Duncan Littlecreek Gallery Bar, a gem in downtown Elko

By Joe McCarthy

Joan Anderson and Jacques Errecart own and operate the Duncan Littlecreek Gallery (DLC) in downtown Elko, on Commercial Street. The gallery exhibits contemporary art and hosts live music, theater, poetry readings, and multiple storytelling events. The remodeled historic building has several uniquely designed, comfortable lodging spaces on the second floor. 

With the help of Joan’s daughter Jennifer, Joan and Jac have transformed the old Clifton Bar and Hotel building, formerly a smoke-filled drinking man’s bar run by Jac’s late father, “Papa Jack” and his mother, into a fine drinking establishment to complement the contemporary art gallery. Jac and Joan maintain the architectural office in the back.

The development of Duncan Littlecreek Gallery coincides with the city of Elko’s own unique story, its Basque heritage and its transformation into a vibrant cultural hub in eastern Nevada.      

Joan Anderson raised a family and managed a large successful nonprofit.

 

“I’ve been in Elko for about 35 years now. I’ve done various things since I’ve been here, raising a family. I was a director of Head Start here for many years. Then I started working with Jac in his office. We started putting together the art gallery. The bar has always been here. We added the art gallery, renovated the rooms upstairs so that we could have guests. Our business is called Duncan Littlecreek Gallery and Bar. Jac has his architectural firm on the premises.”

Jacques Errecart is first generation Basque and an Elko native.  

“I was born here. I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life, except for eight years when I went away to college to architecture school and came back here in 1988. At that time, the town was just booming. I walked into a local architecture office and got hired on the spot. I worked there for about nine years until it became time to come back to the family business, which is now Duncan Littlecreek. I opened my office and have been doing that for 21 years now.”

How does your dad, “Papa Jack” Errehart fit into the story?

“My dad got here first in 1930. He was born in 1907 in the south of France. He’s Basque, and he came here as many people did, for the sheepherding, which he did for about 15 years. I know part of that had to do with him paying off his passage in 13 years. 

“Then he came into town, worked at the bowling alley as a pinsetter and as a bartender. He owned various bars, three different ones along the street, (the Palace, the Silver Dollar Club both on Commercial Street) and ended up here at this bar, called at the time, the Clifton Bar and Hotel. In the late 50s, he and my mom, Barbara Roylance, ran the place pretty much as a mom and pop operation. She took care of the books, took care of the rooms upstairs. My dad did a lot of bartending mostly himself.

“My dad was a bartender, virtually all of his life. He actually did it when he was about 11 in France, 75 years plus of experience. He was a consummate bartender. When he was about 87, he took a really bad fall behind the bar, broke his neck and he couldn’t work anymore. Since the bar was really his life, that didn’t go so well. He faded away pretty quickly.” 

How did his passing affect you?

“That left a big void, right about the time that I left my other job and opened up my office down here … I wasn’t really willing to let go of the family business that has been here for so long. I started to get involved more and more. Eventually my mom, while she was still alive, decided she had had enough of Elko, moved with her high school sweetheart to Mountain City, where she spent the last 10 years of her life. By then she had pretty much passed everything over to me and two gentlemen, who were in charge of this place. Mom was still coming in from Mountain City to take care of some of her tax clients. 

“One day, we just decided to close it down, becoming fed up with the way that it deteriorated. The clientele became less and less interesting to us … more interested in their Bud Lights than a good conversation. So we just closed it down, took the keys from the bartenders. One of the first things we did was to the front of the building. Back in the ’60s, there was really a trend to kind of wall off the saloons and the bars from the street. So people really couldn’t see what was going on inside. It was that kind of a place, not very pleasant to be around, very smoky. We took the front off and opened it up with a bunch of glass. We knew that we wanted to have an art gallery. Our goal was to start with five paintings. We both had let our love of painting and art go for the better parts of our life. It was time to start again.  I can’t remember how many paintings we had. By the time we actually reopened two years later, after having cleaned up the place, it was a lot more. Now as you can see, it’s packed with art.” 

