It would make for excellent bragging rights if we could claim that the Crazy Horse Saloon & Grill has been around since 1862. Actually, we’re only a spring chicken, having opened in December of 2012. However, the structure itself can lay claim to that Civil War-era birth date. The rise of this iconic establishment is shrouded in mystery. Fires were so common in those early days, all the early documentation has been wiped out. The first existing records of the building date back to 1885 when it was J.J. Jackson’s Grocery. He was the mayor of Nevada City and quite an interesting character so the stories go.
The Crazy Horse Saloon is located just a half block down from the border of what used to be a booming Chinatown. Sadly the whole neighborhood was destroyed by an arsonist’s fire in 1880. While it might not have been in Chinatown proper, the building seems to possess a notable – albeit subtle – essence of that culture. Additional historical records show that it continued as a grocery well past the turn of the century. In 1914 it was T.W. Sigourney Groceries & Provisions. Starting in 1948, its lineage as a restaurant began when it spent a couple years as Coral Lunch. Fittingly, at the dawn of the flower power decade in 1961, it was home to the Nevada City Florist.
Things changed dramatically in 1965 as the thread which links the past to the present began to be woven in earnest. Vincent Dallugge bought the place and fulfilled its destiny as a watering hole. He put his son Ray in charge of what was then called Chief Crazy Horse Inn and Trading Post Tavern. Quite a mouthful. Years before, Ray had spontaneously hopped on a horse to ride in a local parade while donning ceremonial Native American attire. The unprepared parade announcer coined him Chief Crazy Horse. The name stuck and it transferred over to the identity of his establishment.
The reputation was quickly cemented as a biker bar. Motorcycle enthusiasts roared into town from far and wide to visit the infamous haunt. Apparently some of them even rode their steel horses through the front door and parked inside. Ah the days of lawlessness. The identity of the business evolved, becoming Club Crazy Horse in 1968 and later adding the Old Frontier Dining Room into the mix. While a place of this sort inevitably had a rough edge, it was also a melting pot of fun-loving individuals much like Nevada City itself. Anyone who frequented the Horse from the 60’s through the 90’s tends to remember it fondly with a mischievous smile and far-away eyes.