I've been coming up to Rim Country ever since I was born, some 28 years. Since I moved up here full time a few years ago, I've been particularly watchful of the changes that have occurred to the restaurant and bar scene in my immediate area. This week I thought that it might be fun to take a trip down memory lane on Highway 260, to what was once there and what now is there.
The Double D restaurant and bar in Tonto Village has been the main place I've gone to all of these years. Thankfully, while so many places have changed, the Double D has changed very little. The place has had three owners, and ever since I've been around, it's been the same one: Danny and Ethel Cain. However, the place actually goes back to the early 1970s. According to some that I've talked to, someone decided to open a bar in Tonto Village after The Hitchin' Post stopped carrying beer. Yet it didn't become known as the Double D until its second owner, two Daves, took it over. Hence the name, Double D.
Danny and Ethel Cain have owned it since 1980. Through the years many things have changed. Where the game room now is, adjacent to the store, was once where the kitchen and dining area was. Sketches of locals decorated many of the walls in the late '80s and early '90s, since replaced in part by memorials of those who have recently passed in the area. But the hats still line the ceiling in the bar area, allowing everyone a chance to go back in time.
Danny and Ethel have had numerous foster kids through the years, each seemingly serving some time working in the restaurant, just as other local youths have worked there as well. Thankfully though, its place as a local gathering point has not changed. The locals still frequent it, as do second homeowners and campers who pass through. Each fall you can still find hunters in there at night, some unsure whether or not they really came up to hunt animals, or to merely hunt a good time.
Up the road a little ways is Kohl's Ranch. Out of all the changes in this area Kohl's has been the hardest for locals to swallow. A few years ago ILX made one of those dramatic decisions, one which tore at the heart of anyone who spent time at Kohl's Ranch. ILX took out a true piece of history, The Cowboy Bar. It was more than just a bar. It was a dance hall and at times during its history, a restaurant. It once had gas pumps in front of it and parts of the structure were once part of the schoolhouse at the juncture of Tonto and Horton Creeks. More than that, it was the ultimate gathering place. While the Double D has pulled in a pretty local crowd, The Cowboy Bar had always pulled them in from Payson, going back 50 years or more. It was where fishing season launched when there was a beginning and end date, spawning parties that created lasting memories. It was where you could go when Arizona State University was practicing football down the road at Camp Tontozona, and perhaps bump into a coach or two at night, or even a player who had gone temporarily AWOL for some fun. It was a place where folks spending a couple nights at Kohl's Ranch could shoulder up next to the locals, enjoying their tales. It was authentic, genuine and real, and I have yet to come across someone who's been up here a long time who doesn't have fond memories of the place.
Up the road a little farther was The Landmark. A lot of the locals love that place. As one of the new owners told me, "when we bought this place, we didn't realize how much people cared about it." Being a little farther away from my place, The Landmark was never a place that I frequented as much, and by the time I had moved up here full time, The Landmark was on the downside. Yet it goes back quite away. Heber White owned it for quite a while and I'm sure it had to have been quite a place when he had it; at least judging by the stories I've heard about Heber. More recently it was a pretty good spot to catch live music, especially after The Cowboy Bar was torn down. Its location right on the creek is still ideal and with a little luck it'll be rebuilt stronger than ever for future generations to enjoy.
Just a little farther up the road is Creekside. My family has always been Creekside folks. The porch there is legendary, a terrific place to have a meal. The bar top is weathered, worn, and carved into -- just like any good bar top in a classic place. Creekside doesn't go back as far as The Landmark, but it still has been around long enough to be a place to create some memories. John and Olive Matus opened it in the 1970s, stringing it along at first and gradually adding on to it. Over the years its cozy bar has been a perfect place to hear a solo guitarist or vocalist. The back room, which used to be more closed off, was a place where private parties often went. In particular I remember the night of a Tontozona Saturday football scrimmage a few years back. It was when Bruce Snyder was still coach, and before he had worn out his welcome. He and his family dined in the back and everyone sang the fight song as they came out. Creekside has changed in the past couple years, as John and Olive sold the business. The food's still pretty good, though many of the familiar servers have moved on just as John and Olive did, and its future is uncertain. You'd like to think that the new owners learned some lessons from ILX, but then again a lot of people tend not to know their history. Ultimately time will tell what the
next chapter will be there.
A little farther south I'd be neglectful if I didn't mention Tony's Diamond Point Shadows. Tony refers to Tony Perna, who built that place after running The Cowboy Bar and Pete's Place for a time. Ever since it opened in the 1960s, it's been a fixture and it continues to be. Coming up on weekends as a kid, my folks swore by their Friday night fish, and they still do. The Saturday night prime rib is usually the best this side of Payson and they do many other things quite well too. It has changed some. There was once a motel adjacent to the restaurant but that burned a few years ago. But it's still a fixture and any stranger in Rim Country who drives by at 6 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday can figure things out pretty quickly. A full parking lot usually indicates that there's something good going on.
Some other places were open out this way but have since closed. The Hitchin' Post in Tonto Village was long the place to stop, first operated by the Thompsons, later by the Watsons, who still live in the structure. In Christopher Creek, Woody's restaurant once served some of the best Mexican food around. I'm sure that I'm leaving out some places out this way, so if you have some stories, by all means e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll slip them in an article at some point down the road. (Or I suppose if they're too dirty, I'll just keep them to myself to enjoy -- I have heard some pretty riotous stories.)
Remember folks, history is not merely something in the past. Decades from now these current times will be looked upon as historic. And what is considered "historic" now is ultimately to be determined not by some writer or think-tank, but by you, the people. I love hearing your stories and always look forward to hearing more.