WyoFile ran a colorful story about the legendary Occidental Hotel in Buffalo. A comment submitted by Steve Voiles, former Buffalo resident, lamented the omission of reference to the Busy Bee Café, an historical landmark which rivaled the Occidental in legend, although perhaps more recent legend. The Busy Bee, a tiny diner with 12 stools, shared a wall with the Occidental and hung out, literally, above Clear Creek, which flows through the center of downtown. Steve, whom I have not seen in 15 or 20 years, makes some historically significant points, to which I will add the following.
The Busy Bee occupied a minute corner of land with the Occidental Hotel to the north, empty space (literally) to the west, the Main Street bridge to the east and the aforementioned hanging deck over the occasionally flood-prone Clear Creek in Buffalo, Wyoming.
Bits of history about the Busy Bee:
The bridge, a wide one, was often touted as the only bridge in the USA where motorists could make a legal U-turn. Not any more.
The Voiles family lived a block down the hill from the manse (Congregational) in Buffalo, which is where I grew up. Steve went off to Macalester College in 1966 or 1967, and I went there in 1969. Although we had friends in common, we saw little of each other. He had a really cute little sister, Christy. She got married and was living in Buffalo in the 1980s, where she is now.
Hollis Voiles, Steve’s dad, was a sturdy fellow with an efficient multi-tasking manner and a gruff demeanor. He ran the place like a grumpy proprietor of a Jewish deli. No matter; It was absolutely worth standing in line for his burgers and hash browns. I would go there at 11:30 a.m. to avoid the rush, except that the other people doing the same thing were already making up the rush. People crammed into the space, waiting for a stool. At least it was a social opportunity.
Hollis perceived no need to moderate his opinions, be politically correct, or even be polite. I lived 13 miles out of town in the late 1980s and sometimes I would get up really early, drive into town and show up at the Busy Bee at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m., while Hollis was simultaneously making breakfasts, entertaining customers and setting stuff up for lunch. Hollis knew me from my childhood in the late 1960s and of course he knew I was a lawyer. He entertained the guests with inquiries about why a lawyer would get up so early; He must be trying to pad his billable hours or screw somebody.
Steve’s mother made the best pies in the known universe. Cream pies, apple pies, peach pies, pecan pies. People would stand in line for the pies. I wish I had owned a camera then. OMG.
When we moved to Buffalo after I left the Attorney General’s office in 1985, Kate, my spouse, took Matt, our son, to the Busy Bee one morning. Blair Klein, a local attorney whose company I miss, pointed out the young lad (11 years old) to Hollis, declaiming in bold basso profundo, “This is this lad’s first visit to the Busy Bee!” Hollis, playing up the momentous event, asked Matt what he would like. “Hash browns, ham and a short stack, please.” Matt plowed through half of the world’s largest pile of potatoes, 1/2 inch thick ham and two of the largest hot cakes ever seen, finally giving up, then to suffer a round of good-natured teasing.
Jim Hicks, former publisher of the Buffalo Bulletin, quite a wit, wrote about the Busy Bee and the sitting bench located on the Main Street bridge just south of the Busy Bee. Jim’s nom de plume was a fictional Swedish sawmiller named Sagebrush Sven, whose column, a weekly favorite in the Bulletin, ranged from predictably amusing to sometimes side-splitting hilariously funny. Sven referred to the Busy Bee, the center of town at lunchtime, as The Lazy Fly, while the group frequenting the bench was, of course, the Bench Sitters. Local politics, national politics, Hollis Voiles’ remarks, the weather; all were fair game for commentary by Sven and the Bench Sitters.
In the late 1980s the Library Board applied for a Farm Loan Board grant to build a much-needed new library in Buffalo. The entire board and a few supporters traveled to Cheyenne for a board meeting. My spouse went along. She grew up in a medium-sized Catholic family in Casper, alongside the Murphys and the Sullivans, so she knew her way around that community. Jack Sidi, then the State Auditor, had been her French teacher in high school. Kathy Karpan, a good friend, was the Secretary of State. Mike Sullivan was the Governor. Lynn Simons, another good friend, was Superintendent of Public Instruction. Kate had a good time introducing the Library Board members around the Capitol Building and the Hathaway Building. But the highlight of the program was when the library director presented the Governor with one of Helen Voiles’ pies. A year later volunteers were standing in the streets passing books to the new library.
I remember one spring in the mid-1960s when Clear Creek was on the verge of flooding; huge runoff came roaring into Buffalo. The water was just inches below the overhanging substructure of the Busy Bee and inches below the Main Street bridge, too. I was in junior high school, and I thought it was all going to wash away. That did not happen then, but the Busy Bee is gone, nonetheless. There are businesses and institutions which are created by families and they live and die with those families. The Busy Bee was one of those.
If I had ever had electoral aspirations, my best strategy would have been to go down to the Voiles’ house and get Helen, the world’s best pie maker, to endorse me. Many political wannabes had the same idea. Campaigning at the Busy Bee was de rigueur for candidates local and statewide.
So Steve, I hope that we have now started to fill that gap in the Occidental Hotel/downtown Buffalo story. Jim Hicks, Blair Klein, others; do you want to chip in with more stories about the Busy Bee? There are plenty of them.
Meanwhile, I moseyed over to Buffalo a few weeks ago to find that someone had rebuilt, reinvented the Busy Bee. The back bar is pretty fancy, the tables are nicer, the prices are higher. The coffee was good and the lunchtime fare was well received.
But I heard this gruff voice in the background: What are yuppies doing in my restaurant? And why is that Cox guy back in town? Whose bill is he padding?