You can pan for gold in the heart of Keystone. Now attraction is taking new steps to makes one of their own treasures shine.

Big Thunder Bar and Grill used to be known as a simple eatery with a select menu, but after years of construction and remodeling, it’s a full-service dine-in restaurant that also includes a quick service deck.


“It took two years, but we knew we needed to do something big time to the restaurant,” said Sandi McLain owner of Big Thunder Gold Mine.

Gold has been found in the Black Hills in this mine since 1892. People can try their hand at on-site gold panning and placer mining.

McLain has been with the mine for nearly three decades, and her team has been working to transition the eatery to a rustic and outdoors-themed restaurant.

“People who have been to the mine before walk in and are amazed at how the restaurant has transformed. It’s really unique,” she said.

A retired Rapid city art teacher, McLain says she knew the place was in dire need of a tuneup.

“It has an 1890’s flare. It’s distressed looking, very outdoorsy, comfortable, artistic,” said McLain. “We redid the walls, furniture, and kitchen.”

The Gold Mine sees around 275,000 tourists a year, and McLain hopes the improvements will encourage more to stop by no matter what they have planned during their trip. That includes indoor seating for more relaxed schedules and deck seating for quicker service.

“Some tourists are either in a hurry and have their whole day planned out, or else some want to have a more relaxing and slow day,” said McLain. “We want to be able to accommodate both types of people and their plans.”


» Rattlesnake and Pheasant Brat
» Duck Wings
» Indian Taco
» Ribeye Steak
» Wild Boar Biscuits and Gravy

The look of the restaurant wasn’t the only change. Guests will now find eight pages of menu items – up from just two columns – between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The specialties are a variety of wild game, burgers, brats, Indian tacos, and ice cream.

“we wanted to class up the food we were serving and give people a more unique experience when they come to the black hills,” said McLain.

“I eat there all the time, and my favorite is the Rattlesnake and Pheasant Brats,” said McLain. “They are really popular with kids, too.”

Big Thunder Bar and Grill will be an addition to a town that doesn’t have many options for food in the off-season. There are a couple dozen restaurants in Keystone, but in the off-season only a select few are open.

“The hope is to have the restaurant open year round starting with the 2020 tourist season,” said McLain. “It’s like changing the concourse of Keystone, which has always been a resort community, and it’s tough to get people to stay open because they don’t think they will do well. But I want to at least try it.”

Tourist numbers do drop in the offseason, but the bar and grill also wants to reach those in Hill City, Rapid City, and surrounding towns. One way they hope to keep business going is through holiday parties.

“We want to do special, historical dinners,” said McLain. “For example, on Halloween you’d get a reservation and there would be someone reading haunted stories about Keystone, so you can learn about the history of our town while also enjoying your meal.”

And when they open this month, McLain doesn’t want to stop there.

“What I’d like to see this place be is a unique dinner and theater place in the offseason so it can help bring the local community together,” she said. “I want to keep innovating it with new plans.”

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