“As I Recall It”
by Rick Valdez, whose great aunt Vivian owned the Branding Iron, and whose grandmother Cecile (Vivian’s sister) owned the only liquor store in town!
From the 50’s through the 70’s, the Branding Iron was one of the most well-known restaurants in Boulder County. It was more than a local favorite. People from Boulder and other towns would come to Nederland just to eat at the Branding Iron.
The restaurant couldn’t be missed as people drove through town. A neon sign, in big red letters, on top was as tall as the building itself. The inside of the restaurant was any other. The tables were old and strong, as were the walls. This was back in the days when quality mattered. Over the years, the wooden tables and walls acquired a unique look unlike anywhere else.
Every table and every surface of the walls were carved with graffiti. Knifed-carved by visitors decade after decade. Some marks were as simple as the traditional lovers initials in a heart. Other carvings were elaborate as any sailors tattoo. The years and years of washing and wiping the tables had smoothed out the carvings to lie flush with the table, becoming part of organic artwork.
The restaurant owners were sisters, Vivian Ayers and Celia Saul. Vivian is the blonde in the accompanying picture. The sisters were tough mountain women who knew how to run a restaurant and handle a rowdy crowd. The Branding Iron was a favorite with bikers and skiers, and the bar was open until 2:00 AM. Those ladies made sure everyone knew who was in charge. They had a little help from a large German Sheppard named Sam, who lived behind the bar.
The great food was the reason the Branding Iron was a destination. Let’s start with the steaks. A “Porterhouse for Two”, New York and Rib Eye. You could have the Rib Eye as a steak sandwich too. Fried chicken, next to which was printed “Please allow 45 minutes to cook.” This fried chicken wasn’t the greasy deep-fried version. It was cooked in a pan. And plenty of people waited. The chicken was literally like mom made back home. Fresh Rainbow Trout was on offer. The Butterflied Shrimp were even special. Each order, the raw shrimp were shelled, dipped in an egg batter, pressed into the hand-made bread crumb mixture and fried. The burger was always a favorite. The bun was brushed with melted butter and grilled. The bun was as tasty as the burger itself.
The fries and onion rings were a reason to visit by themselves. The fries were cooked to order. Before the order, they were still a whole (peeled) potato. On order, they were put through the cutter and deep fried. The fries were served hot, and literally fresh. This taste can’t be found any more. The onion rings were beer-battered and made fresh to order. The batter was made each day, using original Coors Banquet beer. Using a good beer made all the difference for the customers.
The Branding Iron burned down in the late 70’s. Faulty wiring in the beer cooler. The fire started about 5:00 AM, with Vivian having just left the restaurant hours before at 2:30 AM. The restaurant was long remembered in Nederland history.