Ton Vagneur: Southside Sal gives Rifle a shot |

Ton Vagneur: Southside Sal gives Rifle a shot

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It suddenly went black in a local juice joint, a shot rang out and before the lifeless corpse could be slipped from the scene, I was accused of murder.

Notorious Nick probably had it coming, but I swear, it wasn’t me. Oh, I’d been having a secret love affair with his sister Natalie and was taking money from her in an effort to undermine his business ventures, but that’s a long way from killing a man. Isn’t it? Besides, I’d just paid an under-the-table cash bribe to the local sheriff to cover my tracks with the law, but apparently it was a day late.

What’s the old saying about getting out of your comfort zone? My partner, Margaret, and I went to Rifle last Friday night to participate in a Rifle Heritage Days production of “Murder at the Juice Joint,” one of those mystery events that provide a convoluted scenario that needs solving, along with dinner and a few drinks. The event was sponsored by the Rifle Heritage Center.

Dress was not optional — roaring 1920s attire was mandatory and putting together the regalia was half the fun. Margaret came up with an award-winning costume, including a black wig, elbow-length gloves, black feather boa, sequined red dress, fish-net stockings and a two-foot long cigarette holder. I fell in love all over again at the vision. Yours truly rummaged through his closet and came up with attire appropriate for Chicago mob boss, Southside Sal.

The Aspen Historical Society was well-represented, as Margaret and I were in the good company of educator and actor Travis McDiffett, the ever-effervescent Nina Gabianelli (another costume award-winner), and soft-spoken development honcho Kelly May. Having their own reasons to kill Nick, they weren’t necessarily innocent, either. Local attorney Dan Shipp and family were there, as well.

As we entered the New Ute Theater and presented our tickets, we were politely asked if we were carrying (as in guns) and it was suggested we surrender same to the ticket office. Rifle is, by definition and action, still a western town that understands said reality. Both concealed and open carry are alive and well there.

A block south, Shooter’s Grill provides a fine dining experience and welcomes firearms along with cameras and other accoutrement. Most waitresses and waiters, all young and friendly, carry sidearms as they sling hash to patrons — when asked the caliber of her hip-hugging pistol, a sweet young waitress replied without hesitation, .357.

The name of the town of Rifle is reasonably straight forward — it’s named after Rifle Creek, a tributary of the great Colorado. But just like Frying Pan, or Fryingpan (however you wish to cut it) and whose name-source is cloudy, the origin of the name Rifle Creek also is mired in conjecture. It was listed on Ferdinand Hayden’s survey map of the area in 1876. Suffice it to say, Rifle is a neat little town, has a bigger population than Aspen and is intriguing. And far less crowded.

Speaking of different, parking is available wherever you look, 24 hours a day, whether you’re pulling a horse trailer or driving a pickup truck or car. We pulled up in front of the venue and found parking about 20 yards from the front entrance. Trust me, this was Rifle’s society event of the summer thus far and half the town turned out just to see who else was there. It was a long drive from our hotel across Interstate 70, so we drove. It’s tough to get a cab in Rifle.

Any town that has in its square a sculpture of a cowboy riding a wild trout as big as a small whale, you know that No. 1, it has a sense of humor, and secondly, it makes you feel at home. Rifle, gateway to some of the world’s best fishing and hunting!

There were some rusty memories that rose to the surface after long dormancy in my subconscious. Back when, I shot one of the best golf games of my life at the Rifle Creek Golf Club on a warm, spring day, figuring it was the warmth of the downvalley sun on my winter-frozen muscles that made it possible.

About 15 years ago, I helped a friend drive a herd of cattle up toward the Roan Plateau. A friend of his from Denmark or Sweden had inherited some money and wisely invested it in cattle. It’s hard to say how that worked out but I hope he had some money left at the end of his hard-fought experiment. Cattle can be brutal.

The night was a lot of fun. We made some new memories, marveled at the breathtaking steepness of some of the streets, tried new cuisine and basically enjoyed getting out of town for a couple of days.

There may be a murder mystery coming to Aspen soon. Until then, give Rifle a shot.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at