There are many excellent bars in Lake Havasu City where you can get a drink, unwind or party, but there is only one bar in the area where you can also walk away with an appreciation for the artsy, quirky funk of the lower Sonoran Desert that is unique to any place on earth.
That place is the Nellie E. Saloon, commonly known as the Desert Bar, located near Parker in the heart of the Buckskin Mountains just 30 minutes away.
The Desert Bar is getting ready to shake off the dust after a being closed for Arizona’s triple-digit summer. Opening day is Saturday, Oct. 5, with the band Sidewynder scheduled to kick off the season.
After a long day riding around the desert, the Desert Bar is a welcome oasis. The smell of smoke and burgers greet visitors as they enter the saloon, and patios and gazebos allow plenty of seating. The bar is seated in the Buckskin Mountains, near Parker, on an old mining camp. There’s beer available, but this place is BYOC – bring your own cash. Credit card readers aren’t available this far out into the wilderness.
It’s a favorite place for families. There are no televisions, nor overly loud music and dancing. Live music plays from 1 to 5 p.m. each day. The bar closes at 6 p.m. and is only open from the first weekend of October through the last weekend of March. The outhouses at the Desert Bar come with expansive views of desert mountains and the off-road trails that the four-wheelers drive in on.
History of the Desert Bar
Ken Coughlin, founder of this saloon, built the Desert Bar at the site of an old copper mining camp in 1975. Although all remnants of the original camp are gone, its spirit lives; its parking lot is located directly on the site where the mining camp once stood. At first, the saloon was a three-sided enclosed room, not much bigger than a small storage shed. Today, while maintaining its Old West character, Coughlin has expanded it substantially.
Unique and green
The inside of the saloon now boasts many vintage and one-of-a-kind features. Its windows are made out of old glass refrigerator doors, the bar stools are hand welded steel, and the ceiling is made of stamped tin. The saloon’s electrical supply is solar power. It’s cooled by a cooling tower that works like a swamp cooler without a fan. (By wetting the pads on top, cool air falls, creating a refreshing airflow.)
The saloon also has horseshoe pits and a bridge to get from the parking lot to the saloon.
Another novelty stands outside of the saloon – what appears to be a “church” rises from the desert floor, reflecting sunlight from the well-aged patina of its copper roof. However, upon closer inspection one learns the church is more of a facade than an actual structure.
There is no inside area. Constructed of solid steel with walls and ceilings made from stamped tin, plaques in the church bear the names of people who donated money to help build it, but no actual services are held here.
It simply provides a picture perfect backdrop with “Old West” appeal.
How to get there
Off-road enthusiasts who come to the Desert Bar via the “back way” also have the opportunity to experience the steep hills and beautiful desert scenery on the way. One can see the majestic wildlife and desert plants that give a true taste of Arizona, with its blue sky and rocky terrain, as well as old, abandoned mining shafts (be careful, as they are not maintained or clearly marked). For the off-road desert route (“the back way”), a four wheel drive vehicle is required.
From Lake Havasu City, travel south on Highway 95 for 25 miles until you reach Gas Market & Boat/RV storage on the left side of the highway between mile markers 156 and 155 . Watch for the giant chicken on the roof, and turn left into the driveway of the RV and Boat storage. Follow the road to the left into the narrow canyon. GPS 34.255558, -114.147963.
In about 0.3 miles, there will be a fork in the road at which you will see an information kiosk; turn left. A hill climb will follow. Desert landscape can sometimes have loose terrain and be hard to judge, so be extra careful. Keep going for 0.7 miles, and turn right at a sign marked HS 245. Another fork lies ahead at which you need to either go left over a steep hill or go around to the bottom of the hill and to the right. In about 1.3 miles, you will enter into a rocky wash. The route will take you directly south; stay on the established trail. In 3.3 more miles, you will climb a narrow, rocky shelf road; be extra cautious. Travel for about 4 miles until you see another information kiosk. Turn left at the last and final fork in the road at the signs marked “Gray Eagle Mine Trail.” You should see the saloon across the valley.
The last part of the journey goes by fast. Stay on the main trail, while making way into a winding wash. At 5.2 miles, you will come to a T in the road. Take a right, and follow the signs another 5.3 miles.
How to get there by car, aka “The Easy Way”
The Desert Bar is normally open Saturdays and Sundays only, from high noon to sundown, and on most holidays during the fall, winter and spring. The bar is closed during the hot summer months. Thanksgiving is the biggest weekend of the year and the bar is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with live bands on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
It’s only open one night of the year: New Year’s Eve — and that’s only if it falls on a weekend. The owner may change closing and opening dates/times at his descretion, so call ahead or check their website before heading out.