Sweet Caroline…..

The Magnusson crew and Thebeerchaser in front of the Caroline Tavern in Seattle

My Beerchasing exploits – visiting over 350 bars since starting this hobby in 2011, have taken me to only two previous Washington establishments – the Pour House in Port Townsend in 2012 and a recent review of Loowit Brewing in Vancouver, Washington.

The opportunity to have beers with three members of the wonderful Magnusson clan in Seattle, provided the motivation to add another.  My affection for Jon, Jamie and Rob Magnusson is well founded since Jamie (with the baseball cap below)  is one of my two son-in-laws – also because they are wonderful and interesting individuals.

Now married for twelve years, Jamie met my oldest daughter, Lisa, while both were students at the University of WashingtonAll three of the guys are Huskies – a long family tradition with football season tickets going back about sixty years.

Jon’s structural engineering firm – Magnusson Klemencic Associates did the engineering work on the revised Husky Stadium several years ago.  In fact MKA is recognized as one of the top five sports facility engineering firms in the US and their portfolio reflects NFL, NBA, MLS, MLB and collegiate projects.

Safeco Field in Seattle – home of the Mariners and site of innovative structural engineering

Some preliminary research on north Seattle dive bars to find one near Lake Forest Park  – where they all reside – yielded a compelling choice – The Caroline Tavern in nearby Lake City. It was listed in a Google search on “Ten Seattle dive bars “with a good reputation(although those two words may be a contradiction in terms).

“A bustling hangout place for a cross-section of ages, ethnic groups as well as subcultures..”  (We were probably part of the subculture category.)

On my second visit – in the morning – it was not a good cross section…..

How many dive bars look like this on the exterior?

And this historic bar was, in fact, a great choice which we all enjoyed (as was the case at the Lake City site of the Elliot Bay Brewery where we had dinner afterwards).  That said, since I claim some background on what constitutes a dive bar, I question whether the Caroline fits neatly into that description as discussed below.

The following excerpt about the Caroline is from a wonderful blog I discovered doing subsequent research.  I say “wonderful” because Seattlebar.org has the same mission as my own – Thebeerchaser – only my journey pales compared to blogger, Pete Andrejeski‘s,  exploits in the pursuit of this worthy goal..

Douglas – she makes her mark on the Parallel Bars versus Dives……

This Seattle resident has had a drink in 3,840 bars of which 1,6049 are Seattle watering holes. Now there are some that say Thebeerchaser’s 350+ visits and reviews over the last eight years is notable, but equating the two blogs is like comparing Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to a kid on the jungle gym at a local playground….

Pete stated in his post on the Caroline:

“There is no doubt that the Caroline is one of the 20 to 30 oldest bars in Seattle. The Caroline itself includes mentions of a start date in 1933.  (probably at another location until 1940) In the late 30s and early 40s the Caroline was owned by Mrs. Mary McNulty. “

Actually, the bar’s written history provided to me by Sarah, our friendly bartender, starts with the following historical narrative:

Sarah – a friendly bartender who knows the history of her bar

“There are references to the Caroline Tavern as early as 1926, with only four owners for the entire history, but city records indicate that Mary McNulty was the owner of record in 1933…….legend has it that she named it after her cat or her aunt, but there is a picture of Mary in the bar to this day and she is holding a cat.

The current building was constructed before Prohibition.   Mary eventually sold the bar to Jack Kelly for one dollar. Pictures of Jack in fifty year increments are featured at the bar as well. Mr. Kelly was a boxer, hence the bell from a boxing ring in the bar now, which is rung when the house buys a round……Legend has it that Will Rogers and Wiley Post ate and drank there after playing polo at the Olympic Riding and Driving Club.”

The Bell is still rung when the house buys a drink – in the upper right

As stated above, the Caroline was listed in Google as a dive bar and a number of the social media reviews also describe it as a dive.

That said, while there may not be a distinct dividing line, between what constitutes a dive versus a neighborhood watering hole, I offer this background on dives from one of my earlier blog posts: https://thebeerchaser.com/2011/09/18/analyzing-dive-bars-head-first/

Unlike the typical dive bars I have visited the Caroline is in a wonderful, large old house with an attractive front entry.

The Ship in Multnomah Village

Now compare this with two of Portland’s fabled dives – the Ship Tavern in Multnomah Village and the Yamhill Pub – right in downtown Portland and known for being one of the top sellers of PBR in the State of Oregon.

The Yamhill – Dive or Grunge Bar??

I would suggest that one would never see two life-size wooden nutcrakers “guarding” the entrance to a hard-core dive bar. Take a look at these two right inside the front door.

(No one at the bar when I was there could tell me the story of how these two festive “soldiers” became permanent fixtures at the Caroline, but I doubt you will see another dive with this type of décor).

Not to get too carried away with trying to pigeonhole this bar, but three other factors that argue for the “neighborhood” bar category:

1. Sitting on a shelf right below the large screen TV in corner were three VCR and one DVD movies as shown in the picture below. Now, I don’t know if the VCR even worked, but tell me a dive bar where one would have ever seen videos starring Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen or Victor Herbert’s “Naughty Marietta.”

2. The Caroline was only the third bar in which I have seen a coin-operated breathalyzer.   Perhaps this is making an inferential leap, but I think this reflects a concern for patrons and the surrounding community verses a more laissez faire approach typical of dive bars.

3.  The Caroline keeps track of the birthdays of regulars and posts these. I didn’t have time to check to whether that meant that you should buy “Baby Ryan” a Budweiser when you are there in October or whether the bar provides a complimentary draft, but it’s a nice touch.

Now, whereas one should avoid generalizations, dive bar regulars, while generally not hostile to newcomers as is the stereotype, tend to stick to themselves, play pool or  ignore strangers. The Caroline seems to defy this image – in fact, according to Pete:

“(On the patio in back) we found two large, circular porch tables surrounded by outdoor, plastic chairs.  It was quite clear that these were communal tables.  Our addition to the deck, upon first appearance, seemed to bring the group count to 4.  4 groups, 2 tables…this is the kind of place where you grab a chair right next to a stranger and join in the conversation. 

Patio in back

It wasn’t long until we were ‘welcome[d] home’ by the regulars.  It seems that this is a traditional phrase at The Caroline.  “Welcome home”.  To say the very least, home was quite an experience.(emphasis supplied)

We chatted with a bricklayer who was drinking Busch Light, a carpenter who was sipping on Jagermeister and pounding bottles of Bud, a rapper and producer who, well I don’t know what the hell he was intoxicated with, and the list goes on…  We had entered a very diverse world of locals, who all seemed to know each other in some way or another.  Well, they knew each other as regulars at The Caroline, and it was quite a social experiment to enter the pack.

