For over 100 years, Central City’s Casino Bar has been the go-to place for all the locals.
Just like the famous sitcom “Cheers,” the small bar is known as the place where everyone knows your name and where locals spend their free time after a long day at work.
You can always find a new friend, have a drink or even get into a fight (if you’re unlucky).
Meet Duck, the legendary bartender at Casino Bar
For the last 50 years, Donald “Duck” Haltnier, the friendly bartender with a great sense of humour, took good care of the Casino Bar. Unfortunately, he decided it’s time to retire in April 2021.
“I should have been a doctor. I had a lot of patients,” said Duck in an interview for BHPioneer.
For Central City locals, Donald has been their little piece of heaven for a long while. For Duck, the bar represents the most essential part of his life.
As a child, he would visit the bar to grab a bucket of beer for his miner dad and bring it home to the old train depot. Just as he remembers, full of nostalgia:
“You know that song “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” by Hank Williams? That was invented because people would send their kids to get a bucket full of beer and take it home.”
On July 25, Matson is throwing a retirement party for Duck. Everyone is invited for free burgers, hot dogs, and a chance to swap some stories, jokes and tales from his 50 years as a bartender.
The origins of Lumpy’s Casino Bar
The bar was found in 1888, and it quickly becomes the central meeting place for the locals, who were primarily miners digging for gold. In fact, Central City was once larger than Deadwood and Lead.
From the early days, the location was called “Casino Bar,” although, according to Justin “Lumpy” Mattson, the current owner, the bar was never a legal gambling establishment.
“It’s anything but a casino. They used to play cards here back in the day.”
According to Duck, Chuck Charles, the previous owner, was running an illegal blackjack table in the bar’s back, despite constant warnings from the sheriff. They’ve also had the first slot machines and the original video poker terminals that have a long and exciting history.
Obviously, they had them before the US government requested casinos to have a license to operate legally, but that didn’t stop the owners, who were hoping that nobody would check. Nowadays, they still have slot machines and
The bar had several owners throughout the years, but many of the great stories come from the 30-year period when John Daniels owned it and adorned the bar top with 967 silver dollars.
“What they did is they drilled holes and froze the dollars to but them in, and they stuck when they expanded, of course,” said Duck.
”There was nothing over the bar top, no covering or anything. So, as the years passed, they were quickly wearing down. Some tourists even tried to take one of those silver dollars out with a pocket knife. Johnny always had a pistol over the bar, so he shot over his head a half a dozen times. The bullet holes are left there as a memory. Then, he threw him the dollar and told him to get out and never return.”
The Casino Bar traditions
While the 967 silver dollars origin story alone is cool enough, more local traditions are tied to the Casino Bar.
For instance, the bar’s walls are decorated with hundreds of wooden plaques dating as far back as the early 1900s. For over 100 years, the patrons could buy the plaques and write down their names and a date they wanted to commemorate.
When Daniels owned the bar, the plaques also had a silver dollar until he decided to replace them with Eisenhower coins.
”Some of them carved the date they turned 21, their birthday or when they moved to this area of the country,” said Mattson. “Most of the plaques had a real silver dollar in them, but when the dollars were taken out of the bar top, they also took them all out from the signs.”
Nowadays, the Casino Bar is a friendly location where people from Wharf, Sandford Lab and Deadwood casino workers gather for a relaxing evening. However, according to older folks, the bar used to have a different reputation:
“It used to be really rough. I had many friends, and I would tell them to go to the Casino, but they didn’t want because they were afraid of fights. It was a rough place in the 1950s, as the miners and loggers didn’t get along too well.”
Fights used to be a regular thing, having 10 to 12 locals involved. The usual reason was that someone was down there drinking with someone else’s wife while the husband was working at Homestake. If the husband would get off early and find his wife drinking with another guy, he would immediately attack him. Then his friend would join, and the scandal would escalate. Also, there were no cops during those days, so it could only end with one of the sides winning. After the fight was over, they would buy each other drinks like nothing ever happened. It was just like the Wild West.
More details about Central City
Lumpy’s Casino Bar may be one of the main attractions of Central City, but there are more things you should know about this small, beautiful city.
Located in Lawrence County, South Dakota, the city has a population of approximately 134 people (according to the 2010 census). Central City is a mining town that was found in 1877 during the Black Hills Gold Rush period.
The city’s total area is 0.15 square miles on land, and its population lowered by 90% since the mining golden ages have ended.
The bottom line
Although Central City is so tiny, it has a great vibe that you rarely find in the larger cities. The locals know each other well, and they’re extremely friendly to visitors.
This is definitely a great place to add to your bucket list, even though you won’t usually find it in mainstream travel articles.
If you want to go for a more eccentric vacation, you should visit Central City. Don’t forget to grab a beer at Lumpy’s Casino Bar and listen to some fantastic stories told by the locals.