Nellie E Saloon features Greek food and laid-back entertainment / ©Leigh Spigelman

Desert Gyro Hideaway

Low-key desert grill with views worth the dirt road ride

BYMonica Surfaro Spigelman
In the mood for a bumpy road to a playful and tasty destination? The Nellie E Saloon (Desert Bar) is a lively outpost just north of Parker, Arizona, calling adventurers to satisfy their appetites after a slow and rolling trek into the Buckskin Mountains.
 
Situated on an old mining camp, this cash-only eatery and entertainment venue draws all types, from dirt bikers and seniors to families and hipsters. Open only October through April on Saturdays and Sundays, it was established in 1983 by former Parker snack bar owner Ken Coughlin. He started by hauling water to his tiny bar from a tank loaded on his truck. Thankfully, he located a well in the canyon and began building his unique, sustainable, and completely solar-powered complex, which consists of funky buildings made from oddball paraphernalia and repurposed materials.
 
Expect a Greek twist to good food, expertly prepared by Nick Litras, who has operated the solar-powered kitchen at Nellie E Saloon for four years. Litras serves up fare that includes a savory selection of appetizers, Greek or all-American sandwiches, and creative burgers. Start with a towering gyros fries platter. Then move on to the overstuffed Big Mama burger, piled with bacon, cheese, pork, and other sauced-up accompaniments. 

All About Entertainment
At this multilevel hideaway, the entertainment is as much about the unusual architecture, music, and food as it is about the remarkable landscape. Among the buildings there’s a cartoonishly tiny church, complete with spire, and a ceiling made of stamped tin. A covered bridge leads you to the main complex, which is staged with antique cars and memorabilia. 
 
At the main building, sit near the bar to be close to an impressive, swinging lineup of country and rock bands, or next to the dance floor for a quick boot scoot. Upstairs offers quieter tables to take in the amazing scenery. 
 
Nellie’s is one of those rare places where you can play horseshoes beside stunning scenery, or line dance over to a plate of nachos. Visitors love its grittiness, personable hosts, and hearty food. At 6 p.m., the crowd clears and a friendly crew packages up recyclables. It’s not your everyday burger joint … and we hope it never changes.
MONICA SURFARO SPIGELMAN enjoys writing about the nature, arts, peoples, and cultures of the Southwest.
If You Go
Getting there: Nellie’s is 5 miles off Cienega Springs Road, off AZ State Route 95 just north of Parker, Arizona. The dusty, rutted road is passenger car drivable. Check your tires before making the trek; if you’re in a sedan, be prepared to drive 10 miles per hour for the dusty journey. Bring water and a camera! 
 
The details: Nellie’s is cash only and open only October through April on Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. The Desert Bar is open New Year’s Eve (if it falls on the weekend) and hosts a Desert Dash run/walk/bike ride for charity on President’s Day weekend in February. Get more information at thedesertbar.com.
 
 
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Find out about more Arizona trips by visiting AAA.com or calling your local AAA Travel agent toll-free at 1-888-870-9392.
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