Everything You Need to Know About Huntsville
Holding Steady at the Shooting Star
'That thing looks weird,' said Laura. 'It's bothering me.'
It was the knackwurst portion of my Mini-Star Burger, a mini portion of the Shooting Star's finest.
I looked back to Laura. She was investigating her cheeseburger, but with less trepidation. Her's was just a regular cheeseburger. Make that, 'regular.' Mine was a lite version of the Shooting Star's signature meal, the special-sauce slathered Star Burger, which comes in a basket with potato chips. The Star Burger is a double patty hamburger with the knackwurst split down the middle and loaded on the top.
'That hot dog's freakin' me out,' Laura added. 'I can't handle things protruding from my dinner.'
She's so squeamish.
Indeed, as the Star Burger is the Shooting Star's finest, then in a way the Shooting Star itself is the best of Huntsville, and one can think of Huntsville as sort of a Utah Shangri-La. And in the same way that Utah can sometimes go over-the-top, I spend a good while today wondering if I wanted the full Star Burger, the two patties. I'm not much of a meat eater. I went with one patty.
The Shooting Star, square in downtown Huntsville, is the oldest bar in Utah. Built in 1865 as a trading post, it was converted into a bar in 1879 and has hung on for all those years, a well-loved aberration in a staunchly Mormon community.
As with any bar that has more than a century under its belt, the Shooting Star gives the drinker-eater a lot to contemplate. Sipping my Moose Juice stout, I gazed over at a stuffed moose (sans juice). The ceiling was covered with graffittied dollars stapled in place. The main counter was adorned with bad icons of bar art made beautiful. On the opposite wall was the stuffed head of a 300-pound St. Bernard, and next that what appeared to be* (*Parental Warning: the next image is less than wholesome) the head of a wart-hog bursting through the anus of a pronghorn antelope.
The Star Burger has been named the Best Hamburger in the West and helped to land the saloon in a slew of magazines and newspapers, including the cover of the USA Today.
'It's very good food,' remarked Laura, digging into her cheeseburger. 'It's hearty.'
Newfy, the stuffed St. Bernard, is another legend here. Newfy, who was once called the largest St. Bernard in the world, used to greet customers at a bar outside Yellowstone. When Newfy died his guardian could not bear to part with his visage forever, so he had Newfy's head stuffed and mounted. Unfortunately, all the taxidermist had to go off of was the head of a grizzly, so Newfy's mouth is ajar. Sometimes, things get shoved in to it, like cigars.
The Shooting Star can't be all that raunchy, however, because Jim and Ruth May raised four kids right across the street from it. The Mays run the Valley House Inn , a home across the street which has stood almost as long as the bar.
The beautiful two-story brick structure was built 1872 as the home of Huntsville's first mayor, L.M. Nelson. In the 1920s the Valley House Inn moved into the home from another location, and for three decades served fine food - most notably, fried chicken, trout, biscuits and raspberry cakes - to locals and vacationers who came up the canyon from Ogden. Huntsville, which sits on a peninsula of land fronted by Pineview Reservoir and surrounded by the stunning high peaks of the Wasatch, has long served as a travelers' stop.
These days, once again, things are going over-the-top. In exactly one year, Huntsville is going to be ground zero for the world's skiing elite: Snowbasin, whose ski slopes hover over the town, will host the 2002 Winter Olympics' main events, the downhill, super G, slalom and combined ski races. A billion and a half viewers will watch the events on television, and the TV cameras will surely leave the slopes for a minute to swoop over the Ogden Valley and pretty Huntsville.
Considering the races are only 365 days away, Huntsville has held its poise remarkably. The town is still dominated by one and five-acre homesites surrounded by fields and farms and horses and big spruce trees. Driving through town, both Laura and I were amazed that there are no towering condo projects being built no McDonalds, no strip malls ... not a whole lot of anything, actually. Up at Snowbasin, however, things are changing. In one summer a few years ago the resort installed a high-speed four-seater chairlift, a tram and two gondolas. Then, a massive first-of-its kind snowmaking system went in. At the same time, the resort orchestrated a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service that will one day yield a golf course and village at the base. Will Huntsville hold out?
At the Valley House, Jim May says he started receiving lodging inquiries for the Olympics in 1998, just months after the three-room bed and breakfast opened. Like most other lodge owners, he signed an agreement with the Salt Lake Olympic Committee to let that group handle accommodations (and no, he does not have any rooms available for February 2002).
He and Ruth opened the bed and breakfast in 1997 after dreaming about it for years. Before, their children lived upstairs but after three grew up and moved out the family converted the upstairs into three themed rooms. The restoration took 10 months, and the furniture was moved in by way of the upstairs balcony. Features include jetted tubs, a sauna and antique dressers converted to sinks.
Laura was halfway through her cheeseburger. I nibbled on the chips that came complimentary with my Mini-Star. Shooting Star's owner, John Posnien, put quarters into his own jukebox and 'You Can Call Me Darlin' strained from the meager speakers.
One last look back at the handwritten sign posted at our booth: 'We are not a restaurant. Please, no special orders.'
I took a bite. I should have had a double.
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