I still walked away with a fond feeling of family and community — something that is becoming more and more rare in the big city. “

I experienced this aspect to some extent myself on my second visit on a weekday morning at 10 AM when I found the bar stools all occupied by hard core regulars – a number of whom were chasing their beers with Bushmills or Jamesons.

After taking a few photos I was invited to join Ashley and Phil, who were sitting at a side bar and when I told them about my blog, started filling me on other stories from the Caroline.  They were nice people.

Ashley and Phil – personable regulars

And finally, to bring this issue to a close, one has to be careful to draw conclusions from social media review sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor, yet they can be edifying if one looks at trends identified and in the context of other research.

So take these two excerpts from Yelp reviews on 3/21/19 and 11/23/18 respectively:

“Came in to enjoy a drink and play pool with a buddy who comes here often. The people were friendly the drinks were very reasonably priced and someone even brought over some salty snacks (I think it was another customer but gives you a idea of the vibe here) the guys playing pool here we’re some of the best I ever seen extremely friendly giving me advice on how to better my game.

Had a great time if you want to have a good drink with friendly people that u can’t go wrong here.”

Sarah relating some of the history of the bar.

And

“We walked in and you can tell right away this is a locals kinda joint were there are a lot of regulars. They were doing a pot-luck style thanksgiving with the pool table transformed into a makeshift table….We were warmly greeted by the regulars there and overall this seems like a really cool place to grab some drinks….”

The pool table, a few old-fashioned pinball machines and open space with tables adjoining the bar, make it a comfortable atmosphere.

Perhaps it was because I enjoyed the companionship of the Magnussons at this bar, but the Caroline, regardless of whether one’s opinion of what type of bar it is, is a great place to stop, have one of inexpensive beers on tap, get a salty snack and enjoy the refreshing vibe and ambiance and be “Welcomed Home.”

Now I found the Caroline after some cursory internet research, unlike the questionable intellect of the Yelp reviewer below from 4/27/15 (and one who affirms my point about being careful about over-reliance on social media).

Perhaps this guy (he goes by the name “Kris Loudmouth T”) needs to just stay home and watch old reruns of “Full House,” rather than exploring the big world outside…..

“It’s almost like they don’t want new customers. It took me 20 years to find out the name of this place…” (emphasis added)

Since the selection of food at the Caroline is limited and we were hungry, we decided to hit the nearby Lake City Pub of Elliot Bay Brewing – a nice pub, but not with the same character is our previous stop.

That said, the special that night – “fully loaded chipotle carnitas nachos”  was memorable and we went home with appetites more than satisfied and cholesterol elevated.

(Jon Magnusson did some calculations to determine the static load of this Happy-Hour offering to determine if the plate would sustain the mass presented by the edibles it supported.  His conclusion was that it would – at least for the moment……)

The Caroline Tavern    13702 15th Ave NE #3102    Seattle

Elliot Bay Brewing      Lake City Public House 

12537 Lake City Way NE   Seattle

Thebeerchaser’s Final Thoughts on the Dirty Shame Saloon

In three prior posts on Thebeerchaser, I have written about the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana – its fabled history, the Shame’s character, the staff,  the regulars, the events that capture the imagination of the community and its erstwhile owner, John Runkle – the most recent recipient of the Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter “honor.” (Click on the links to see these posts.)

Since I stated in a previous narrative that it is the most interesting of the 350 establishments I’ve visited and reviewed in the eight years of Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Breweries, the Dirty Shame and John Runkle collectively deserve one final narrative.

The most recent Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter

Now many bars can be defined as “a place where lonely desperate people go to get hammered enough to find other lonely, desperate people suddenly irresistible.” *1 The Dirty Shame Saloon is the antithesis of this description.

*1 The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm – A Lexicon for Those of Us Who Are Brighter and Smarter Than the Rest of You (Page 34)

The book is by James Napoli and a brilliant tome you should definitely read – one rivaling in wit and intellect, the legendary On Bullshit by Princeton Professor Emeritus, Harry Frankfurt – another Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter. (January 2012)

The Shame is a community treasure and one which Yaak residents regard with affection.  I previously tried to convey the stories which John related to me ranging from the AR-15 incident last summer as well as the  the “crack pillow.”

And don’t forget the double shots of whiskey downed in a quick and unfriendly visit to the bar by a now convicted murderess and her boyfriend after they dispatched her husband at Milepost 48 on the Yaak River Road – the Shame is at Milepost 29.

There’s also the tale about the kidnapping of the life-size Trump poster, the young women who “bartered” for their fare to Portland, Oregon, the Missing Person chronicle or the personable and courteous nature of the direct relatives of the leader of the Kehoe Gang related in the second post:  https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/09/11/the-dirty-shame-saloon-in-yaak-part-ii/

You will find out if you stay tuned to this blog for rundowns of the other 48 bars and breweries on our June road trip through Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming, that there are many other historic dive bars and excellent breweries in nearby Kalispell and surrounding Montana villages not far from the Dirty Shame. You can then hit these on your road trip as listed in an earlier blog post on Beerchasing in Big Sky Country.

Thus, it is my strong recommendation that you add a visit to the Dirty Shame Saloon and raising a mug with John Runkle to your bucket list.   As such, you will need lodging, so l want to provide a little more info on the Yaak River Lodge – about 1.5 miles down the road from the Saloon – also owned by John since 2004.

Drop in on Sunday to hear Pastor Clayton..

The Lodge sits on a beautiful 7.5 acre site on the Yaak River and across from the wonderful Yaak Community Church.  I attended their Sunday service on my last morning in Yaak and Pastor Clayton gave an inspiring sermon.   I also sat next to a memorable career Naval officer who retired in Yaak.

The church was built in the tradition of community barn-raising by members of the congregation and with no debt incurred.  You should view this impressive YouTube video to visually comprehend

At  the Lodge, you will see llamas and a horse grazing in the pasture in back.   There are no locks on the doors to the Lodge or its rooms, but whether you stay in the Moose Room or the Wolf Room, you will be secure.   In the event of inclement weather, just read a book in the living room by the roaring fire.

Folgers, cheese omelet and bacon….It doesn’t get any better.

And the $115 nightly charge (that’s during the busy season) also includes breakfast – one morning it was memorable blueberry pancakes cooked by John and the second it was an outstanding omelet cooked by Darilyn, who is also the lead bartender at the Shame.  There was plenty of bacon with it……

Or you can sit in the back and tell stories with friends…… as you can see by the photo, this fire pit is a great place to have a nightcap.

During the summer months the average high temperature is in the 70’s to low 80’s lowering to the low 40’s at night.   September is also usually pretty moderate.

