O’Briens Pub & Grill

01/09/15 | By |

726 Main Street, Ouray

Page20_Obriens_webSlainte. The word is Irish Gaelic, meaning health. In a bar, Slainte means “cheers.” Doesn’t it seem a lot like “slake”?

That is what you should visit O’Brien’s to do.

The bummer is that there is no actual O’Brien associated with this bar and pub, a Ouray fixture since 2007. The founders are Jen and Rick Smith, of Ridgway; present owners are Shawn and Robin Dill. But the spirit — as it were — of O’Brien’s remains strong. The restaurant’s website, for example, remains frozen on March 17 of last year, where it advertises “$3 pints of Guinness and $5 Irish Car Bombs served all day.” It’s as if the place still has a hangover from so much merrymaking. There’ll be no cure for that metaphorical partying this weekend, when O’Brien’s will surely be mobbed by throngs from the Ice Festival. How could it not be? Twenty Irish whiskies — from Connemara to Tullamore Dew — are available for your sipping pleasure, along with five whiskies from Colorado and 10 varieties of Scotch. A dozen beers are on tap, including, naturally, Guinness.

If you keep your expectations modest, the menu delivers, as well. You might start with a plate of Irish Nachos — corned beef and cabbage atop a pile of cross-cut fries, smothered with cheese — or Leprechaun Balls, “actual testicles harvested from Ireland’s little green people, battered and fried” — this according to a wag on Yelp, who recommended them. (The “balls” are actually crispy new potatoes, tossed in a spicy Buffalo wing sauce and sprinkled with cheese.)

There are numerous sandwiches here, including a classic Reuben, French dip and Corned Beef and Slaw. According to our waiter, who used to eat lunch here every day before coming to work at O’Brien’s, “you can’t go wrong with any of them.” Burgers are also on offer, both “classic” (available with cheese, mushrooms, and a Guinness barbecue sauce) and vegetarian black bean. “Pub specialties” include Fish & Chips, fried cod served with French fries or (a recommended substitution) terrifically lumpy-and red-skinned mashed potatoes; Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Bangers and Mash, spicy sausage with more of those good potatoes.

For dessert, go with O’Brien’s pretty-much-universally popular Bread Pudding.

But food is not the main reason to choose O’Brien’s (you might note the word Pub in front of the word Grill in the restaurant’s title). The place really shines on holidays, particularly St. Patrick’s Day; during big sports events, such as the Winter Olympics (which my husband and I enjoyed on three wide-screen TVs, packed in with dozens of others at the restaurant’s sparkling bar) and on holidays. It is the sort of warm, welcoming place you repair to to rehash the day’s exploits on a canyon wall; to host a fundraiser, which the Ouray Public Librarians have done for two years running; to hear live music. Indeed, where was a key member of the Ouray Brewery this past New Year’s Eve, but playing in a band at O’Brien’s? Which should tell you something.

Slainte to that.

O’Brien’s is open from 11 a.m. daily. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m.; the bar is open until 2 a.m.


Chief Ouray – A Man of Peace

Ute Chief Ouray-275

“We do not want to sell a foot of our land that is the opinion of our people. The whites can go and take the land and come out again. We do not want them to build houses here.”


Born near Taos, New Mexico, about 1833, Ouray would grow up to become the leader of the Uncompahgre band of the Ute tribe and known as a man of peace.

According to oral history passed down by Ute elders, he was born on a gloriously clear night when a magnificent display of meteor showers streaked across the black winter sky. The elders believed it was a sign; a message from above of good things to happen. The Utes were created by Sinawav  (the Creator) and were placed in the mountains.  The Sinawav told the people they would be few in number but, they would be strong warriors, and protectors of their lands.

Ouray’s mother was a member of the Uncompahgre band of Ute and his father, Guera Murah, was half Jicarilla Apache. Ouray grew up in the Taos area where Spanish and English were the prevalent languages and would not learn to speak the Ute and Apache languages until later in life. He spent most of his youth working for Mexican sheepherders and fighting against rival Sioux and Kiowa.

When he was about 18 Ouray traveled into Colorado, and became a member of the Tabeguache Ute band, where his father, despite his Apache heritage, had become the leader. In 1859, he married a Tabequache Ute maiden by the name of Chipeta, who was actually a Kiowa Apache who had been adopted by the Ute as a child.

