By: Nick Perkins
I took one last walk.
For the past 3 years, I’ve lived in an apartment building in Downtown Casper. It had been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to live in that building, as it reminded me of a building one would see in New York City. It was old, architecturally sound and very, very tall. It had character and probably a thousand stories to tell. Even better, it was upstairs from a local deli (Sandwich Bar represent!). I always wanted to live in that building and, for a handful of years, I did just that. The best part of the building was that it was right in the middle of downtown, the heart of The District.
For years, Casper’s downtown area was seen as ‘dumpy.’ It was somewhere that your parents warned you not to find yourselves in after dark. Though it had a few bars, a movie theater and an old-timey Italian restaurant, downtown was still viewed to be ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’
That all changed a few years ago. A select group of innovators saw the potential in Downtown Casper, and they wanted to turn it into a destination spot for tourists and locals alike. Places like Yellowstone Garage and The Office Bar & Grill reinvented themselves. They started featuring more local bands, musicians and artists. ART 321 began hosting ‘Art Walks,’ that brought attention to all of the unique boutiques that lined the downtown streets. New establishments, like the David Street Station and The Gaslight Social were created and they very quickly became highlights of the downtown district.
Undoubtedly, the Eclipse Festival in 2017 played an enormous part in the popularity of downtown. People from all across the world gathered on our humble town for what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But the businesses in The District didn’t want downtown to be a hot spot just once. They wanted it to be a destination for weeks, months, years to come.
So, they gathered together and got to work.
That work has resulted in a flourishing district that features multiple events, every night and year-round. It’s home to coffee shops and restaurants and bars and art galleries and outdoor concert venues and so much more. Downtown Casper has grown so much in such a short amount of time and it’s been a true highlight of my life to see the town I grew up in turn into such a safe place for culture, diversity, artists and the arts.
I used to spend hours upon hours walking around The District. Whether there was an event going on or not, I would meander past all of the businesses, looking in windows and sometimes going inside for a cup of coffee. It was not just the businesses I loved about Casper District- it was the people who made up those businesses. And really, that’s the most important aspect of Downtown Casper- the people. It was the people who made this all possible and it is the people who will continue to make it possible one last time.
As I was packing up my apartment for a new adventure, I decided to take a break from wrapping boxes and trying to find a place for everything. I needed the break, too. Moving is stressful. So, I did what I always used to do when I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
I took one last walk.
My walk first leads me to David Street. The David Street Station, constructed in conjunction with the Eclipse Festival, became a beacon in The District. It offers movie nights, concerts, and a host of other events year-round. During the Christmas season, the David Street Station brings in a huge Christmas tree and places right in the center, surrounded by an ice-skating rink.
For a long time, one of my favorite things to do at night was to look out the window at its glistening lights. Sometimes, late at night, I would even walk around inside, taking in the beauty of the architecture and the spirit of what the building signified. It really is a beacon- a lighthouse of The District, guiding all of us to its glow.
I would walk there again on this night, letting the silence overwhelm me in its dichotomy from even just a few hours earlier. Then, there was music and laughter and fellowship, and the sounds echoed throughout downtown. But now? Now it’s just me and the silence.
Walking a little further, I find myself in front of the Yellowstone Garage. This was truly the one that started it all. Way before art walks and summer movie nights and concerts, there was John Huff and his Yellowstone Garage, rocking the block every Thursday night and showing Casper just how boisterous the downtown area could be. It was Huff who first saw the potential of Downtown Casper and it was he who would make Thursdays the new Fridays with Rock the Block. The rest of downtown would follow shortly thereafter.
I circle back around to Ash Street and saunter over to The Gaslight Social. This was, for a while, the ‘new kid in town,’ but it didn’t take long for it to ingratiate itself to the community and stand out amongst its peers. Yes, The Gaslight is a bar. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a bar, a restaurant, an arcade and more. It hosts concerts, fundraisers, parties and a host of other events and get-togethers.
