Joe Kingsley

At the northeastern corner of Main and 100 North, the Poplar Place was built in 1886, out of adobe, lightly fired and sun-dried, resulting in very hard bricks. The adobe mud came from an area off 400 East 600 South in Moab. This area also supplied adobe for the building of Star Hall on Center Street.

The first use of the building was Hammond & Sons, a General Mercantile. Later in 1909, it became a freight transport company: Consolidated Wagon and Machine Company. By 1913, the automobile made wagon and team freighting obsolete and the building became the Moab Cooperative. The Cooperative moved out in 1919; later becoming Miller’s Market, which was the grocery mainstay for Moab till the mid 1970s and grew into a full service shopping center on South Main Street!

The U.S. Post Office, run by Frank and Daisy Shafer, was the new owner throughout the 1920s. In 1930 decade there was a variety of small businesses, such as Bush Lumber, Redd Motors and a Maytag dealership.

The upstairs, with a separate access, has had its own history. It was often used as an apartment and in 1940-1941 it was used as the Assembly of God Church. By the late decade of the 40s, the building housed a stone grinding service for the wheat and oat farmers. Rumor has it that during the heyday of the uranium boom, it became a brothel and a game room for the miners.

Then the cycle started to repeat; in the early 50s, it became Fear’s Grocery. Throughout the 60s, various short-term businesses occupied this downtown corner. It was Frank’s Tavern when Joe and Julie May bought and renovated it in 1972. The building was stripped to the original adobe bricks, wood floor, and reopened as the Poplar Place.

I purchased the building and business in 1976 and for the next decade it enjoyed national recognition for being unique. The annual Halloween Party enjoyed costumes which had been designed and built over the whole year, resulting in outstanding concepts from all over the world! Wednesday nights were special for the volunteer firemen, and Friday nights were family nights for cribbage competition, where children and pets were in attendance. Many people came just to hang out, watch TV and play board games!

For several years the community enjoyed summer bands that played at the Poplar Place, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Runaway Express, and several other individual national stars. Billy Gibbons and Bob Hall lived in Castle Valley for about a year and during that time there was a regular Friday night gig. Toward the end of that period, Billy asked if we could try to get a full house because he and Bob wanted to try their new “style.” That weekend, ZZ TOP did their first gig to overflowing crowds every night … pouring even into the streets! Could not do that today! That was the birth of the “Eliminator” album at the Poplar Place. In planning an album, you need a cover shot. Billy borrowed a local 1932 Chev Coupe, used one of the waitresses for the album cover and did the photography in Arches National Park!

The Poplar Place was recognized by Gallery magazine in 1983 as one of the top 100 taverns in the United States; it received Holiday Travel magazine award in 1976; and was featured in the book “100 Best Saloons in the United States.” By the late 80s, the Poplar Place pizza was consistently named the best in the state of Utah owing to the 100-year-old sourdough recipe.

On February 5, 1989, the Poplar Place burned and was totally gutted out. Craig and Sharon Tuttle purchased the shell of the building and over the next several years, restored the Poplar Place to its former glory. It was more modernized, and had a more sophisticated menu; but the “feeling” of the grand old lady survived another twenty years and was going strong under the culinary skills of Jodie and Cindy Cheney and the ownership of the Tuttles!

Later, the facility was leased to the Twisted Sistas’ Café, which became an icon as well. After five years, their lease was not renewed and the building is going through another changeover with the new owners, who took possession in January 2018.

Wes and Pennellope Shannon, the new owners, have been fascinated with the building since they opened the Love Muffin Café across the street ten years ago. The desire to bring another dinner option to town has always been in the back of their minds and the opportunity to run a restaurant in one of the coolest buildings in Moab would be very exciting. You know it’s something special when everyone you run into has a story or memory about the “Poplar Place.” The rich history and architecture lends itself to a neighborhood-style public house. Their plan is to reopen as the “La Sal House” and provide guests with a seasonal American craft kitchen and bar. They look forward to serving Moab and continuing the hospitality that this location has offered over the last century.  

May the history continue….

Joe Kingsley is a longtime Moab resident.