When his father died in 1860, Ouray became chief of the Ute Indians, including the Uncompahgre band. In Ouray’s role as chief, he was considered one of the Utes’ greatest leaders with strong characteristics of patience and diplomacy. He was often referred to as “The White Man’s Friend,” as he sought to work with the white settlers and the government.

In October, 1863, Ouray negotiated a treaty in which the Tabeguache Ute were assigned a reservation, but, unfortunately for the Utes, the vast majority of their lands east of the Continental United States, ended up in government hands. In 1868, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent his people and was appointed “head chief of the Utes” by the government. A new treaty created reservation lands in Colorado for the Tabeguache, Moache, Capote, Wiminuche, Yampa, Grand River, and Uinta, but again, more land was relinquished.

Though Ouray always tried to secure the best possible conditions for his people while still remaining friendly to the whites, each subsequent treaty brought increasing losses of land for the Utes. For many Utes building resentments began to form and a number of attempts were made on Ouray’s life. However, he survived and maintained his conciliatory attitude.

With the discovery of gold in Colorado, conditions for the Ute changed dramatically as  gold and then silver miners flocked upon their lands. As a result, relations between the Indians and the whites deteriorated. In the spring of 1878, Nathan Meeker assumed the role of Indian Agent at the White River Agency. “Dictatorial” in his brand of management, Meeker undiplomatically tried to force the Ute to farm, raise stock, discontinue their pony racing and hunting forays, and send their children to school. Meeker, determined to convert the Ute from primitive savages to hard-working, God-fearing farmers, persisted in forcing his reforms, even when warned that he was making the Utes furious. But Meeker ignored the warnings and ordered that a horse racing track be plowed under to convert to farmland. He also suggested to one that there were too many horses, and that they would have to kill some of them. The Ute, whose land Meeker was plowing under, resisted and a fist-fight occurred.

As a result, Meeker wired for military assistance, claiming that he had been assaulted by the Ute man, driven from his home, and severely injured. The government responded by sending 200 troops led by Major T.T. Thornburgh.

However, perceiving this action as an “act of war,” the Utes revolted. On September 29, 1879, before the troops arrived, the Indians attacked the agency, burned the buildings, and killed Meeker and nine of his employees. The incident is known as the Meeker Massacre. Meeker’s wife, daughter, and another girl were held as captives for 23 days. After the massacre, relief columns from Forts Fred Steele and D. A. Russell, Wyoming, defeated the Utes in the Battle of Milk Creek, Colorado, and ended the uprising.

Though Ouray had sent orders to the Ute band involved in the attacks to stop, his orders were ignored. Afterwards, he did his best to keep the peace but it was too late. Area settlers demanded the Utes’ removal. One headline in the October 30, 1879 issue of Harpers Weekly screamed “The Utes Must Go.”

Ouray found himself explaining to his people why they must leave their land. On March 6, 1880, the Southern Ute and the Uncompahgre acknowledged an agreement to settle respectively on La Plata River and on the Grand near the mouth of the Gunnison, while the White River Ute agreed to move to the Uinta reservation in Utah.

In the summer of 1880, Ouray and his wife, Chipeta, journeyed to the Southern Ute agency at Ignacio with the intent to negotiate once again with the white man. Though Ouray completed the journey, he was a sick man by the time he arrived. He died of Brights Disease on August 24, 1880.

He was buried secretly at Ignacio. Chief Ouray’s obituary in The Denver Tribune read:

“In the death of Ouray, one of the historical characters passes away. He has figured for many years as the greatest Indian of his time, and during his life has figured quite prominently. Ouray is in many respects…a remarkable Indian…pure instincts and keen perception. A friend to the white man and protector to the Indians alike.”

Forty-five years later, Ouray was re-interred in the cemetery southeast of the White River Agency and the grave appropriately marked.


His wife, Chipeta, continued to work for the Utes. When sufficient agricultural land was not found for the Uncompahgre in southern Colorado, a new reservation was established in 1882. Chipeta then relocated to the reservation in northeast Utah, where she was highly valued and always sat in on the chief’s meetings. She passed away in 1924.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December, 2012.