The Gopher Hole pub is a bar and entertainment venue open to the public and available to rent for private parties up to 200. Its original bar was the first in Flagstaff and was removed during Prohibition. Newly renovated, the Gopher Hole opened to the public on the 4th of July, 2014. Join us in this classic basement bar for drinks, food and a cozy atmosphere! The Gopher Hole has a game room with billiards tables, darts, Big Buck Hunter and ping pong as well as a real wood fireplace that burns in the winter months. Open daily from 4PM til close, the Gopher Hole also has live entertainment Friday and Saturday nights (check our calendar for details).
The History & Restoration of the Gopher Hole
Glass medicine bottles, old nickels and drink tokens are among the remnants of Flagstaff history unearthed from the basement of the historic Weatherford Hotel as the owners brought back The Gopher Hole Pub in a monumental restoration project and grand re-opening in July of 2014.
The Gopher Hole existed in the 1930s, reportedly welcomed by the town following Prohibition and in the midst of the Great Depression. Historian and Pioneer Museum Curator Joe Meehan says the community had a thirst for such an establishment. “Flagstaff was never a strongly alcoholic town, but once it (alcohol) became legal, everybody enjoyed it.”
In fact, he says, the Nackards, of Fred Nackard Wholesale Beverage Co., had a motto on the side of their truck that stated: Flagstaff’s Best Friend Since Prohibition. Fred, along with his wife, Monica, was issued one of the state’s first wholesale spirituous liquor licenses. It is now the longest continually operated wholesale liquor license in Arizona.
Before the opening of bars and saloons, Meehan says there were bootleggers all around Flagstaff with illegal stills operating in the forest. “Moonshine was not always the safest kind of alcohol. It was a boiled raw form of whiskey.”
He says federal agents, called “Blind Pigs” were sent into the community to attempt to buy illegal alcohol. They would take notes about how much whiskey they found and where they got it. Meehan says they worked in teams, storing the alcohol in hotel rooms at the Weatherford and Hotel Monte Vista before transferring it to the county attorney’s office.
“One agent would guard the stash while others would try to buy some more,” said Meehan. “When they felt they had enough evidence they would raid the locations where the moonshine was made.”
Few locals can say they remember those days, but Flagstaff’s longtime piano teacher Betty Lou Cummings (whose maiden name was Betty Lou Decker) was playing the piano during the ceremony marking the closing of the Gopher Hole and the opening of the American Legion.
On Sept. 3, 1943, The Coconino Sun described how the Gopher Hole was replaced by the American Legion. “The old Gopher Hole, in the basement of the Weatherford Hotel, officially succumbed to progress Wednesday evening when approximately 300 members of Mark A. Moore Post number 3, American Legion, members of the Legion auxiliary and invited guests gathered to officially open the modernized Legion Club, a monument to the enterprise of those who planned it and those whose liberal cooperation have made it possible, and a boon to Legion members and the boys in the V-12 training unit at Flagstaff College.”
The report goes on to describe the event that lasted from 8 p.m. to midnight. “Entertainment for the evening was furnished by the V-12 orchestra, with Miss Betty Bell delighting the assemblage with three vocal numbers, accompanied by Miss Betty Lou Decker, Mrs. Ole Solberg acted as chairman of the reception committee and members of the auxiliary served punch.”
“I always loved music,” says Cummings, who has taught thousands of Flagstaff youth to play piano in the Flagstaff Unified School District, at Northern Arizona University and at Coconino Community College. “I taught them using the Middle C Approach.”
At 89 years old, Cummings recalls enjoying 4th of July parades from the Weatherford Hotel and also participating in the parade. “I rode on the front of the car hood. Mother was holding me and Daddy drove the car.”
The Gopher Hole Pub re-opened in July 2014 as the latest milestone in the nearly 40-year restoration project at the Weatherford Hotel.
“It has the atmosphere of a 1920s speakeasy-style game room,” said hotel co-owner Sam (Pamela Green) Taylor.
With its original street-level windows and massive stone archways, the new Gopher Hole offers comfort food and games like billiards, darts and ping pong. It is accessible from the outside, as well as the inside, and showcases Flagstaff’s first bar that was set up after Prohibition ended in 1933.
“We are finally getting to a point where the building will be functional everywhere and designed in the spirit that it was intended,” said Sam.
Businessman John W. Weatherford opened the elegant hotel on New Year’s Day 1900. It had many owners throughout the years and was deteriorating. Henry Taylor bought the building in1975 to save it from demolition. He turned it into a hostel and then brought in bands to attract crowds and generate revenue to pay the mortgage.
Since that time, Henry and Sam have worked to restore the building inside and out, from the infrastructure to the wrap-around balconies, from the basement to the crowning cupola. They celebrated the hotel’s 100-year anniversary with the first New Year’s Eve Great Pinecone Drop on Dec. 31, 1999, ringing in the New Year and the new century. Since then, the Great Pinecone Drop has become a beloved Flagstaff tradition.
“These two have done more than anyone else to restore the downtown and I truly appreciate their dedication and refusal to quit until the entire job is done,” said Flagstaff historian Dick Mangum.
Photos from the restoration: