brady and Shae.”
But the bar won’t be gone, at least, not entirely. It sold quickly to one of six cash offers, according to Whitney. The Denver-based couple, Casey Berry of Two Parts (formerly Imbibe) and Sam Alviani of Sprocket Communications, told me they plan to reopen the bread bar with a preserved feel and history. Perhaps the new concept will retain some of Dram’s magic.
Earlier in the evening, Whitney walked me across a dirt road to show me the future of Dram Apothecary.
The former lodge of the Knights of Pythias fraternal order, or the K.P., is one of the more imposing buildings on Silver Plume’s Main Street—two edifices brought from the edge of town after a mudslide and then smashed together like a fold-in dollhouse. On the first floor, a vacant cafe has sat untouched for the past five years.
Becker and Whitney are focusing on the new Dram lodge located in the K.P. building, which they opened last month after a successful Kickstarter campaign in October. The lodge has debuted with one apartment upstairs available on AirBnB; two more rooms are under renovation.
As for the ground floor of the K.P.? Whitney opened the doors to an empty storefront that, come summer, will be home to a pop-up shop run by the Perish Trust, a San Francisco-based general store. Behind that, we passed through a closed door that led to a narrow room with a whining pinball machine, a regulation wood shuffleboard table, neon signs, and tchotchkes from the previous owner. At the very back of the room was a small bar with room to seat two or three patrons—the ideal-size crowd for Whitney and Becker. Whitney says that the downstairs bar will be open only to guests of the lodge, as well as to friends and family.
On the other side of the K.P. is Whitney’s Dram Apothecary workshop. It maintains a dusty mining town aesthetic while at the same time appearing perfectly staged for a pristine Instagram snapshot. Bins of dried leaves and flower blossoms line an island table. Leading back to the kitchen, boxes are stacked with the latest line of products—tins of Woodlands tea, bottles of pine herbal soda, and lavender-emon balm bitters.
With the bar closed, Whitney will continue her Dram Apothecary product line from the confines of the Silver Plume workshop and from the expanse of the national forest where she forages the raw materials for her products. She just began a collaboration with Rocky Mountain Soda Co. to create 11 herbal soda flavors, the first two of which were recently released. And while the pair isn’t considering opening another public bar in Silver Plume, they are working on a new public facing “project” elsewhere in Colorado. “We’ll keep it going, don’t worry,” was all Whitney would give away of the next Dram venture.
Bartender Andy Hamilton watches the backyard bonfire.
Becker stood back and watched toward the end of the night as Whitney fed the backyard bonfire, first with her apron, then by scattering printed cocktail recipes, and finally throwing in a few large barrels.
Everyone that was left stepped back as the flames licked higher, the wind picking up a joke about setting the bread bar finally on fire. Whitney looked around then, restless, “What else can we burn?” she says, her words carried off by the wind and into the encircling mountains.
Full disclosure: Josie Sexton is the manager of the Fort Collins Passport, which is run by Two Parts.
—All photos by Josie Sexton