Nevada City Advocate
It was a family affair when Bryce Lee, the owner of the Mine Shaft Saloon in Nevada City, celebrated 40 years in business last month. As one of the few decades-long commercial operations left in downtown Nevada City, the Mine Shaft has survived by keeping it fun.
“We’ve seen all sides of it both as observers and participants,” Lee said of the bar on Broad Street.
The anniversary was made sweeter because Lee’s daughter, Denise Yeager, made a surprise 15-hour road trip to help her father celebrate. Yeager, who owns a restaurant in Colville, Wash., is also the former owner of Citizen’s Pizza in Nevada City. She arrived with her sons Dylan, who owns the Kettle Falls Pub & Grub in Kettle Falls, Wash., and Derek, who is a facilities manager for Synergy, Inc. construction equipment shop in Woodinville, Wash. In addition to the anniversary, Lee marked his 80th birthday.
Denise’s daughter, Devon, was joining them later in their trip when she could take a couple days off from her Golden Gate National Park duties in San Francisco.
“We have been in the bar and restaurant business for three generations, starting with my great-grandfather who owned the Federal Club in Anchorage Alaska, which he bought with money he made from gold mining,” said Yeager. “The arched centerpiece of the Mine Shaft back bar is from that bar.
“My son, Dylan, performed here at the Mine Shaft with his Marine Corps Unit band on the patio four years ago during a Mardi Gras in town. The band was Dylan and three of his Marine Corps unit buddies, who were about to be dispersed,” she added.
It was the last time their band played together,” Lee said. “When Dylan and his buddies played on the patio that year. It was a highlight for me; it was a very special day and they did a great job.”
After 40 years Lee has many stories to tell, but he won’t.
“What happens at the Mine Shaft stays at the Mine Shaft,” he laughs. But there are some iconic traditions that started there. “Not long after I opened the bar, the sheriff’s department started sending just-released detainees to the Mine Shaft to get their jail checks cashed since they were releasing them at 5:30 a.m. and we opened at 6 a.m.,” says Lee. “Even though these guys weren’t allowed in a bar due to their probation, the sheriff’s office gave them permission to come in, cash their check and get out! No ever asked me if it was OK, and I never refused.”
Then there was the early 1980s and the happy hours at 8 a.m., complete with the late Chris Lewis playing piano. “I don’t think my regulars cared too much for it that early in the morning, but after a couple drinks, everyone seemed OK with it.”
For the past 20 years, Lee has hosted an annual Christmas Eve customer appreciation party from 6 to 9 p.m., where the food and drinks are on the house. “It costs me, but it’s the perfect time to thank all my customers for their business over the year.”
Lee has been generous over the years with his often-anonymous community service and financial support of local charitable and cultural organizations, including four years on the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He has employed such notable bartenders as Steve Cottrell, Chris Towne and, of course, the beloved local legend, Frannie, who has been with Lee for over 35 years.
What are Lee’s long-term plans? “Just keep living and keeping busy. I’m here every morning at 8 a.m. unless I’m on a road trip,” he said.
For more information on the Mine Shaft visit mineshaft.com or call 530-265-6310, or pop in 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week at 222 Broad St., Nevada City.
About the photo:
The family recently converged to help celebrate Bryce Lee’s 80th birthday and 40th anniversary of The Mine Shaft Saloon. From left: Denise, daughter; Dylan, grandson; Devon, granddaughter; and Derek, grandson.
Photo by Stacy Drake
Bryce beginning the transition from Red’s Corral to the Mine Shaft in 1979 after securing the location in 1978.