Saunter through the sawdust on the floor of the Old Style Saloon No. 10 virtually any weekend and it’s difficult to ignore the big boy behind the bar — a 6-foot-6, 390-pound, red-headed behemoth named Ted Aden.
Ask him if he played football or basketball and Aden is likely to respond, “Why? Did you play mini-golf?”
Fact is, Aden competed in both sports as well as baseball and track back in his hometown of Carroll, Iowa. Then he earned football Hall of Fame honors at Iowa Lakes Junior College before playing offensive tackle for two years at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, where he earned a degree in Native American Studies and Physical Education.
In college, Aden worked out for the Broncos, Raiders and Seahawks before playing arena football for five years, suiting up for the Wyoming Cavalry in Casper. He took a bouncer’s job at the fabled Saloon No. 10 two decades ago, and has been bartending the last dozen years.
Ask him why he has stayed so long at one of the most notorious saloons in the Wild West and the 43-year-old will tell you he works for some special people. Aden credits General Manager Louie Lalonde and the Keehn family with keeping him afloat when he broke five vertebrae in his back in a skiing accident a decade ago and, without health insurance, was out of work for nine months.
“Louie and the Keehns paid for my ambulance ride to the hospital and paid me like I was working 40 hours a week the entire nine months, so I could pay my bills,” Aden said, shaking his head in wonderment. “That’s one reason I’m so dedicated to them. Not many people would do that and it shows what kind of people they are.”
We sat down with Aden recently to ask him about working at the most famous saloon in the Black Hills and some of the incredible characters he has met and the unusual times he has experienced.
Q: You played football and almost made the big leagues. Tell us about the challenges you faced playing semi-pro and what it would it have taken to reach the NFL?
A: There is such a small window of opportunity. A lot of it is timing and luck. Obviously, it also involves skill, but you’ve got to catch a break here and there. In college, I worked out for Broncos, Raiders and Seahawks. It was interesting, and included a written test, all kinds of measurements of your body, physical tests, pretty much all-around. They wanted to make sure you weren’t a dummy, for lack of a better phrase.
Q: What do you like best about bartending at the notorious Saloon No. 10?
A: The people I meet. You have your awesome locals, but then you meet such a variety of people from all over the world. It’s not your average bar and you never know who you are going to meet. I’ve met legendary Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers, LA Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, even a member of the Dirty Dozen, one of 12 leaders of the Hells Angels.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face bartending at the fabled No. 10, which is probably the best-known party bar in the Black Hills?
A: Just maintaining a positive attitude when it’s super busy. It can be overwhelming, it gets so busy, and you strive to keep people laughing and smiling and having a good time, and making sure their glass is never empty.
Q: What’s the strangest drink order you ever heard and tell me about one of your favorite regulars?
A: Probably a scotch and milk. There was an old lady who came in all the time and ordered scotch and milk. And, there was this wonderful, little old lady named Josie Arsaga who, as a baby, was left on the doorstep of a Catholic Church in New Mexico. She became a trick rider and much later, at the direction of No. 10 GM Louie Lalonde, staff would pick her up at her Deadwood home and deliver her to the No. 10 so she could enjoy a night of camaraderie, dancing and a couple cocktails. Then we’d take her back home. People still ask about her even today, and she’s probably been gone for 18 years.
Q: Saloon No. 10 is known for attracting a diverse crowd, ranging from bikers and cowboys to rabble-rousers and high-brow customers. What’s the funniest or most unusual thing you’ve seen or heard at the No. 10?
A: Most of those stories you can’t print, but one of the funniest things that ever happened involved this group of guys who came out to the Hills deer hunting every fall. They had a buddy who was quite a jokester who died and he always wanted his ashes brought back to the No. 10. So, they put some of his ashes in the bottom of a shot glass and then poured wax over it. Every year since, they’d do a shot out of that shot glass. Well, the last time, one of the guys took a shot and the wax came out and there were ashes all over his face. It was the dead guy’s last laugh.