In 1974 prolific author Stephen King and his wife Tabitha spent a night in Room 217 of The Stanley, a a 140-room Colonial Revival hotel in Estes Park, about five miles from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The hotel staff was preparing to close the hotel for the season so the Kings found themselves the only guests in the place. King wrote about the experience on his website: “Wandering through its corridors, I thought that it seemed the perfect—maybe the archetypical—setting for a ghost story. That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”
As you ascend the hill leading to The Stanley, you’re struck at the grandeur and immensity of the complex. It’s hard to imagine Jack Nicholson demolishing a door with an axe, peeking inside and uttering his most famous line from the movie The Shining: “here’s Johnny!”. If anything The Stanley Hotel presents the impression of a pristine idyll with its white facade. It’s absolutely immaculate as if whitewashed daily. Haunted houses are like the Collinwood Mansion from Dark Shadows or The Bates Motel from Psycho not this stately edifice which might bring to mind the John 14 verse from The New Testament: In my Father’s House there are many mansions.” The Stanley is what you might imagine a heavenly mansion would look like.
Certainly inventor Freeman Oscar Stanley (he invented the dry plate photography process) didn’t set out to build an imposing manor that would haunt visitors. In fact, he came to Estes Park because its salubrious mountain air helped ease symptoms from his tuberculosis. Accustomed to the amenities great wealth, Stanley sought to duplicate those luxuries in the Colorado village. He built The Stanley Hotel as a venue in which they could host friends and guests in high style. The hotel was designed to be top-of-the-line with electric lights, telephones, bathrooms attached to each room, and a staff of uniformed servants (sorry Chris P., no internet). Stanley Hotel even boasted a fleet of steam-powered automobiles, one of which has been on display at the hotel for decades. By 1917, the tiny hamlet of Estes Park was an official municipality that owed its development to Stanley and his hotel.
Apparently ethereal beings must have read Travel Advisor because ghostly apparitions have been reported virtually since the Hotel’s launch. Ghost tours highlighting all the Hotel’s haunted rooms are available though we didn’t avail ourselves of the opportunity to take such a tour. Among the specters said to haunt The Stanley are its founder who likes to spend time at the Hotel bar. His wife Flora has been reported playing her piano in the ballroom. The ghost of a small boy is reputed to haunt Room 217 where Stephen King and his wife stayed and reportedly saw the child, who was calling out for his nanny. Brave guests on the hotel tour can stand in the closet in one of the haunted rooms, where voices are said to be the loudest. What kind of ghost would you be if you didn’t bring your four-legged fur children into the afterlife with you? Guests have reported seeing the ghosts of some of the animals buried in The Stanley’s pet cemetery wandering the property.
Our visit to The Stanley complex had nothing to do with the desire to cavort or confab with wraiths and spirits. As true culinary tourists, we discovered the grounds of the historic Stanley Hotel houses one of Colorado’s most highly regarded restaurants, one which purports to serve “Colorado style” fried chicken. A converted carriage house is the home to The Post Chicken & Beer. According to The Post’s website: “we brew delicious, award-winning beers and fry up the crispiest, juiciest hot chicken around. We’re talking about feel good food; fried bird that just happens to be gluten-free, farm fresh sides, cold beers, and a darn good cocktail. Our bird is better than the rest.
To be honest, we first learned about The Stanley on the Food Network’s highest rated program Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. We’re hit and miss with host Guy Fieri’s recommendations. Most of the hits are in relatively small towns and villages where dining options aren’t quite as plentiful or diverse as in larger cities. Estes Park is among the former though during tourist season, the village’s population grows significantly. “Triple D” visited The Post’s Longmont location some 32 miles away. Fieri came away impressed: “In the library of Flavortown, this is one of the reference pictures of fried chicken.”
It’s hard to believe The Post lives in what used to be a carriage house (an outbuilding which was originally built to house horse-drawn carriages and the related tack). Like the Hotel, The Post is adorned in a sheen of lustrous white. In sits east of The Stanley on the sprawling hilltop that offers spectacular views of mountains. Well manicured grounds are appointed with lush green evergreens and towering pines. A small guardhouse precedes your approach to The Post. It costs ten dollars to park though you’ll be issued a ten dollar credit to present at the restaurant.
Step inside and you’re awash in things to see. On display on a wall overlooking the wrap-around bar is what appears to be the lower half of a taxidermied deer. Perhaps the deer was the victim of one of the resident ghosts. The colorful venue is quite capacious, accommodating almost as many guests in the bar as in the dining area. For ambiance, The Post may well be the most intriguing and attractive restaurant we visited during our June, 2023 vacation across the Mountain States.