Or take a walk down to the beautiful Yaak River flowing through the property….

The Yaak River at the back of the Lodge.

The coffee was also notable – not Starbucks but Mountain-grown Folgers which lent credence to their slogan, “The best part of wakin’ up is Folgers in your cup.”  (I might add that Folgers (black) goes extremely well with either the blueberry pancakes or cheese omelets.)

Although there are a number of gun stories related to the Dirty Shame, John told me he did not hunt so I asked him why he had a package of shot gun shells on the kitchen counter. “Oh those. My mom who lives near by has a recurring bear problem at her house which is nearby……”

Bear issues….

As I mentioned previously, John is an Orange County, California native, served as a paratrooper and instructor in the Army and returned to earn his degree at Cal State Fullerton.

 

 

 

Starting in 1988, he then built a successful real estate company.  In the twenty years he managed it, he successfully expanded the business to seven states with 300 realtors.

Runkle realized one day after being inundated with business calls while vacationing in Glacier National Park that his ambition was nature’s way of preparing him for heart medication. (* 1 Page 22)   So he threw his cell phone out the window and ended up buying first the Lodge in 2004 and then the Saloon in 2013. He and his wife, Dallas, welcomed their second daughter in August.

In the entry way to the Lodge was a framed advertisement for the Lodge and the Saloon.  I asked him (with some element of concern) about this.

That said, I certainly hope to visit Yaak again in ten years and see John still at the helm of these two great businesses in NW Montana.

John told me, “At 57, I’m no spring chicken and I don’t have much of a bucket list left. I’m usually at the bar until 2:30 AM on Friday nights and then Saturday morning, I’m up cooking breakfast at 5:30. On Monday morning, it’s tough to get going.”

Up at 5:30 cooking breakfast – but still with a smile….

 And he realizes that each Monday is one of 52 opportunities we are given each year to question what the hell we are doing with the rest of our lives……That said, the following Facebook post also demonstrates why John continues his legacy as a leader, a hard worker at whatever he does and why those who work with him admire his character.

“As another summer approaches, I think of how much whining I do as it become overwhelming busy at the Dirty Shame.  I have to continuously remind myself that I own a hunting lodge and a wild west bar.  Life just doesn’t get any better – truthfully.”

John, helping to unload food for the Crawfish Festival

I think John would be the guy who in an office setting, would fix the copy machine after a paper jam.  You know the situation – the copier sits there non-functional for several hours with everyone just ignoring it.   After he fixed it, he would then photocopy his rear end and leave it for the next user as the Runkle “signature”…….

Unjamming and leaving a signature….

So I was not surprised to see another recent Facebook post by John asking for feedback on whether Yaak – with the Dirty Shame as the focal point – should become the new site of the legendary Testicle Festival.

The Testy Festy was an annual event held for years in Clinton, Montana although discontinued in 2018. It attracted people from all over the West for a chance to sample the culinary delicacy Rocky Mountain Oysters.

Testicle Festival Canceled Following Deaths – Attendance Decline:  After 35 years of drinking, nudity, debauchery and tens of thousands of Rocky Mountain oysters, the Testicle Festival is over…….”  (The Missoulian  4/23/2018)

Considered a delicacy by some……

Whether Yaak has the infrastructure to support the resurrection of this “carnival” remains to be seen, but it shows that John is still ready to promote and his entrepreneurial spirit still courses through his bloodstream.

And if you don’t know what Rocky Mountain Oysters are, you should look it up.  You might be surprised…..  (The Beerchaser’s personal recommendation is to keep the current Yaak celebrations and not try to resurrect this jubilee, ball or whatever you want to call it.)

Because with the Adult Easter Egg Hunt, the Sasquatch Festival, the Crawfish Festival and spontaneous celebrations, John and his crew keep the residents of Yaak entertained and offer the chance to celebrate their community.

Some regulars told me that John should use his real estate skill and negotiate either the purchase or merger with the Yaak River Tavern (a nice bar with a personality that could use some spark) across the road – possibly even construct Yaak’s first skybridge between them…….

That way Geoff, the amiable, slightly inebriated singer I met at the Tavern, could entertain at either location.  Those at the Tavern that night got to hear Geoff’s original creation celebrating the joys of beer, bananas and Montana beaches…!

Don’t wait too long to plan your visit.   Now if you are looking for the Dirty Shame on the internet, don’t get confused with the Dirty Shame Saloon in Garden Valley, Idaho.

Besides a probable violation of John Runkle’s federal trademark on his bar (he is not interested in a lawsuit – “The lawyers would get all the money…” ) it is a poor and unsatisfactory imitation of the “World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon” as evidenced, in part, by the fact that the Idaho establishment on Yelp gets 2.5 stars (out of 5) while the Yaak authentic garners a rating of 4.5.

And if you want to talk to John and find out more about the Lodge i.e. seasonal rates and availability, give him a call at (406) 295-5463.  You will enjoy the conversation and tell him that Thebeerchaser suggested it.

The World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon  

29453 Yaak River Road   Troy Montana 59935       (406) 295-5100

The Yaak River Lodge

27744 Yaak River Rd     Troy, MT 59935      406-295-5463

yaakriverlodge@aol.com

The Dirty Shame Saloon – Continued Stories…..

In the last two Beerchaser posts, I have provided background on the “World Famous” Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana and tried to convey the incredible background and character of its owner, John Runkle, (he also owns the Yaak River Lodge about a mile and one-half down the road.)

Thebeerchaser and John Runkle

While I could easily fill several more posts on the most interesting of the 350 bars and breweries I have visited and reviewed during the last eight years, I will conclude with this and one final shorter post to wrap up my observations.   If you want more, you will have to make the trip to NW Montana on your own – a journey strongly recommended by Thebeerchaser.

Now don’t get the wrong idea from the previous and following stories, the Shame is not exactly a family-oriented establishment and may at times be raucous.

The “Dirty” in the name of the watering hole, however, describes some of the old slats in the floor or the occasional martini ordered by a more cosmopolitan customer who wants some olive juice added to his gin……..It is not a strip club or a place where debauchery pervades the atmosphere – at least most of the time………

Joan Melcher’s first book published in 1983.

As described by Joan Melcher in her first book Watering Hole –  A User’s Guide to Montana Bars written in 1983.

“The Dirty Shame is the fresh, sharp smell of pine, and the dank odor of dirt-laden, beer splashed floors, wild nights of revelry and mornings of shared pain.”

A number of stories of the Dirty Shame are centered on guns.   This is not unusual in rural Montana.  In fact, in a subsequent post on my Montana road trip I will relate the story told to me by Tom Davis, the eighty-three year old owner of the Wise River Club, about the murder that took place in the rest room of his establishment.

