Fun at the Phantom
In the heart of Colorado Springs’ downtown district, we found the Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. It occupies the Cheyenne Building, which was constructed in 1901 for the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, and has since hosted a variety of tenants. But by 1993, the building was close to being leveled. That’s when John Hickenlooper, the founder of Wynkoop Brewery and a key figure in reviving Denver’s Lower Downtown, arrived on the scene.
Hickenlooper worked his magic at Phantom Canyon. Its interior is open and airy, with an “Old West” feel. Huge picture windows in the dining room look west toward the Rocky Mountains, which were at their most photogenic on this sunny Sunday. We were told that the view was even better upstairs, where there was a full bar, 12 tournament-style billiard tables and a jukebox. We knew we’d soon be leaving the Rockies behind, so we savored the view as we enjoyed a couple of hefeweizens (the pint of the day priced at only $2). The lineup at Phantom Canyon, by the way, includes eight other beers plus two cask selections.
Had we known how strong the wind would blow as we descended toward I-70, we might have waited another day. Luckily, the Miata was built for handling the road, and she did. Our next stop was Hays, KS—a place that, a week earlier, we’d have been hard-pressed to find on a road atlas and certainly wouldn’t associate with good beer. But last year, Gella’s Diner and Liquid Bread Co. put Hays on the craft-beer map. Gella’s celebrated its grand opening during the weekend of the GABF in high style, winning a silver medal in the British Stout category. Not only was that stout Gella’s first GABF entry, it was the very first batch of beer Steve Wyman brewed there. (You might recognize his name: Steve came to Gella’s from the Blind Tiger in Topeka—another stop on our itinerary.)
Hays is a town of 20,000-plus, with a state university campus and a medical center. Gella’s sits across from the Hays Arts Center in a downtown that’s coming back to life. Many of the area’s residents are Volga Germans, who still speak a version of that language. “Gella,” we found out, is slang for “That’s right, isn’t it?” Locals also refer to beer as “liquid bread” (why not? it has the same ingredients), and the menu uses bread terms to describe portions of beer. (For example, at Gella’s, a growler is called a “loaf.”) Guests can choose from an ambitious 14-beer menu that, fittingly, emphasizes German styles. How, we asked, did a first-class brewpub spring up in Hays? It turned out that some prominent townspeople invested in Gella’s, hoping that it would pay dividends in the form of a more vibrant community. Talk about a win-win situation!