BEFORE & AFTER: The Poplar Place

For decades, Moab’s Poplar Place stood sentinel on the corner of Main and Center Streets. It was probably one of Moab’s most familiar landmarks. In 1989, an overnight fire almost destroyed the beloved pub but its owner, Joe Kingsley, refused to give up on it.

The interior was gutted and only the four adobe walls remained. And engineers determined that even they had been so badly damaged by the fire that their structural integrity was in doubt. But Joe was determined to save what remained, so he essentially built new load bearing walls INSIDE the old adobe bricks and the Poplar Place was reborn.

It remained the Poplar Place for many more years, but finally, like everything in Moab, its history was not enough to keep it alive. The building survives but the Poplar Place is gone.

Two years ago, a massive hotel built adjacent to the old Poplar Place practically swallowed the old building…It’s still there, but you have to look hard to see it.

The Poplar Place Before…

And after the new hotel…

Recently, I was able to convince Joe Kingsley to send the Zephyr a written history of the Poplar Place, along with a number of photos. The following are his words…

History of the Poplar Place

by Joe Kingsley

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 1970’s and grew into a full service shopping center on South Main Street!

The US Post Office, run by Frank and Daisy Shafer was the new owner throughout the 1920’s. In 1930 decade there were a variety of small business, 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 the period of 1940-1941 it was used as the Assembly of God Church. By the late decade of the 40’s, 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 50’s it became Fear’s Grocery. Throughout the 60’s 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.

Joe Kingsley purchased the building and business in 1976 and for the next decade 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, including children and pets were in attendance. Many people came just to hang out, watch TV, and play board games!

Early Hat Party, early 80’s

a Nik Hougen drawing

Special Poplar Place Menus

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 was a regular Friday night gig. Towards 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 The ZZTOP 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 and at the Poplar Place. In planning to an album you need a cover shot. Billy borrowed a local 1932 Chev coup, used one of the waitresses for the album cover and did the photography in Arches National Park!

Trial Pictures for ZZ Top’s album.

Poplar Place Beer

The Poplar Place was recognized by Gallery magazine in 1983 as one of the top 100 taverns in the United States; Holiday Travel magazine award in 1976; and featured in the book: ‘100 Best Saloons in the United States”. By the late 80’s the Poplar Place pizza was consistently named the Best in the State of Utah due to the 100 year old sourdough recipe.

Another Nik Hougen drawing

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, totally rebuilt the Poplar Place back to its former glory. It was more modernized, and has a more sophisticated menu; but the ‘feeling’ of the grand old lady has 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 Sista’s Café which became an icon as well. After five years, their lease was not renewed and the building is going through another change over with the new owners, who took possession in January, 2018.

Wes and Pennellope Shannon, the new owners, have always had a fascination with the building since opening up 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. The plan is to incarnation as the “La Sal House” will provide guests with a seasonal American craft kitchen and bar. We look forward to serving Moab and continuing the hospitality that this location has offered over the last century.

May the history continue….


Our thanks to Joe Kingsley for that history…


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10 comments for “BEFORE & AFTER: The Poplar Place

  1. warren musselman
    February 7, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    Ate there many times and was sad to see it go when it finally went… it was about the end of my time visiting Moab.

  2. D
    February 8, 2018 at 10:14 pm

    I cannot believe the hotel next door. Used to live there and haven’t been back in yrs so that is quite shocking.

  3. Britta Kingsley
    February 12, 2018 at 11:37 pm

    Love al of this. We will do a Poplar Place Event this year in Moab….. if you would like to attend and be part of it please reply to the soon and up and coming Poplar Place FB web sit and we can “talk”….

  4. Joe May
    February 14, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    Those were indeed fun times, love to attend.

  5. Sandi Snow (Morton)
    May 27, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    Fun times indeed! I worked at the Poplar Place for a short time in 1976/77 for Spyke and Ellie. Such wonderful memories.

  6. Kelly Cooper
    December 26, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Great times. The poplar place was a mainstay in the early 70’s with Joe and Julie May. I still get back often But I miss my old undiscovered Moab.

  7. Karl Prager
    December 26, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    I remember clearing out the tables, inflating a 16 or 18 foot raft inside the Poplar Place, putting the tables in the middle of the raft (before inflatable floors were a thing) and sitting on the raft tubes, bouncing up and down while we were drinking (semi-successfully). Also, the old Utah liquor laws which allowed you to bring your own bottle on liquor in, but not leave with it, so you had to drink it all there.

  8. Scott W. Nelson
    July 4, 2020 at 1:30 am

    I had great some times here in the early 1970s. What a landmark!

  9. Roger Stone Jr
    October 29, 2020 at 8:14 pm

    I ate lunch there today. It just reopened and is called the Trail Head. Neat old structures.

  10. john naslund
    December 1, 2020 at 10:34 am

    been going there since 1975…….loved it….watched Nascar races in late 80s early 90s….still have some Poplar Place T-Shirts…..

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