Part of the Montana culture…..

Author Melcher also relates the story told to her on her first visit about a Dirty Shame neighbor, named Jimmie, who some years back lived in a trailer adjacent to the saloon.

Based on the disruption to his property from a number of the free-grazing herd of cattle, he told people in the Shame, “I’m getting damned tired of those cows rubbing on my trailer and walking home drunk every night through all that shit.”  

Stay away from Jimmies trailer…..

After warning the cattle’s owner to keep them out of his yard, he finally “lost it” when he was playing pool at the Shame one night and a regular told him the cattle were in his yard again.

The intrepid Jimmie without hesitation handed the guy his pool stick and promptly shot seven cows in front of the bar – the carcasses ended up laying in the middle of the Yaak River Road.

He then, “walked back into the bar and shot the four ball into the corner pocket.”   Jimmie was arrested, jailed and purportedly later released after paying a $250 fine after protests from residents of Yaak about his incarceration. (Page 89 – Watering Hole)

The AR-15 Incident at the Dirty Shame

And John Runkle in our first conversation three years ago, talked about digging bullets out of the walls after he bought the bar – from the days when it was a hard-core biker bar.   When I told him in May that I was planning to come to Yaak the next month, he also sent me the following link to a story in the Daily Missoulian entitled:   “Troy Man Charged Following Saturday Night Incident at Yaak’s Dirty Shame Saloon.

As John stated – in part – in his e-mail:

“Don, you will see an article where a guy went nuts in the Dirty Shame with an AR-15 and you will also see the video of me bear spraying him and his brother trying to fight their way back into the bar and another video embedded in that article showing him running around the parking lot trying to shoot me through the window and then almost shooting his brother in the head.  

It was a crazy night. The Dirty Shame is truly still the Wild Wild West.”

The response to bear spray in the face….

I showed some friends that article and they advised me to install a gun rack on my Prius for the Montana road trip.

While I was in Yaak and asking him some additional questions about that incident, he told me that the bar was locked down while the shooter was outside in the back of the bar in his trench and the deputies were looking for him.

The Good Old Days

One very elderly man who was 95 years old was there with his son who was in his sixties.  The son told his dad that they had to stay in the bar because there was a guy outside trying to kill someone.

The father got a big grin on his face and stated, “This is the same old shit that made this a great bar in the old days.”  His son agreed that only at the Dirty Shame would such an incident be considered good publicity.

The Yaak River Road Murder

In the 2017 incident above, no one involved was killed or injured; however, that was not the case with a young couple – strangers – who walked into the Shame on Martin Luther King Day two years ago.  John said, “Both the woman and the man seemed pretty nervous and were not friendly.   They just shrugged when a regular asked them what they were doing in Yaak.”

On television, the next day was a story about a murder committed at Milepost 48 of the Yaak River Road (The Dirty Shame is at Milepost 29).   A woman and her boy friend allegedly shot and killed the woman’s husband and after dumping his body by the Yaak River, escaped in his car.   They were considered fugitives and law enforcement throughout the state was looking for them.

Yaak River Falls

John remarked to his bartender, “Doesn’t that look like the couple who ordered the double shots here yesterday?

The staff agreed so the next day he called the sheriff which brought a slew of deputies to investigate. The couple were later apprehended and the woman, Sarah Carpenter, was convicted of murder.

The call to the sheriff from John Runkle and the video of the couple at the Shame helped in the prosecution.    John was quoted in this article from the Bonners Ferry Herald as saying:

“They acted really unfriendly. I still remembered what they ordered. She ordered a double shot of Jack Daniels. He ordered a double shot of Sailor Jerry’s and they toasted each other, which I didn’t think was weird until two days later,”

This article entitled, “Guilty Verdict in Yaak Murder Trial” from the Western News tells the story including the result of the trial and the sordid details.

The Crawfish Festival

You missed 2019, but start planning for next Labor Day

Before regaling you with some more Dirty Shame stories, let’s review another one of the events in Yaak for which the Shame is the center of attraction.   In the last post, you read about the Sasquatch Festival and the Adult Easter Egg Hunt.

John’s truck in the Lodge driveway a few years ago.

The Crawfish Festival takes place on Labor Day weekend as a last fling since John states, “There’s pretty much nothing to do in Yaak during the winter.” 

(This year there were four feet of snow on the first weekend of the fall in parts of Northern Montana with kids even getting a rare snow day off at school.) The Daily Interlake  

John’ Facebook page announced the 2019 Festival in a typical promotional manner:

“Ok everybody. The Hollywood Knockouts will be returning to the Dirty Shame Saloon on Friday afternoon, August 30th to kick off the Crawfish Festival. For those who missed the show last year, these girls are professional cream wrestlers and they put on one hell of a show!!

That means you gotta be here Friday afternoon and evening to see it. You won’t be disappointed. FEMALE CREAM WRESTLING at it’s finest, only at the Dirty Shame Saloon!!!”

Besides outstanding and plentiful food, this year there was a mechanical bull, a gigantic inflatable gorilla (some maintain that it was actually a Sasquatch…) and some good music by multiple bands.

And don’t forget the ceremonial leg shaving.   I might add that I had not heard about symbolic leg shaving since I read Oregon’s Olympic Gold Medalist, Don Shollander’s autobiography years ago.   He talked about how competitive swimmers would shave their legs to mentally psyche them up for the meet.

Now I’m not positive that the leg shaving in the picture below was in preparation for the Big Foot Run at the Sasquatch Festival or for an event at the Crawfish Festival, but as you can see, it’s part of the culture at the Dirty Shame.

And of course, John had another great story about a past Crawfish Festival where some young women in the spirit of the event were having the guys in the Dirty Shame autograph their breasts with a sharpie.   Someone had called the sheriff and reported that their were some underage drinkers at the bar.

According to John, the Sheriff and one of his deputies – a big 6 foot 6 guy – walked in to check ID’s. The deputy took a few steps into the bar and one of the girls came up to him with the writing instrument.  John stated, “He turned beet red, did an about face and walked out to his patrol car.”

The Crack Pillow

Displayed prominently in a framed display behind the bar is what John calls “the crack pillow,” which you can see in the picture below and, of course, brought to mind another story.

Two hunting seasons ago (that’s how one keeps track in Yaak…) a young woman who looked like she had been through the wringer (and was obviously high on some substance) came into the bar wearing camouflage gear.

“You never know when you’re going to need firewood…..”

