ELKO — Participants on the walking tour of Basque establishments during the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering started to notice a theme: Many of the historic and modern Basque venues were or are bars.
The tour was ushered by Jess Lopategui — a native of Spain who immigrated to Elko in 1957 to herd sheep before embarking on a long career as a blacksmith. He also supported the Basque community as a founding member of the Basque Club.
Local historian Jan Petersen strode alongside the venerable volunteer, chiming in with details and answering questions on topics such as prostitution. She noted that prostitution and sheep herding were two of the state’s oldest enterprises.
Visitors and guests embarked from the Western Folklife Center to view sites such as the DCL Gallery & the Gallery Bar; J.M. Capriola Co.; the location of the former Palace Bar at Fifth and Silver streets; Ogi Deli, formerly the Bar L; Machi’s restaurant; the Silver Dollar club, which was once a bank; Dreez, the former restaurant of Basque chef Ramon Zugazaga; the former Telescope Hotel, now The Blind Onion and bowling alley, where the first state handball championship was held in 1907; Luciano’s Italian restaurant and bar, once the Nevada Hotel; and The Star Hotel, a longstanding Basque restaurant and boarding house.
As Lopategui mentioned the history of each building and establishment, those in the crowd at first smiled or laughed to themselves about how many Basque establishments had bar service in their pasts. But as the tour went on, they gained an understanding and respect for how much Basque residents have contributed to the stockmen’s and mining town of Elko.
Tourists also learned that in Basque, “ogi” means “bread” and “machi” means “grandma,” as Lopategui translated words and uttered the names of past and present Basque residents with fluency and fondness. Dates and occurrences from the 1960s and before rolled off his tongue as though talking about family — and in some cases, he was.
Heads nodded as listeners began to connect names, events and locations, including the recognizing the surname of Ogi Deli’s owner: Lopategui, the tour guide’s son.
The walking tour of downtown Basque establishments appears again on the Cowboy Poetry Gathering schedule at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 2, and walkers meet at the Western Folklife Center’s Pioneer Saloon.