Desert Bar will open for season on Oct. 5

  • 11
  • 3 min to read

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.


(11) comments


We have gone to the desert bar several times. We have always had a good time there. It is layed back, good music and friendly people. The food is not bad like some of the other comments were saying. It is a little bit pricey but, not out of control. They have basically bar food so, if you are looking for a gourmet meal this is not the place for you. If you are a outdoors person who likes good music and good drinks with good people well, I hope I run in to you the next time I go. The people that are bad mouting this place should probably just stick to the over priced night clubs.


HEW, good post. I have never been there so I can't comment. But if I did go there and didn't like it I wouldn't go back and if I did like it I would go back and if I had a good time with good folks like you I would go back again. Life can be simple. If folks would mind their own bisquits life would be gravy.


Has the restaurant health inspector ever been to this dump? What pray tell was the rating? Does a regular attendee like ROVR have this info or is food quality secondary? $18.50 for some cheap ground round they call a hamburger?


Shut – “HwyRovr” – “for” – “yourself” – “graduate” – “for” – “you” – “you” – “your”




Thank you for the correction and for not noting I had already offered the correction and my apology.


Oh boy the white folks are going to get sloshed and drive out of there all drunk onto highway 95.


Since I am white, do not drink and have been going there for nearly ten years your comment is pure BS.


Color has nothing to do with it, the snowbirds and off-roaders love this filthy, crude, dung heap with expensive marginal food/drinks and the atmosphere is as fake as that church façade. Most people are can not dress down enough, are embarrassed to say they visited this dirt hole and just do not pay a return visit.


"... people are can not..." Would you please translate this portion of you truly ignorant screed into English?


Hey ROVR, it is not difficult fer most readers but I will make an exception for those like yerself who did not gradiate from that one room school house . . . . just delete the word "are" from the sentence and it will read just fine Billy Bob. Should I also break that big word down fer ya too? Where would ya be without yer Phonics Flash Cards?[wink]

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.