She was carrying a hatchet and she locked eyes with the bartender and laid the instrument on the bar stating, “You never know when you are going to need firewood…”

She then repaired to the ladies room at the bar and was there for an extended period. Since Yaak is at an elevation of 2,986, they figured she was not trying to gain solo membership to the “Mile High Club.”   She eventally came back out front soaking wet – she’d taken a “shower.”

She ordered a Mike’s Lemonade, but didn’t have any money and offered the pillow if John would give her the drink.   The “lady” then talked a young man into playing pool for unspecified benefits – he won and she got her coat on and proceeded to leave while asking the young man, “Are you coming?”  

The “Crack Pillow”

He drained his beer and walked out with her and like the couple indicted for murder, “They were never seen at the Dirty Shame again,” although the “crack pillow” occupies a permanent and prominent place of honor at the center of the back bar.

Well, I had intended this to be the last of three posts on the Dirty Shame, but it is already too long and there is a bit more to relate before I close out the story of this incredible watering hole. Stay tuned to find out why this saloon and its crew and regulars are a treasure to the legacy of historic watering holes.

The Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak – Part II

Big Sky Country between Yaak and Eureka

Followers of this blog are aware of our fourteen-day June road trip through Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming – the first six nights I drove solo before picking up Janet at the Billings Airport for the remaining eight days.  The two posts which provide an overview of this 3,700 trip can be seen by clicking on this link.

The first two night’s lodging were in the Moose Room of the Yaak River Lodge.  Yaak is near the NW border of Montana – 35 miles from the Canadian border – a community which about 250 people call home.  In the center of Yaak also sits the “World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon,” owned and managed since 2013 by John Runkle, who also owns the Lodge he bought in 2004.

I might add that even with its proximity, based on the beauty of the surrounding Kootenai National Forest, there’s no compelling reason to go to Canada unless you want to get Moosehead Lager Beer or visit the birthplace of native Canadian, Justin Bieber – a thought that would require a double shot of Canadian Club Whiskey rather than beer.  Hall of Fame hockey player, Wayne Gretzky was also born in Canada, although he never dated Selena Gomez But I digress……

The Yaak River Lodge which sits on 7.5 acres of beautiful property

Wildlife abounds in Yaak – and not necessarily just in the two bars in the “center of town.”  Besides a Sasquatch in a field (see photo below), I also saw elk, deer and feathered prey, but fortunately no grizzly bears.

And indeed, hunters are some of John’s main clients at the lodge and at the Dirty Shame Saloon in the fall.

Taken from the window of my car on Yaak River Road

Across the highway from the Shame is the Yaak River Tavern – owned by Gwen and which has a personality quite different from the historic and much written about Dirty Shame.  (There used to be a strip of four bars  in Yaak including the Golden Nugget and the Hell Roaring Saloon – these two are now gone but not forgotten.)

I spent quite a few hours in the Dirty Shame, interviewing John, talking to regulars and “drinking” in the ambiance of what became the most interesting of the 350 watering holes I’ve visited since starting Thebeerchaser blog in August, 2011.   These justify the title: “The World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon.”

Thebeerchaser and John Runkle – owner.

The first Beerchaser post on the bar chronicles John’s background – almost as interesting and varied as his bar and why he was named this blog’s most recent Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.  Click on the link above to read the story.)

You will want to read the highlights of The Dirty Shame before John bought it out of foreclosure – the only bidder and paying cash in 2013.   In that narrative, I tried to put to rest the concern of author, Joan Melcher, who wrote two wonderful books on “Montana Watering Holes’ and her fear in the second book about the Shame’s future.

I described why she loved the Shame when she first visited in the 1970’s.  (I used both of Joan’s books extensively for research and planning on my road trip and you should check them out.)

Joan’s trepidation was that Gloria and Don Belcher – the husband and wife from the East Coast who purchased the bar in 2006 – tried to “civilize” the bar.  The book clubs and music they introduced while attempting to turn it into a “bistro“ were totally out of character with the saloon’s roots.   (There was even carpet on the floor at one point!)

Joan Melcher’s first book published in 1983.

My narratives will try to reassure this wonderful writer that John has rekindled the spark that made hunters, bikers and adventurers return to the Dirty Shame to drink beer with the regulars.   Also to enjoy one of the community events Yaak celebrates and in which the Dirty Shame revels.

(I sent my last blog post to Joan in an e-mail and told her that her sense of loss was no longer valid and tried to convince her that she should return to validate my claim.)  She responded, in part:

“I do love the Dirty Shame and I’m glad it’s on the rebound.”

Now the trappings of the Dirty Shame are not unique – they reflect the same character as most good dive bars with a more western flavor –  a large rifle, cowboy boots, an old wood stove, a pool table, and Fox News on the big screen TV over the bar.  (The bullet holes in the wall when John bought it, have been removed.)

Oh, and there’s the bottle of MD 20-20 wine prominently displayed on a shelf and which John says dates back to 1978.  The two bottles of Benedictine Brewery Black Habit Beer that I brought as a “bar-warming” gift will now be displayed next to the “fermented juicy, luscious fruit infused with tasty flavor” contents in the Mogen David bottles, which we learned in college made it the “Original – Ready to Drink” or more aptly labeled, “Wine of the Century.”

What distinguishes the Shame are the people – not only John and his crew who run the place, but the regulars who reside in Yaak and those – be they the bikers and hunters, who return year after year and the tourists who have heard about this watering hole.

They come not only for the Sasquatch Festival, the Crawdad Festival and the Adult Easter Egg Hunt, but to mingle with the unconventional, one-of-a-kind characters.  These personae, who based on the stories from years past and recently, seem drawn to the Dirty Shame like a moth to the light reflecting off a bottle of Budweiser on a moonlit Yaak evening….

In the Adult Easter Egg Hunt, about sixty women search (often in the snow still on the ground) for the “golden egg” among those scattered around the outside of the saloon.   The lucky finder is the recipient of a “$200 Sex Package,” – one on which John commented, “I didn’t know what most of that stuff was…..”

Howie Long – occasional visitor to Yaak

As John emphasized to me, “You never know who you are going to sit next to at the Dirty Shame.” I’m not talking about “celebrities” such as sports broadcaster and athlete, Howie Long (who owns a home near Flathead Lake), or Mark Furman of the OJ Trial fame.

No, I’m talking about some who are clearly bad dudes and misfits, but most who are salt-of-the-earth patriots one wants to write about – so I will.   And I’ll also tell you about the events in Yaak that you should plan your next road trip around……

The Kehoe GangChevie and Cheyne Kehoe were two of eight sons raised starting in Arkansas.  Chevie, who was named after his dad, Kirby’s, favorite car was born in 1973 – the oldest, and when they moved to Eastern Washington, he was an honor student (but evidently not most likely to succeed) at Colville Jr. High in Deep Lake, Washington.   His mom, Gloria, then homeschooled the boys during their high school years, which may have been when Chevie became enamored with white supremacist ideas.

