Jackson Hole, WY News

It's the only place in Bondurant with a liquor license. In the 64 miles from Hoback Junction to Daniel Junction there's no other place to buy gas. And you can be reasonably sure there's no place anywhere nearby that has a stuffed bear to keep patrons company while they drink a beer.

It's the Elkhorn Bar and Grill, and it's for sale.

The oldest cliche in real estate is that value is all about "location, location, location." But the Elkhorn might be an exception in having some attraction despite of being miles from just about anywhere, about 35 from Jackson.

Oh, it's right on Highway 89, with pretty views of big mountains and with no competition within a long drive in either direction. But most modern buyers of Wyoming real estate aren't looking for a convenience store, gas station, bar, restaurant and cabin-rental business that's finds a big part of its legend in being a long way from civilization.

But for those who finds those circumstances interesting, such as current owner Jim Gray, the Elkhorn fits the bill. And it's not just a going business — it's one of the dwindling number of places in the shadow of Jackson that can claim a bit of history and some old-time Wyoming flavor.

Gray has owned and operated the Elkhorn for about 10 years. With his wife now dead, he thinks it's time for the business to have new ownership. Not that he and his wife, Hazel, didn't enjoy the place after considering it for a long time.

"It was for sale and we kept looking at the place, and then we looked at ourselves one day and said, 'What do you think?'" he said. "It was a dream of ours … a mom and pop-type of thing. We liked the setting, liked the whole idea."

Realtor Christine Swain, handling the offering for Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, said the Elkhorn is widely known in spite of its isolation: "It's familiar, a lot of people know it, they've been there, they've had experiences there," she said.

The Elkhorn doesn't have what you'd call a real history, but Gray has traced what can be found. The original business on the site was apparently run by a man named John Wertz, who operated a mercantile, a general store that supplied people who lived in the area with anything they might require.

"He had everything you needed: hay, blankets, hardware, clothing, everything," Gray said.

That was back in the days when Hoback Canyon wasn't open in winter and when for much of the year Bondurant was at the far end of a long, long dead-end that was itself often hard traveling.

A fellow named Walter Floerke took over the property, Gray thinks, in 1945, and began the evolution from trading post to the more-modern business seen today. Floerke ran the place for so long, until the early 1970s, that it was often known as "Floerke's."

Kirk Ramsey owned and ran the Elkhorn from 1975 to 1979, and rounded up a lot of the history that's come down to Gray.

After Ramsey the Elkhorn went through a stretch when "people would buy it and have it for a year and lose it or sell it and move on," Gray said.

Gray was living in in Daniel the last time the Elkhorn came on the market. He had been in construction and the restaurant business, and he was intrigued by the place. He and Hazel bought it and began fixing it up.

Hazel earned some odd fame for the place when she shot a bear and had it mounted for display in the Elkhorn's bar. She wasn't the only person to bring an ursine guest to the place. After one hunter dragged his kill to the bar for a photo, she began advertising the "Bondurant Bear Club," and the bear-at-the-bar tradition began. Hazel would give them a drink and a souvenir ball cap. The hunters, not the bears.

Hazel also kept a guitar and a mandolin at the bar, encouraged anyone who thought they could play to put their confidence to the test.

"She really started living life when she came here," Gray said.

When cancer took Helen, Jim kept on but discovered that "without her the whole deal just does not work … it's become a burden, really." He would like to sell.

He still sees the Elkhorn's advantages, though.

"It's on one of the routes to Yellowstone, so there's a lot of road business," he said. "And the hunting season is a big event. From August to November the business is really good."

"It's right on the highway, and having a highway property gets you quite a few people" for little effort, Realtor Swain said. "A lot of traffic goes right by there."

And that's not a guess: The Wyoming Department of Transportation put the average daily traffic through Bondurant last July at 2,495 vehicles filled with people who might need gas, a beer, a burger or a post card.

What all those people are driving past is 4.23 acres, a bit of it right on the road, the rest extending in an odd rectangle toward the mountain behind.

The main building of the Elkhorn, with the bar, restaurant and convenience store, is 7,610 square feet by the estimate of Sublette County officials. It was originally constructed in 1954, then renovated and enlarged in 1978, with other work since then. Gray says he's worked to give the place a "Western feel." Upstairs in the main building there are four apartments.

In 1992 six rental cabins were added. Each is 240 square feet.

There's also a one-story house of 700 square feet on the property, built in 1954 and renovated in 1970. There are four small sheds on the parcel.

It's all for sale for a flat $1 million.

"It's a great place, it really is," Gray said. "I just hope to find someone who will keep up the tradition."

After his years there, Gray said, he's worn out with running the place, but still loves it.

"At this point I just want to be a customer," he said.

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