Robbie Johnson

Robbie Johnson says restoring the bar “by peeling back the layers to find the bare bones, we were able to restore the soul of The Lariat. It’s such a beautiful building, and it has the mining and railroad history of the valley right here in the brick, the woodwork and the spirit of the place.”

She may not have a back bacon recipe on the menu, but this Canadian-born entrepreneur did bring Poutine to the menu at the newly renovated restaurant/bar The Lariat.

Robbie Johnson, who co-owns the establishment with her husband Court says, “Poutine is a French-Canadian version of hand cut fries smothered in Guinness peppercorn gravy and toppings. It sticks to your ribs.

“It’s comfort food, and that’s what we aim to do at The Lariat. We want our menu enriched with home-style recipes that are delicious and affordable.”

Johnson says that when they partnered with head chef Tom Campbell, they were able to do just that. “Tom has been all-in with our vision and created a fabulous menu that brings food in season from our local farmers.”

Johnson says now that the business has thrived for the past year, she is so appreciative of the community support.

“I think a few folks may have been worried we would try to Vail-ify the old bar; that we would strip the soul from the building. But instead, by peeling back the layers to find the bare bones, we were able to restore the soul of The Lariat,” she says. “It’s such a beautiful building, and it has the mining and railroad history of the valley right here in the brick, the woodwork and the spirit of the place. It’s a gathering place for community. It’s a place to celebrate, share, connect, listen to music and eat good food.”

Being community minded has been the journey that Johnson has walked throughout her life. As a history buff, she received a degree in political science and went on later to work in advertising for a number of years.

While raising her family, she discovered that being involved in her kids’ activities, that there were needs in community space and programming and she jumped right in to help.

“You know, it’s one thing to recognize there are needs and to complain about them. But, it’s much more productive to become part of a solution.”

She volunteered where she saw the need in parks, in programming, in event planning and even fundraising.

“Partnering with people helps to make things happen,” she says.

In 2006, Johnson met Court while in Beaver Creek. “We dated long distance for some time,” she says.

“Six years ago we rented a little cabin at The Ranch of the Rockies and one day needed groceries and wanted to play tennis. So in our search for the store and tennis courts, as we drove down the road and reached True Value, we wondered, did we miss the town?” So, they made their way back and fell in love with the people, views and discovered the nearby hot springs. “What a little paradise,” she says.

“A few years later, we were able to make our way back to Mayberry, and discovered the emergence of a new energy. New businesses were popping up and we really liked what we felt and saw,” she says.

When they discovered The Lariat was for sale, they were in. Johnson says, “Court had spent 15 years on the road with two of his older sons, who were in a rock band. So he had a good idea of a vision for The Lariat.”

They got to work, and in due time the transformation was complete. “The Lariat was no longer a bar but a meeting place. “This year has exceeded our expectations.”

Johnson says that she appreciates the collaboration of the businesses on East Main Street.

“We are really growing organically. It’s so cool that people can stroll down the street and listen to music in one venue, stroll on to have dinner in another venue, stop in at another for a drink and more music. We are all in this together; we rise and fall together.”

The Lariat offers a variety of music that appeals to different groups on different nights.

“Our vision is that Buena Vista will become a mecca for musicians. We should be a destination. It’s a wonderful community to decompress in; the vibrancy and life of the town can be an unexpected delight for visitors.”

Then there is Darby, the beautiful 3-year-old golden retriever that warmly welcomes guests to The Lariat, and can often be seen at the feet of Court enjoying a morning cup of coffee at the Buena Vista Roastery.

Johnson says, “There are dog-loving people in Buena Vista. Darby is just as interested in the people as they are in him. Dogs are ice-breakers, too,” she says. “No one remembers my name, but they all remember Darby.”

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