Chevis at his trial

To summarize, he and Cheyne were involved in a number of frauds and property crimes in Arkansas, culminating with the murder of a family which owned a gun store in 1996. They disappeared and ended in Spokane.   In 1997, they had a shootout with two Ohio police officers who had stopped their car.

The supermax prison that houses Chevie

Along the way, Chevie married three times and had three children.   As was inevitable, the law finally caught up with him in Utah. After a trial in which his mother and Cheyne (who had turned himself in) served as star witnesses for the prosecution, he was convicted of murder and several other felonies.

Chevie is now serving three life sentences in Florence Prison – known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” – in Colorado.

My second afternoon at the Dirty Shame, I noticed two men who were talking to Darilyn, the bartender. One of them stated in a soft-spoken voice, “Dar, I think I owe you for the meal I had last week and didn’t want to let that slide by before I forget.”  She checked and said that another regular had already paid it.

John introduced me and they were both nice, personable guys.   He stated that they do some maintenance and electrical work for him at the bar.   After they left, John told me that the older one was Chevie Kehoe’s, brother Noah and the other was Axel his son – the one who wanted to make sure his bill was paid.  Noah lives in Yaak and Axel in Spokane.

The Sasquatch Festival

So let’s talk about a few of the periodic events that attract visitors to Yaak and John has used to enhance business and add to the bar’s cache’.   These also are great events which bring the residents of this small but rugged community together.

The Sasquatch Festival was first held three years ago and is now an annual Yaak event held in the early summer months.

John’s friend, Todd Berget, a retired teacher who taught at an alternative school in Libby for thirty-one years, came up with the idea and is now the coordinator of the event which is heartily celebrated at both the Dirty Shame and the Yaak River Tavern.

As stated previously, there is a competition between these two establishments.  Although both are great places to get a beer, there is a distinct difference in character.

John summarized this quite well: “During the Sasquatch Festival, they have an Ugly Sweater Contest.   The Dirty Shame has a Wet T-shirt Contest!”  Nevertheless, the two rivals cooperate during the event which draws about 200 people to Yaak and has robust participation from residents.

This includes the Big Foot Run, where a local athlete dons a Sasquatch costume and about twenty-five contestants try to catch him (or her) and win the prize of free beer. (Three people have accomplished this since the inception.)

During the Festival for which the proceeds go to charities, the Shame is also center of a number of other competitions which John orchestrates.

These include the Miss Sasquatch Pageant and the contest for the hairiest male back – the female version of this competition was discontinued for obvious reasons…….

You also wouldn’t want to miss the beard contest, the Sasquatch screeching contest and related events.  Last year they showed the 1987 Academy Award-winning movie (Best Make-up and Hairstyling) Harry and the Hendersons (“The Henderson family adopt a friendly Sasquatch but have a hard time trying to keep the legend of ‘Bigfoot’ a secret.”)

One of Todd and his students’ creations that cause a double-take while driving……

Todd is responsible for one factor that enhances the festival – and the area all year round for that matter.  Before he retired, he started a fundraiser for his school by having his kids make plywood Sasquatch replicas – about six feet high.

These show up in fields, not only in Yaak, but in the surrounding Montana countryside.  Before I knew this, I took this picture – after I did an abrupt double take driving by a field on the way to the Shame.

I sat down and had a beer with John and Todd and loved the stories they related and seeing their rich friendship – an interesting fact and one which made the conversation robust because of their divergent political philosophies – John Runkle is a staunch conservative and Trump supporter.  According to John, “Todd is a liberal whose ideology would be left of Stalin’s!”

Two good friends with divergent political leanings in a typical civil conversation

Todd Berget is an artist and talented craftsman as evidenced by the metal sculptures which are displayed at the Dirty Shame and one can see coming into Libby, Montana where a metal eagle with a forty-foot wing span greets drivers on the highway.  He produces these in his Libby business formed in 1997 – Custom Iron Eagles.

He also has gifted the Dirty Shame with his collection of metal motorcycles that he started collecting when he was a kid. They are intricate and reflect an artistic talent for capturing detail which is intriguing and the displays add to the spirit of the saloon.

In fact one of the great stories involves Todd’s friend, Jay Graham who is also a teacher and was the high school wrestling coach in Libby for eighteen years.   Two young women came into the bar and needed money to get to Portland, suggesting that they strip for cash.  John responded that the Dirty Shame was not a strip club, but the enthusiastic guys there urged them to go ahead.

Todd and Jay happened to be present and Jay had his head lowered and turned away.  Todd asked him what was wrong and Jay responded quietly, “I taught Halley in third grade.  I just can’t look!”

I mentioned that John is a Trump supporter and his own timeline and that of the Dirty Shame on Facebook are filled with pictures of John and friends and bar visitors with a life-size cutout of Trump (life-size except for the size of the hands….).  John’s wife, Dallas, bought it for him as a present two years ago.

John inevitably is in his thumbs up pose and there is often a handwritten poster with some right-leaning phrase displayed. The one below is an example and since this is a family blog (of sorts…..) I won’t include the others although very entertaining.

John and I have distinctly different political philosophies, but he is a guy with whom one can have constructive and civil conversations about ideology and one’s view of government – a practice which is becoming far to infrequent in today’s society.

During the Crawdad Festival on Labor Day, 2018, a stranger who had consumed a number of beers, walked to the back of the bar where Trump was displayed, picked him up and dashed for the exit.

A biker who observed tried to stop him and the “thief” did a face plant by the bar’s entrance. He recovered, rode away with Trump and notwithstanding the wanted poster, has never been seen since (although there was one sighting in Greenland…)

The new Trump – also bought on-line in case you’re interested – is not as sizeable, but still is displayed as can be seen by this picture with John.

The replacement President….

The Bar Crew

I mentioned in a previous post that John met his wife, Dallas, who lived nearby and was working on graduate studies in Applied Behavior and started working as a bartender.  They just welcomed their second daughter in mid-August.

Darilyn Street, is a very impressive woman who helps John manage the Dirty Shame.  Besides handling a major portion of the bar duties, she is also a great cook – both at the bar and at the Lodge where I had her wonderful cheese omelet for breakfast.

John and Darilyn

She and her family – all very nice people live in nearby Libby and come to Yaak for the summer.   Her husband, (Robert and son Robert Jr.) work on the machinery and also do maintenance work around both operations and Vicki, the daughter, who just turned 18, started bartending – that’s minimum age for the job in Montana.

In the picture below, you can also see Sandie – the blonde on the right.  She joined the crew in May this year under somewhat unusual circumstances (except for the Dirty Shame….).

