Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hanging tuff in Menan

Published in the Post Register, July, 2010

MENAN -- Watson’s Bar sits modestly in a former bank building on a corner of this village at the foot of two of the world’s largest tuff cones.

The tuff cones are, of course, the Menan Buttes -- a pair of volcanoes that erupted under the Snake River 10,000 years ago and essentially turned to glass. It might be considered only slightly less startling that a bar has survived for 75 years in the first town settled by Mormons in the Snake River Valley.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still predominate in rural Jefferson County, but they seem to have developed a certain sanguine acceptance of Watson’s, now owned by someone other than a member of the Watson family for the first time in three generations.

“Thayne Watson and this place were both on their last breath,” says Jim Voyles, the bar’s new owner. Voyles bought the bar in December of 2007, only a couple of weeks before the elderly Watson died.

Voyles, who makes his living running a business that installs cabinets and countertops in non-residential buildings likes schools and hospitals, has been busy since his purchase. He’s re-done the inside of the bar -- while retaining the building’s historical feel -- and cleared out the adjoining space that had once housed various generations of Watsons and opened a restaurant.

He brought in itinerant cook, wine steward and waiter Cody Robins, to do the cooking and menu creation. Robins, a St. Anthony native, who says he’s wandered from “New Mexico to Maine” over the past few years. He brings an eclectic approach to Watson’s, like using fresh herbs and vegetables grown in the area and to grinding his own elk meat and beef. He even bakes his own breads, which he says are “diabetic friendly” because he uses no milk, eggs or sugars.

The menu focuses on sandwiches: “Our version of the best sandwiches we’ve had over the years,” Robins says. In the winter, he plans to offer full meals that folks can either eat at the restaurant or take home and heat up.

The bar is a beer-only joint -- liquor licenses can be expensive and hard to come by in Idaho -- and that’s not enough to keep the doors open. So, in June, Voyles and Robins opened the restaurant, with a grand opening over the Fourth of July weekend. Robins estimates he needs to sell about 200 meals a day to really make a go of it.

Outside the restaurant are a new painted landscape mural done by Idaho Falls artist John Martin a handful of tables, tomato plants and a grill where Robins was smoking salmon on a recent afternoon. It’s all part of Voyles’ plan to make Watson’s a destination eatery for people from around the region.

Voyles wants to keep the restaurant and bar completely separate, even though they share a wall, so families and non-drinkers can enjoy the restaurant.

. A native of northern California, Voyles’ family roots are in eastern Idaho and his wife, Janice, is from Victor. He settled in the area 20 years ago and decided to buy Watson’s when he saw it for sale nearly three years ago.

“I don’t know what was going to happen to this place,” he says, “but it wasn’t going to be Watson’s.”

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