JACKSON, Wyo. — For those first-time customers lucky enough to stumble upon The Bird for a burger and a beer on a sunny afternoon near Jackson, the restaurant’s menu has a little friendly advice: “If you’re a fun-sucker and are uptight, unhappy, or demanding, you know, can’t even have fun on vacation…maybe try somewhere that’s more geared to your sort.”
In a tourist town overrun with hordes of often demanding and ill-mannered visitors — as well as a healthy contingent of wealthy seasonal residents full of relentless five-star expectations — The Bird stands out as a jealously guarded refuge for easy-going locals and relaxed visitors.
“While you are here, just cut loose,” the menu’s advisory continues, “get raucous, tell that joke you’re not sure is appropriate, stay late and have the one drink too many and we’ll drive you home.”
And you will have to drive (or be driven), because The Bird isn’t walking distance from much of anything in Jackson. Located on U.S. Highway 89, over five miles south of Jackson’s Town Square, The Bird is tucked away in the back of a funky strip mall that lies between a heavy equipment rental yard and a small engine repair shop. The Tetons — and the maddening crowds snapping selfies in the foreground — seem a world away.
For those who venture to the rear of the lot, past a vacant storefront that for many years hosted a “psychic reader” who never seemed to be open, The Bird offers an expansive back deck with abundant sunshine and sweeping views of the Snake River Range stretching to the Idaho border.
“That’s always been part of the appeal, I think, and part of the beauty of The Bird,” said Dan Quirk, the restaurant’s general manager.
“It’s a little bit outside of town, so it’s a good mix of locals, and then the few tourists that we do get are of the more respectful variety,” he said. “Somebody has to tell them about us, or they have to dig a little deeper to find us, and it’s definitely a more relaxed atmosphere out here.”
Quirk has been at The Bird for 11 years, since a group of friends who grew up together in Jackson opened the restaurant as a deliberately considered alternative to the high-end luxury or cowboy kitsch places that have increasingly dominated Jackson’s restaurant scene.
“Most of us have worked in fine dining for years and ended up here, and kind of never left,” he said of the staff. “We’re having fun. We ski all winter together, and we bike and hit the river together in the summertime.”
During the winter, the restaurant serves as a friendly sports bar for locals, skiers and service industry workers seeking creative pub food prepared from scratch and served hot and fresh; there are no microwaves at The Bird.
More than a dozen juicy and well-topped burger varieties are menu mainstays—and justifiable local favorites. Unlike most restaurant burgers that are a disappointingly uniform gray, The Bird’s are nicely charred and cooked to order, from R (for rare or “red throughout,” as the menu notes) to WD (for well done or “wrong decision” in Bird menu parlance).
Each May, the deck opens, marking the arrival of spring and an endless parade of happy dogs who join their owners to soak up the sun and scenic vistas.
“We’re known for our burgers and wings. That being said, despite all the burger hype, I think the French dip is the best thing on the menu,” Quirk said.
The Bird’s logo reflects its fame for burgers and wings, featuring a rooster’s body with a cow’s head. And if you’re wondering where the restaurant got its name, the logo mascot sports one raised rooster leg with what appears to be an extended middle claw. The image is an eponymous gesture that serves as a not-so-subtle warning shot to those unwilling, unable or just not yet ready to appreciate a healthy dose of authentic Wyoming life outside the Jackson bubble.
The Bird, 4125 US-89 #6, Jackson, Wyoming; (307) 732-2473. Open 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
Written by Ruffin Prevost and reprinted with permission from Wyoming Truth.