A disheveled Sandie showed up at the bar one week night – distraught and in somewhat ragged condition. She told Darilyn that her boyfriend got drunk and they had a fight.

Sandie then exclaimed, “I’m not going back there.”   They put her up at the Lodge and she started doing some odd jobs for her room and board.

Then about two or three days later, they see a “Missing Persons” poster with none other than Sandie’s name and picture clearly shown.   John called the Sheriff and let him know that the missing person had been found.   When I rolled into the Lodge on a Friday evening in June, Sandie checked me in and told me, “They found me and now I’m here for good!”   She’s now one of his crew.

And so ends the second post on the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon.  Stay tuned for the final Beerchaser installment and then the details on the other forty-eight bars and breweries we visited on our June road trip.

The Dirty Shame Saloon      

29453 Yaak River Road,    Troy Montana

 

John Runkle: Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter and the Dirty Shame Saloon – Part 1

Thebeerchaser with new friend, John Runkle after the ceremonial presentation of two bottles of Benedictine beer.

John Runkle is a burly, outgoing guy who radiates energy and charisma – one reason he has a loyal and diverse customer base in his Yaak Montana bar – the Dirty Shame Saloon.

A number of long-term customers, most notably hunters and bikers, also stay at his other business – the Yaak River Lodge – about a mile down the road from the “center” of this small unincorporated burg in the upper Northwest corner of Montana.

It sits on 7.5 acres of beautiful Montana land fronting the Yaak River with llamas and horses.

The Lodge – A favorite for hunters and bikers…

In fact, during hunting season and other busy months, he runs a shuttle between the bar and the lodge so his customers don’t jeopardize not only their own safety, but that of the other approximately 250 residents of Yaak.

Optional shuttle service to the Lodge….

While some think the community was named after the “yak” – a long-haired domesticated clove-footed mammal similar to the bison,  the village’s name was derived from the Native American term for “arrow.”

The yak in the photo below – in the dining room of the Lodge, was purchased at a yard sale for $350 according to John!

Blueberry pancakes under the watchful eyes of the yak…

And Yaak – only 61 miles from the nearest Canadian border crossing – is where I spent the first two nights of what was a combined fourteen-day 3,700-mile June road trip through Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming.  I was ensconced in the Moose Room – comfortable and spacious with rustic charm.

No locks on the Moose Room Door or for that matter on the outer doors of the Lodge itself…

The first six days of the trip,I drove our Prius solo, marveling at the Big Sky scenery and rocking out to various Sirius Satellite Radio channels – my favorite being channel 70 –  “Yacht Rock Radio.”

The psuedo falsetto and boring melodies and lyrics finally got to me.....I heard Christopher Cross sing “Ride Like the Wind” and “Sailing” one too many times on Yacht Rock.

So I switched to BB King’s “Bluesville” #74 and “Big Band Forties Junction” #73 spinning my favorite Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller classics.

I could listen to Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade any number of times…

Subsequent nights in Montana’s Kalispell, Hamilton, Anaconda and Livingston before picking up my spouse at the Billings Airport, gave me the opportunity to explore thirty Montana watering holes – many of them historic dive bars.

These establishments supplemented the nineteen bars and breweries, Janet and I visited in the final eight days of the trip – a journey that was also highlighted by three National Parks, two National Monuments, the incredible Custer State Park and the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Janet overlooking Teddy Roosevelt – one of three magnificant National Parks

For an overview of the entire trip, see the first two posts on Thebeerchaser with the links below:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/07/05/big-sky-beerchasing-the-preface/

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/07/11/big-sky-preface-part-ii/

I first talked John Runkle three years ago after Tara, a bartender at the Moose Saloon in Coeur d’Alene, told me that my blog hobby should definitely include a review of the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak where she used to bartend.

After reading about the infamous bar and an extended phone conversation with John, I told him that my bucket list now included a future visit to his bar.

Of course, John was not impressed when he learned that two other items on my bucket list were:

Cadillac Ranch – one of the Seven Wonders???

1. Visiting Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Bucket list pipe dream……!

 

 

 

 

2. Sitting on the 50-yard line when the Oregon State Beavers win the College Football National Championship (while the Beavs are still in Division 1….)

Why the Dirty Shame?

The Dirty Shame has a long and fabled history.  Let’s get some insight on that from an acclaimed expert on Montana bars – Joan Melcher– she has authored two wonderful books on Montana Watering Holes.

In her first book (1983), Joan stated:

“….the same wood-planked front porch, the same deer rack used as a door handle, the battered pool table, the loose bathroom door, the grotesque graffiti inside, the loggers, ranchers receptionists, Forest Service people using the bar like a third leg….

The Dirty Shame is the fresh, sharp smell of pine, and the dank odor of dirt-laden, beer-splashed floors, wild nights of revelry and mornings of shared pain.”  (Page 88)

The DS in years past.

According to one local legend, the original Dirty Shame was built in 1951 by airmen in the United States Army Air Corps.

They erected it so that they would have their own place to dine and drink.   The original bar, with only a dirt floor, burned down and was rebuilt.

The author laments the “deterioration” of this historic and iconic bar in her second book written in 2009.  She was pessimistic about the perpetuation of the Dirty Shame’s tradition after a female – a former Wall Street stockbroker and her husband, moved from Maryland and bought the bar in 2006. 

I say “deterioration” because they tried to “clean it up.”  (Perhaps they should have recognized that as being counterintuitive – given the name of the bar!)

These bikers are not at the Dirty Shame to discuss Dostoevsky….

“What I learn is the that the Dirty Shame died a typically raucous death and has been reborn as a law-abiding establishment, that is really more coffeehouse then bar. Sacrilege!…..Besides a piano and set-up for musicians….she also has book readings and draws many people who aren’t close enough to Yaak to be miffed about what happened to its legendary bar.  

The Dirty Shame is dead.   Long live the Dirty Shame.”  (Pages 54-7,9)

Well, ironically, the stockbroker’s plans were permanently shelved in 2011 when her 82-year old husband, Glen, was taken out of the bar in handcuffs and extradited to Maryland after he pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of two female minors according to a story in the Montana newspaper The Ravelli Republic.

John Runkle who had purchased the Yaak River Lodge in 2004 and operated it since that time, knew he had to do something:

“It was a matter of self-preservation.  I started getting cancellations because hunters and bikers wanted to hit the Dirty Shame when they stayed in Yaak. 

I was the only one who showed up at the foreclosure sale.  I paid cash and was now the owner of another business that I didn’t know anything about how to operate.”   