When did things begin to happen?

“It was December 13, 2002, a really strange time to open, Friday the 13th. Some people really appreciated the experience, but it wasn’t very many. In those early days, a lot of times it would be me and Joan and her daughter Jen, who was also working here helping out with the architecture. Around four o’clock in the afternoon, we would go out and grab a glass of wine sit at the end of the bar. Often, just the three of us. We felt that if we were going to have a place, have one that’s comfortable. And if other people liked it, that was great. If not, we were just going to have a really nice living room for ourselves. And so there were times when we just didn’t have any business. But we had a place that we’re really proud of and comfortable. Comfort is the key here.

“And then it just kind of started to take off. People became more accepting of what was going on down here, They discovered it as a nice place to go have a nice drink, no smoking, which was a novelty at the time, a comfortable place for women to come in … and bring their friends. It just grew, people enjoying themselves. 

“It’s self-sustaining at this point. I know Joan and I sometimes wonder how we did it back then without a good client base. The patrons, of course, we had clients in the office. Sure, but we were really determined to make this a success. We’re very fortunate to have this property, an asset, a blank slate for us to, to start with. That is what we’re really proud of.”

Joan, how did your partnership with Jac come about?

“Well, I think that it started when I first met Jac when I was managing Head Start. Head Start needed to expand and had money from the federal government to expand our program. We had to have more buildings. I had over 100 employees. Head Start had generated more than 20 million dollars in economic development for Elko in that year alone. Jac just happened to be on the Head Start board at that time. He designed the buildings for us for free. I’ve always been interested in architecture but never studied it. He and I designed several of the buildings, started working together, did a lot of traveling, went to Europe a few times.” 

What brought you back?

“We wanted to come back, have a place like the ones we saw traveling, that wasn’t available in Elko, ones that served alcohol, a wine bar, nice cocktails, and craft beers. That’s what we now serve. When I finished working at Head Start I came and started working in the architectural office. It’s been such a pleasure to be immersed in the art, and meeting so many artists who have become our friends, being able to display their work and help them make a living, for us to make a living with architecture, and then enjoy the bar. 

“Jen, my daughter is the one that really started getting into the music. She got ahold of musicians touring through the area, from coast to coast. Elko is a good spot, it’s halfway between any place. The musicians spend the night in the rooms upstairs. We pay them well, with word of mouth passed on to other musicians. It is a good place to go play, get a room and free drinks. We can pack up 200 people without alerting the fire chief.”

Joan, what else is unique about Duncan Littlecreek?

“We have a nice backyard where people go and sit and enjoy the evening, sometimes 100 people in the backyard … 100 people inside, 100 people in the backyard, sometimes over 300 people join in on those wine walks. The musicians we book are diverse making DLC more accessible, cultural aspects, visual arts, a musical atmosphere, drinks with friends. Jen also puts together presentations and theatrical events. Poetry readings too, one of the things we started venturing into pretty early on after we opened.”

How did you know you had something special in DLC?

“People were so hungry for that kind of cultural experience that those were the nights that we started getting more exposure, more people heard about it. And they started to come in and see what it was all about. And then that slowly evolved into the kind of the music scene that we have now.”

Jac, How do you and Joan keep the doors open?

“It’s not to say we didn’t have to sink enormous resources into it. We did. Joan and I did a lot of the work to transform it, by ourselves, with our own hands … I did the design work. I had a contractor’s license. We got our permit and just started doing it. It was a slow process. We basically had our own full-time jobs, and we were doing this on the weekends. If we weren’t actually here working on the property, we were driving somewhere to pick up materials. We’re really quite proud of the fact that we did it. We look back, we have this conversation every once in a while. Can you believe that? What were we thinking?”

How has Elko changed to support DLC?

“Joan and I helped form and are charter members of the Art and Culture Advisory Board to bring more awareness of the art in the community. Its genesis happened down here where people would gather here, relax and talk. During that time is when the Park Foundation was formed. Again, Joan and I were also charter members of the Foundation.” 

