The “Nellie E Saloon” (Desert Bar) is situated in the Buckskin Mountains, in Parker, Arizona. The location is on an old mining camp. When Ken, his last name I never found, acquired the land in 1975. The mining camp was abandoned and nothing was left of the mine at the time. He had the land and a liquor license from an old business venture, Ken decided to give the “bar in the desert” idea a try. In 1983, Ken opened for business in the temporary three-sided structure which is across from the outdoor restrooms. Yes, the restrooms, with a half wall, overlook a spectacular scenic vista. He operated there for the next five years until the current saloon was constructed. The name “Nellie E” originates from the old mining claim. They used to mine copper and then take it to the smelter and get gold!
When Ken opened the bar, he hauled water in a 50-gallon tank loaded on the back of his truck. Then he purchased an old fire truck, which he used to haul water. In 1989, he started using a well in the canyon as his water source. In the summer of 1997, Ken drilled a new well on the north side of the saloon that operates on solar power, with the pump set at 360 feet.
The “Nellie E” was completed in 1988. The inside of the saloon is unique in many ways. It has windows that are old commercial glass refrigerator doors, the bar stools are made of steel and they sway from side to side. The top of the bar is brass and the ceiling is made of stamped tin purchased from a factory in Missouri. The saloon is powered by solar energy and is stored in batteries and run through inverters.
Built in 1991, the covered walk bridge was the next big project, it was dedicated in October of that same year. The church is made of solid steel and the walls and ceiling are made of the same stamped tin used inside the bar and roof is made of copper. The names inscribed on the plaques in the church are people who donated money to help build the church. The church is a unique place for weddings and a great photo spot. There are no services held in the church and all religions are welcome.
Across from the saloon is an outside bar, cooking area, and stage. The tall structures you see on the property including Ken’s house, located across from the parking lot are “cooling towers”. They work similar to an evaporative (swamp) cooler, except they don’t have a fan. When you wet the pads on top, cool air falls and you get a nice cool airflow.
Behind the outside bar is a horseshoe pit and to the right is a stage for live music or D.J.
The above information was taken from their online flyer.
Now let me tell my opinion of the Desert Bar and the “Nellie E Saloon”. For three months since our coming into the Southwest, we’ve been hearing about this Desert Bar. “You’ve got to see it!” Everybody has been saying! Time had come, this past Saturday, for our eyes to view the Desert Bar.
It is only open Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 5pm and only from October to March (Just plain too hot in the summertime!) Maybe the logistics for operation more than two days a week would be too much to handle. You see the Desert Bar is located five miles in the desert, on a road that I would call a tank trail. It is so rough that going 5 mph might be speeding unless you were in an ATV! Probably that is one of the lures to this remote icon in the Buckskin Mountains. Many a person has told me to leave at 11am for the 12pm opening. (To avoid the traffic rush and dust!) With all this in mind, Helen and I set off early enough to drive the road very slowly. My tires had been aired down from 80psi to 45psi. Maybe I should have gone down to 35psi to smooth the ride down further! So, it is about 4-1/2 miles to the bar and going 4 to 5 mph, we arrived nearly at noonish.
When nearing the last bend, in a natural canyon cut, the first eye-opener is the front profile of this church! Its copper greenish roof and nearly black siding silhouetted against the brown hillside gave us a WOW moment! Next, we drove into a fortress-like mote. Two 30 foot high walls of dirt on each side of the road brought us into the fortress. A concrete wall, again very high, with a sign that read out and in greeting us. What could I do but take the “in” side of the uphill road? At the top, a very large gravel parking lot, with marked parking spots directed us to our parking spot. How would you mark parking spots in a gravel parking lot? Very cleverly with 2inch canvas fire hoses staked with spikes on each end! Not a big to-do, but cleaver.
Ok, what’s so special about a design and build of a church? The church is built of steel, not a solid piece, but welded pieces! The siding is not wood or vinyl, but 5/16″ by 5″ steel plates. The word “clapboard”, I don’t think has ever been applied to steel siding in this fashion! It is a “fashion statement” and very noteworthy!
The Covered Bridge and Bar/Lounge/Stage Area
The terrain is steep, other than the parking lot, literally on a mountainside, in a gully. Hence a covered bridge brings you to a middle-level floor area with the stage to the right along with a light food bar. As a fabricator/welder, I couldn’t help notice the structural details. Either an Engineer and/or the owner has over-built the design! It isn’t going to fall over. It is very well done in my book! The bar stools caught my eye right off the bat! A welder’s design that has taken structural square-tubing and created function and ingenuity. I could go on for a lot more details that I spotted throughout the multi-floor structure. On the lower level, more food venues are offered. On the upper levels, several areas have been set up with tables and chairs. One can view the panorama, listen to an excellent vintage rock and roll band or just eat and enjoy the company of others.
The Open Air Restrooms
This might sound a little weird, but on a cliffside, the restrooms have a concrete wall that rises to about five feet from the floor. A roof covers this restroom, the commodes are set back and private. Yet one can view the Buckskin Mountain range off at a distance. Very well done!
My General Rating!
It is certainly a place that one must visit at least once in a lifetime. I would go back next year just to see the new improvements and/or additions. The 5-mile road trip is probably part of the draw into the desert. The architecture is unique, the number of people that attend every weekend is phenomenal!
That is what we saw and did!