I have a love/hate relationship with The Gaslight. On one hand, it’s such an incredible venue full of amazing bartenders and servers. It’s owned by a great family who have poured a lot of money into the community. And it has Pac-Man. On the other hand, I made the mistake of going to the place on my 30th birthday, which happened to be a night that my ex-girlfriend was working there. She ended up serving me nachos and then making out with some dude right behind me, thus ruining the milestone day.
It hurt then, but I smile now, in spite of myself. That’s just pretty much how my life goes.
I roll my eyes and move on, coming to Urban Bottle. This ‘Liquor Store Love Story’ has all the makings of a classic tale. It’s got history, trials, tribulations, victories and defeats. Like most businesses in The District, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to UB. What once started out as a mere liquor store turned into a tasting room, a concert hall and a place to write your own love story. Urban Bottle has catered numerous events in The District and beyond, but it’s the store itself that has firmly cemented itself as a true highlight of The District.
Speaking of highlights of The District, we’re not even sure The District would exist if it weren’t for The Art Walk, put on by ART 321 and the Casper Artist’s Guild. ART 321 is a gallery of ideas, featuring paintings, photographs, sculptures and more. It is a stage in which local artists can showcase their work, sell their work and immortalize themselves in the annals of the Casper art scene. The Art Walk, especially, is an opportunity for local businesses and individuals to come together and offer their talents to the community. Every Thursday in the summer, there would be music, games, food trucks, and a slew of other activities that welcomed the community to gather together in fellowship. The Art Walk is what made The District a destination, and it will only continue to grow in the coming years.
As I continued my own art walk, I stopped for a moment at The Office Bar & Grill. Out of every other business downtown, it was The Office that was most supportive of The Casper District and what we’re trying to do. Jim and Karen Kanelos are the anchors of The District and they are two of the sweetest, kindest, most giving people I have ever met. That aside, their bar and grill is a great venue that serves almost any purpose. For those who like to have fun but get overwhelmed when surrounded by hoards of people, The Office is a perfect venue to wet your whistle and feed your soul. With events like Singo Bingo, karaoke every weekend and the NFL Sunday Package, there is no better place to spend some time than The Office.
I stop walking for a moment and take one last glance at the place. I went to Karen and Jim’s since it had actually been called ‘Karen & Jim’s.’ I was there when it was adorned with movie memorabilia and that’s what first made me fall in love with the place. Many drunken nights were spent singing my heart out during karaoke. I’m pretty I started and ended relationships in the place. I definitely threw up a time or two. During that time, I got to see the love that Karen and Jim had- for each other and for their customers.
I actually get a bit misty-eyed thinking about those times. I never thought that Karen and Jim would become friends of mine, but I am so glad they did. Yeah, The Office is probably my favorite joint in The District. It may be called The Office, but if there’s any place in The District that feels like home, it’s Karen and Jim’s.
I start walking again and glance at all of the other incredible businesses. There’s The Science Zone, The Sand Trap, Frosted Topps and more. Frosty’s Bar & Grill is, for my money, the best self-professed ‘dive bar’ in town. Scarlow’s Gallery is, quite possibly, the most gorgeous building in The District and it features some of the coolest, most diverse art you will ever see. Plus, it serves delicious coffee.
Speaking of coffee, Metro Coffee Co. is the coolest coffee shop in town and that is a hill I have no problem dying on. Not only is the venue itself awesome (as are the baristas), it’s also an amazing stage for Casper’s young people. Metro puts on weekly shows for Casper’s budding musicians, poets, comics and more. It is a safe place for artists to experiment and it’s one of the first (only) places I ever tried to be a musician as well. Metro was here long before Downtown Casper became ‘cool,’ and, back then, it added some much-needed culture to an otherwise bland location.
The District is full of culture now. It’s full of music and laughter and friendship and food. It’s full of art. Mostly, it’s full of people now. And it’s those people who I am going to miss most as I move out of my apartment, eager to walk down other roads, find other businesses and support other local arts and artists.
I decide to start walking back, now. I don’t know where my path will take me or where I’ll end up walking. But wherever I go, and with whatever I do, I will always keep a piece of Downtown Casper in my heart. The District is home, that’s all.
And home is where the art is.
For a full list of the businesses of The District, visit our Facebook Page.