Joan says he’s talking about the elbow grease work. 

“Yes, Joan and I were the lead designers. We had some really inspired people on the board. It took a number of years. The bottom line is – that group was able to parlay about $200,000 of city money into nearly $2 million to actually build the park, and so it was just one of the great things about the place, it just attracts like-minded people who have a vision. They can see things that don’t exist and they can work to make things happen.”

Jac, what support do you get from local government?

“Often it doesn’t feel as consistent as it should be. We’ve talked before about having a redevelopment agency here in Elko. It happened in 2007. There was a lot of resistance. Money has started to accumulate in the fund. On our own with our own resources, we took something that was really almost an embarrassment to own and turned it into something that we’re comfortable with. It takes desire and vision. Above all else, you just have to see what can happen out there. Now, there’s money accumulating for redevelopment (from the property tax increment). It needs to be managed. That’s why I brought up the example of the Park Foundation because it’s not just looking at how much money you’ve got, it’s how are you going to spend it, looking at it carefully … there’s not a lot of continuity in the management. 

“I was the chair of the Advisory Council for redevelopment. I’ll just give you this one example. Joan and I were both working on these councils for a long time. We were both getting quite frustrated. The lack of progress and the kind of projects that were being pursued didn’t make sense. We had this idea of getting a portion of our big parking lot on our street, a quarter of which to be designated as a park, work with the people we already knew at the state, state parks, and state lands … take them a plan … pursue federal funding, state funding. That’s what we wanted to do.” 

How did it go?

“I laid out the argument to a couple of the council people. They nodded blankly but agreed that it was a good idea. If we had a well-experienced city planner, with some experience in redevelopment, we would have all the elements to make this happen. I’m probably our best city planner at the time. Then, the guidance of that Advisory Council was taken over by the assistant city manager. Turn part of this parking lot into a park officially, start working on a good redevelopment project, a bunch of attractions, a splash pad, food trucks … an amphitheater to have bigger events.” 

And then what?

“I was talking to the assistant city manager … with this idea for the agenda item for the Advisory Council. I wrote it. I really didn’t ask for a whole lot. Except for that agenda item to discuss the possibility of having a park designation in the downtown corridor, so that we can pursue other funding. 

“I didn’t even get back to the office before I got an email from him saying that he had called the city attorney who said the only people who can designate a park is the city council, therefore it won’t be on your advisory council agenda.” 

What else have you noticed about lack of support?

“Joan had similar issues with the Arts Council about what they wanted as part of the Centennial coming up in 2017. There’s all this fervor to get something done. All kinds of different ideas came up. The least attractive was the idea to build a cold water tower. Have you seen it? Yeah, we have a nickname for it. Tank and Stein. It has some elements that kind of make sense, but it was not very well executed. In fact, it’s technically bad. Most people agree that it is. Look at it. It’s cheaply constructed, unattractive, an embarrassment with the casino lights on it. That tank, that really looks like a sequence from Petticoat Junction. I’ve got that song in my head whenever I walk over there. 

“One of the ideas that luckily didn’t get executed was a council member wanted to put a cowboy hat on top of it. These incidents happened at about the same time.” 

Are you two still on community boards?

“Joan and I still have some living to do. We both resigned. Now life’s pretty good. Since then we don’t worry about that so much. We decided to focus on what we’re doing here. You have to, at some point, stop banging your head against these rocks, and just acknowledge that … just going back to our philosophy of creating a place where people are comfortable. We’re probably making a lot more happen … we encourage it, we nurture it with the best of our abilities. That’s what we’re focusing on right now. We’re pretty comfortable with that.

“I don’t think we are ever gonna retire.”

The Gallery of Contemporary Art
Duncan Littlecreek
The Gallery Bar
516 Commercial Street
Elko, Nevada 89801
775-738-3426
https://dlcgallery.com