The menu is nearly as attractive as the venue. Featured fare includes more than fried chicken. Plates include fish and chips, smoked St. Louis style ribs, seared egg sausage and a green chile braised pork shoulder (talk about tempting). Greens, for which you can add a half bird for a pittance more, include one named Susan Sarandon. Let me guess. Made with big chicken breasts? There are even family plates such as the “Tower of Love” that feeds eight. Appetizers prepared for Guy Fieri included chicken chicharrones alongside a pinto bean hummus dip.
Perhaps befitting the dark and malevolent history of The Stanley and the wandering spirits trapped in its space, our appetizer choice was deviled eggs (pickled pepper relish, crispy chicken skin, fresh chives). Essentially hard-boiled eggs that have been peeled, cut in half and stuffed with a filling made from the yolk and other ingredients, hard-boiled eggs are more than just a party favorite. The term “deviled” means to “combine a food with various hot or spicy seasonings” thereby creating a “deviled dish.” The term likely comes from the connection between spiciness and the hot temperatures in Phoenix during summer…er, in Hell. The Post’s version of deviled eggs won’t scorch your mouth with heat. Instead, you’ll enjoy a nice balance of flavors and textures. A little more chicken skin would have been nice to give the deviled eggs more crunch.
“Sure, Beaver, all you have to do is hold your breath and gulp them down.” That’s the sage advice of big brother Wally Cleaver to his impressionable sibling Beaver on a memorable episode of Leave It To Beaver. This episode is famous for the uncharacteristic behavior of June Cleaver, mother of the two boys. She literally forced Beaver to eat Brussel sprouts. It’s likely many mothers who reared children of my generation would have used June Cleaver’s tactics. Though my mom did not, I grew up thinking I hated Brussel sprouts. Now I can’t get enough of them, especially if they’re as delicious as those at The Post. These Brussel sprouts (sweet and spicy peppers, garlic mojo, cotija cheese) are wonderful. In part that’s because they’re ameliorated by other flavors and textures that frankly makes them taste like vegetable candy.
Both my Kim and I ordered the half chicken plate (breast, thigh, leg, wing with pickles and deli slaw), a rarity in that we tend to differ greatly in ordering patterns. Initially we both thought the chicken was among the very best we’ve ever had. I even uttered that it was on par with the chicken at Stroud’s in Kansas City. Keaton, one of the restaurant’s floor managers overheard my comment. It turns out he’s from Kansas City and is quite familiar with Stroud’s. We reminisced about KC’s great barbecue restaurants and even its sports teams–all because we both love fried chicken. Alas, the more of the chicken we ate, the saltier it seemed to get. Perhaps because the chicken is prepared in batches, we just happened to get a batch in which salt was more concentrated. The chicken is prepared meticulously and moves from a four-hour brine through multiple flours (one of which is gluten-free) that renders the chicken juicy and delicious with a crispy texture so pleasing, even my Kim loved it. It’s a fried chicken that has earned accolades from local media and has a four-star rating from Yelpers. It’s conceivable that our fried chicken’s saltiness was an anomaly, but it’s what we’ll remember most about what could have been perfect poultry.
According to Tina Fay: “There is no one of-woman-born who does not like Red Lobster cheddar biscuits. Anyone who claims otherwise is a liar and a Socialist.” My friend BOTVOLR likes them and we probably would, too, if we frequented Red Lobster. No, we had to come all the way to Estes Park to enjoy Cheddar biscuits. Served four to an order, these biscuits might just be the reason so many spirits linger in this life. They’re the epitome of what biscuits ought to be: fluffy, puffalumpable and absolutely delicious. Best of all, they don’t fall apart and crumble before your eyes. It’s even easy to spread the honey butter.
Desserts include a chocolate whoopie pie, the state of Maine’s official state treat. We passed on having whoopie in the restaurant, opting instead for the handpie of the day. Could it be Coloradans can’t spell or pronounce empanada because that’s what the apple handpie wound up being? Call it handpie or call it empanada, it’s one of the best apple pies we’ve had in our travels. The crescent-shaped pie was tender, flaky and brimming with sweet apples. Vanilla ice cream (even if not served a la mode) is a must. Not only does the cold play well against the hot pie, it adds a different sweet and creamy dimension.
Though our inaugural visit was somewhat tainted by chicken so salty it pursed our lips, overall our experience at The Post was a very nice one we hope to repeat. We were well taken care of by our server Lazaro, his sister Loretta and their sweet mother with whom I spoke Spanish. Surely “Colorado-style” chicken doesn’t mean salty chicken.
The Post Chicken & Beer
333 East Wonderview
Estes Park, Colorado
Website | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 June 2023
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Half Chicken Dinner, Deviled Eggs, Brussels Sprouts, Cheddar Biscuits, Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream