The Sportsman Cafe in Cody, originally called the Pastime Cafe, hosted boxers, officials traveling with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and was a favorite stop for hunters, guides and cowboys.
It was also a police coffee spot and boasted a backroom for gambling.
Park County archivist Robyn Cutter has been working to uncover the histories of businesses in downtown Cody.
Recently she started a series of talks focused on area restaurants, something she hopes leads to more histories being unearthed.
One of those establishments, the Sportsman Cafe, was a restaurant on Sheridan Avenue downtown – now occupied by Il Padrino at 1244 12th St. – and its lively history was recently relayed by Bruce Barrett, son of longtime owners John and Gerry Barrett.
Bruce Barrett’s recollections of the restaurant:
“It was originally called The Pastime Café, so named because it stayed open all night to capture the bar crowd. It was the only local joint to keep such hours. The Silver Dollar was only a few doors west in those days before it moved, and all the other local bars fed the post closing café crowd.
It was a rough and rugged café. No fancy kitchen, the cook stood at his post right behind the long counter where many customers ate. It was not for the local doctors or churchgoers. Rather it was patronized by rodeo cowboys, local ag folk, oil field workers and hunters. The hunting crowd included the local guides and their customers.
Because of that the café had some famous patrons. A couple of our astronauts from the Apollo program ate there while in Cody hunting. Generalissimo Franco of Spain hunted in Cody and some of his government ate there.
It was a rough and tumble place. It was not unusual for the local police to come rolling in often to break up the rowdy patrons. Several of the local bars featured cowboy bands, and they too would come in at 2 a.m. for breakfast. They would often have spontaneous music sessions.
One of the unspoken features of the café was the card parlor in the back end of the café, kept private behind a big swinging door. It was a well-known rumor in Cody that some improper gaming was taking place there. If you asked, the players would smile and say ‘a friendly game of Pinochle is not illegal.’ That card parlor continued until the café finally closed in the mid 70s.
The local police used the café as their favorite coffee break site, and often entered the back door and walked through the card room to the front café with nary a glance. It kept the old timers off the street and was just taken in with a wink. In another tiny corner of the building was the Pastime barber shop, where a haircut cost little and the gossip was free.
My father, John Barrett ran the café with his wife Gerry Barrett. John was a well-known boxer in his day and coached the Cody boxing team for some years. One of his famous specialties was Sourdough Pancakes. The original starter for these pancakes was over 80 years old even back in 1970. It was given to my father by a mountain man who prowled the mountains between Red Lodge and Cody.
My father changed the name of the café to give it a little bit of an uplift in the late 60s. It went from the Pastime Café to The Sportsman Café. It was known for home-style cooking, with good food and lots of it. After John Barrett died Gerry Barrett put many of the old café recipes on YouTube where they have had over 400,000 views.
By the way, this was a family-run business and John and Gerry were often helped by the six sons they raised. The kids were the busboys, waiters and later cooks.
A well-known staple at the cafe was Sybil, the night cook. She was famed for homemade pies of all kinds. They were continually in the oven so the restaurant never lost that fresh baked smell. A big wedge of pie with unlimited coffee cost about 35 cents and it was one of the biggest favorites at the cafe. In the off season the hunting guides would sit for hours drinking their unlimited 10-cent coffee and eating pie while they swapped stories of their close calls with grizzly bears up in the Thorofare.
John Barrett was a rarity. He was a pro-union democrat. So the coffee-laden counter became the center point of many good natured discussions of politics in America. You could do that with civility and fun in those days.
Also, boxing was a much bigger sport then, and the cafe was kind of a boxing center for the town. Cody got cable TV very early, and whenever Cassius Clay would fight, people would come from all the towns around to watch the fight. They would gather at the cafe to talk boxing and either love or hate Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali).
So the Sportsman was part of the colorful fabric of Sheridan Avenue for many decades.”