SEDALIA • The man with a sunburnt face and salt-and-pepper mustache and a big belt buckle fastened to dirt-stained blue jeans hobbles through a familiar, wooden door.
“Opened that same door when I was 6 years old,” says Chet Hier, 77. “But I was barefooted then, because when I was 6 I ran around barefooted. Yeah, I pulled a big toenail off that door.”
Favorite cocktail in hand — screwdriver with a healthy dose of vodka — Hier takes his seat with the men he meets here most every day. It’s 10 a.m. for coffee, 3 p.m. for booze and burgers. Now as always the storytelling commences around this round- table in Bud’s Bar.
These are decades-old friends. Some are natives like Hier, descended from Sedalia’s first white families. All have lived a farming life. All have seen things change: ranchland swarmed by cookie-cutter homes and that mall on the other side of the highway, the Outlets at Castle Rock.
“Golly,” says Billy Moore, 86, wearing his usual overalls and nursing his usual Bud Light. “We used to stand out on the street and wave if somebody come by. Now you can’t even get across the street.”
Everybody knew everybody then, says the patron in the next seat over, Guy Elder. It seems everybody from back then is gone. “Now there’s all these new people,” Elder says. “Don’t know a lot of them now.”
But at Bud’s, the local staple since 1948, little has changed.
“That’s what we’re trying to keep,” says Garo Chalian.
The third owner in the bar’s history did change the floors, though. He knew he’d have hell to pay. Sure enough, Hier, whose daddy built the original bathrooms in the corner, took his branding iron to the floor.
“I love these guys,” Chalian says, raising his glass of vodka to them.
That’s partly why he got involved at Bud’s. His career was in dentistry and law. “But this is living,” he says at the bar. “That other stuff wasn’t living. This is life right here.”
Chalian has been around the area for 22 years, but at Bud’s he feels as if he’s been around forever. As if he’s part of something historic and special. He wants customers to feel that way, too.
“You’re gonna come here as a tourist,” he says, “and you’re gonna leave as a local.”
Tourists come for the mouth-watering burger, what some publications have called one of the best in all of America.
The burgers are steamed. Don’t ask further for secrets.
And definitely don’t ask for fries. “No french fries, dammit!” goes the saying here. You’ll enjoy your burger served in a basket with a bag of Lay’s, dammit.
Also, you should be prepared to pay cash. And to face the likes of Hier. “Who are ya?” he might demand. And if you pass the test, you might just hear some stories, such as the one he tells of when the floor endured much greater damage than from his branding iron.
“My brother and I rode horses in here one day,” Hier says. “That woulda been in the ’60s.”
That was when Therman Thompson was the owner. He’s pictured on the wall with the founder, Bud Herbert, who opened the joint not long after World War II. Bud sold the place when he became judge in Castle Rock, the story goes.
And the stories go on and on.
Of Moore always winning the pumpkin contest in the fall; he always grows the biggest. Of him dressing up as Santa in the winter. Of Elder’s rattlesnake.
“We were coming back from unloading a bunch of hay. This was before they double-laned the highway,” he starts, ending with the creature he found and brought into the bar.
Hier has stories of other pranks he pulled. Has stories and stories.
“I may go home and get the book,” he says.
Yes, he wrote a book on Bud’s. Because anything worth preserving, he figured, is worth a book.
On the menu
The hamburger is $4.30. The double hamburger is $6.55. The cheeseburger is $4.65. And the most popular double cheeseburger is $7.30.
That's it. Four menu items.
"Pickles and onion on the side," Chalian says. "If you've been here before and know to ask, you can get grilled onions. And that's it."
Folks at Bud's know the burger goes down best with a cold one. Bud Light, Coors, Miller Lite and Pabst Blue Ribbon among $4.25 bottles. Blue Moon, Colorado Native and Sam Adams on the $5 list.
Well drinks for $4.25. Wines for $5. Coca Cola products.