For 38 years — every day since Dec. 16, 1978 — Bryce Lee has been opening The Mine Shaft Saloon at 222 Broad St. in Nevada City.
He used to open his bar at 6 a.m. as a courtesy to the locals who would need to come in for some tried and true fresh-brewed $1 per cup Farmer Brothers Coffee to start their days.
These days he opens at 7 a.m., still serving the same $1 cup of coffee (free refills too) to a lot of the same people who are now retired but still come by in the mornings for conversation, the news and the coffee. Bryce’s credo: if it works, don’t fix it and keep it simple.
“The building is over 100 years old and was a meat market back in the day,” Bryce said. “In 1978, I took it over from Vernon Stovall and changed the name from Red’s Corral to The Mine Shaft and remodeled, cleaned it up and changed the image for the better. It was known as a real rough and tumble place before I had it.”
Before he had The Mine Shaft, Bryce was busy in the real estate industry in Alameda County, specifically Hayward. He would visit a couple times a year to see his dad, Rueben Lee, pitch horse shoes at the county fair and watch the
demolition derby. During those visits, he would do sightseeing in the area and frequently dined at the National Hotel, beginning in the early ‘70s.
“I just fell in love with the area during those visits and in 1976 I had the opportunity to be a partner in the Bank Club on Broad and Pine Streets, where the Fur Traders is now. I went into partnership with my brother and in 1978, I got away from the Bank Club and opened The Mine Shaft when I heard the building was for sale. That was Dec. 16, 1978. I’ve been here ever since,” says Bryce. “I wanted to buy the Mine Shaft because even though I was finished with the Bank Club, I wanted to stay here in Nevada City. I was born and raised in a small community and I liked the people here. I like the small-town connections you have with people, and I wanted to give the locals
a great place to relax with the best prices in town. We still have the best prices in town,” he says with a lot of well-deserved pride.
Something else Bryce says with a great deal of pride is “on Feb.6 I will be clean and sober for 14 years. I’m so happy I made that choice. Life is good.”
Bryce also has been a volunteer on the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce, but at age 78, single and living alone (he wanted me to add that hint
ladies) he now supports the Chamber, Friends of the Library, Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, to name a few, with generous donations. “I’ve always
supported the cultural and recreational aspects of our community, but these days I prefer to do it behind the scenes and be an observer,” he says.
But don’t get the idea that Bryce is slowing down. When he opens The Mine Shaft at 7 a.m., he’s greeting the public, meeting with liquor representatives, doing inventory, bookkeeping, payroll, ordering and taking delivery of the daily mail.
“I have a fantastic bar manager, Francisca Gallagher or Frannie as most locals know her. I quit bartending after the first 25 years and she has been the bar manager for over 30 years now,” Bryce says.
The Mine Shaft is a classic locals bar that tourists love, too. Bryce’s back bar belonged to his grandfather who owned a bar in Anchorage, Alaska, named the Federal Club.
The ornate back bar came around the horn on its way to Alaska.
Then there’s Sancho. The story of Sancho is both sad and happy. Sancho was a Guernsey steer and a family pet of the Smith family who lived on Empress Mine Road. In 1979, vandals shot Sancho repeatedly and he died. The family was heartbroken. Mr. Smith thought the thing to do was to have Sancho’s bust mounted in memory of their pet. When he brought the mounting home to place over the fireplace, Mrs. Smith couldn’t take the reminder, so he called Bryce to see if Sancho could have a home at the Mine Shaft. The rest is history and Sancho still greets each and every person who enters through the swinging doors at the Mine Shaft.
Other interesting things to look at are the funny photographs of nude, female bicyclists taken in Sweden, bare-bottomed girls on barstools, posters on the ceilings, hats, large screen TVs and a large patio that is kept warm and dry in the winter by heavy tarps and propane heaters.
Bryce also looks forward to his visits with his family, which consists of a daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren who live in Washington. His daughter, a former owner of Citizen’s Pizza on Broad Street, now has two popular bars and a very successful restaurant in Washington.
In the past, Bryce has dabbled in classic car collecting and has had in his possession a Model A ’29 Sport Coupe, ’57 Ford convertible Sunliner, ’60 Ford convertible Sunliner and a ’62 Thunderbird. Currently, his collection consists of a ’69 Buick convertible and a 2015 Jaguar XJL.
To learn more of the interesting history and story of The Mine Shaft, visit mineshaftsaloon.com. The Mine Shaft is open from 7 a.m. daily, including Sundays. For more information call 530-265-6310. See you at The Mine Shaft!