The Shooting Star Saloon Huntsville

Thursday, December 21, 2006

We’re all equal, but some of us are more equal than others

The Shooting Star Saloon up in Huntsville is an equalizer in many ways.

Why? Just because. Says who? Says John, the guy in charge.

“I set a rule when I bought this place,” John Posnien told me as he took my order for a mini-Star. “Everyone who walks through the door is equal, and I stick with that. People say ‘Who’s the most famous person here?’ and I say ‘You are.’”

The question came up because I’d looked at the ceiling, which is coated with signed dollar bills stuck there over the decades by visitors to the bar. Naturally I wondered if one was from a movie star or something.

John put me to rights which, everyone being equal, he’s happy to do to anyone.

Posnien has a small but eclectic kingdom. He presides over the bar, the dollar bills on the ceiling, the stuffed St. Bernard head, the stuffed critter that looks vaguely like the south end of a warthog going north, only with teeth, and other ephemera.

It’s quite the place. The men’s room sports much elegant and even useful graffiti. You could spend hours, but it’s a one-holer, so please read quickly. I don’t know about the women’s room — journalistic curiosity has its limits.

People who come in all want that really true equalizer, the Star Burger, which is the sort of burger the Surgeon General warns you about.

It was certainly why I was there. My cholesterol levels were dangerously healthy. Sharing space with me was a crew of Utah Power people who were installing power lines in Ogden Valley’s growing subdivisions, a couple of guys from Salt Lake, and several couples from Ogden. One included the bone doctor who set Posnien’s broken leg decades ago.

“I can walk because of him,” Posnien said.

The Star burger, which I shamelessly plug for free, is a marvelous thing. If Ogden could come up with something as good it could quit messing around with gondolas.

“I’ve never advertised in 20 years,” John said. “I don’t have to.”

That’s very true. National travel guides do it for him.

“Buck,” the St. Bernard, is in’s “pet cemetery” section. USA Today once said the Star Burger was third best in the nation. Frommer’s has the saloon on the Ogden Valley “sin and salvation” tour, with salvation being the Trappist Monastery on the east end of the valley.

The two guys at the bar said they drove up from Salt Lake after seeing the place in the American Automobile Association guide. “We came for the burger,” they said, “and after eating this burger we’d have traveled a lot further for it.”

Posnien presides over the history of the place, too. He pointed to a giltframed picture showing the bar’s founder, Hoken Olsen.

Olsen was quite the character. A moonshiner back in the 1890s, he seemed bent on setting a record for arrests for selling liquor without a license.

I don’t know if he succeeded, but he did set an anti-establishment legacy that Posnien proudly presides over. His target is the developers building new homes all over Ogden Valley. He ran for mayor of Huntsville twice, unsuccessfully, to kick a little butt and he’s still kicking.

“You going to run again?” I asked him.

“No!” said his wife before John’s lips moved. She was standing right next to him and the look on her face said that conversation was over.

OK, so he doesn’t preside over his wife. In that respect John, too, is very equal, at least with other husbands.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can reach him at 625-4232, or e-mail at