He and his army buddy, Ray Falconer, purchased it out of foreclosure in 2013 and the rest is history.  (John’ partner, Ray, bailed about a year later after going through one Montana winter.  (“It was the coldest in 15 years at one point hitting 32 degrees below zero.”)

Purchased out of foreclosure in 2013

The rest is history and as you will read below and in the following posts, Dirty Shame regulars no longer have to worry about the original “ambiance” of their bar sliding up to book club decorum.   And that’s because this wonderful saloon reflects the magnetic personality of its owner.  No, neither the Dirty Shame or John Runkle is anywhere close to being deceased…….

Now before getting into the details, let me state that examining photos John has sent and those on Facebook, the most frequent shot is somebody posing with him – Runkle inevitably is in a two-thumbs up posture reflecting his outlook on life.

Two thumbs up on life….

Alternatively, the photo shows John and his visitors with the Donald Trump life-size cut-out – it’s now gone, but not forgotten after being “kidnapped” last year.   (Stories on the Trump escapade and John’s politics in the next post.)John Runkle’s background reflects  some of the same fascinating interludes as his bar.  He was born in Orange County and graduated from LaQuinta High School in Westminster, CA – that was only after a brief period where he even attended Rex Putnam HS in Portland (about seven miles from my current residence) when he “ran away” to Oregon with his then girlfriend!

He joined the Army in 1980 and was ordered to Jump School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“I was pretty big for a paratrooper, but I did what they told me… and that first jump is the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve had besides getting married…”

He became a Paratrooper with the 509th Airborne Combat Team, was shipped to Europe and graduated from the  French Commando School.  He also earned Spanish Jump Wings.  The big guy made a total of 53 jumps.

He was then stationed in Italy and a member of SETAF – an Army Service component command of United States Africa Command , which although based in Italy, primarily operates in Africa. 

In 1983, the Army surprised him with new orders – this time to be a jump school instructor at Fort Benning:

“Italy was great.  To be honest, I probably would have made the Army a career, but there is a lot of difference between Vincenza, Italy and Fort Benning.” 

Smoke ’em if you got ’em

Upon leaving the Army, he used the GI Bill and ultimately graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a BS in Business Administration – a degree he has used extensively along with his natural propensity for sales and marketing.

Pictures  of John from his days in the Army reveal why there have been some great reunions of his military buddies at the Dirty Shame Saloon in recent years.

Runkle is an entrepreneur and a natural leader.  His sales acumen led him into the real estate business and he formed his own company in 1988. In the twenty years he managed it, he successfully expanded the business to seven states with 300 realtors.

He became a well known force in the industry while garnering awards such as Realtor of the Year and Outstanding Performer.  (He still does some real estate work in and around Yaak.)

John also had successful stints in the mining equipment and banking areas including time in Queensland, Australia for several years after he bought Yaak River Lodge and before the Dirty Shame.

If one looks at his resume, one can see an emphasis on staff development and motivating a team – it was still evident even with the small group at the Dirty Shame.

According to John, after growing his real estate business, “I reached my limit one day in 1998 while on a vacation to Glacier National Park.   I threw my cell phone out the window and knew if I didn’t escape the grind, I was heading for a heart attack.”    He fell in love with Montana and when the Lodge came up for sale, “I bought it on the spot — although it was a mess….”

And it’s understandable why someone who wants to escape the tyranny of the urgent and appreciate nature’s wonder in the West would gravitate to Montana.

Yaak River Falls – only a little over 20 miles from the bar

If you look at one of his recent Facebook posts, one can see the ambivalence that owning a small business(es) sometime creates – very typical in the hospitality and lodging businesses where balancing the job and family becomes a major challenge:

“Ever since I was 21 years old, it seems like I have always been in charge no matter where I end up.  At my age I keep thinking of the movie ‘American Beauty’ where he quits his job as an executive and goes to work at Burger King. His exact words to the interviewer were ‘I want the job with the least amount of responsibility.’  Does anyone else ever feel like that too?”

Chief cook at Yaak River Lodge – not Burger King…

That said, I can’t see John being in a subservient role very long – partly because of his own personality and because those around him look up to him and seek inspiration from his leadership.  As the quote below shows, after some frustration, reality and the pursuit of excellence return for overachievers:

“As another summer approaches, I think of how much whining I do as it become overwhelming busy at the Dirty Shame.  I have to continuously remind myself that I own a hunting lodge and a wild west bar.  Life just doesn’t get any better – truthfully.”

Before we leave this part of the story, we need to talk about family.   He met Dallas Wilson when she applied for a bartender job three and one-half years ago.

She had studied at Arizona State and while working, she is completing work on her Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis.

A testament to her abilities as a teacher and tutor is this shown from this Facebook post from John.

 

 

 

They married and were blessed with their first child – an outrageously cute little girl who is now two and one-half.   And Dallas was about nine months pregnant when I was there in June so……..

Now there is plenty more to share about the Dirty Shame and the Yaak River Lodge, so stay tuned for the next post of Thebeerchaser.

You won’t want to miss the stories of this legendary bar and see how the Runkle marketing talents and creativity have continued to make the Dirty Shame Saloon a popular destination.

John is one of the most fascinating people I’ve met in 7 1/2 years of Beerchasing and joins a select group of authors, war heroes, athletes, academicians, lawyers and just plain interesting individuals and groups who have been named  the Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.  (Although none may have liked Halloween as well….)

 

The Dirty Shame Saloon  

29453 Yaak River Road, Troy Montana

The First Vancouver (WA) Beerchase – Loowit Brewery


Since Vancouver, WA is within twenty miles of my house and before I retired, I would make frequent trips to this city right across the border when I visited Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt’s branch office right downtown, I’m not sure why a Vancouver watering hole has never previously graced the pages of Thebeerchaser.com.

Perhaps, it was the hellish traffic between Portland and the Washington border – going both ways – that makes one want to get the heck out of there as soon as possible to avoid the interminable delays on I-5.

That ceases to be a factor when one is retired, however, and it had been too long since I had raised a mug with my long-term friend and former colleague, Larry Paulson, at the law firm, so we mutually agreed on a brewpub in the heart of Vancouver.

“The General” as we called him, because after serving as Lead Staff Judge Advocate and Chief of Staff for the Oregon Air National Guard, he was promoted to Brigadier General in the Air Force. While serving in the Reserves he had a long and distinguished legal and management career.

A typical day at the Port of Vancouver.

He served as the Managing Partner in Schwabe’s Vancouver office until 1997.

He then had a notable tenure as Executive Director of the Port of Vancouver, USA, before retiring in 2013. (He reminded me that even though he is slightly older, he worked 1.5 years longer than I did.)

The Port is a big operation – it contains five terminals, along with the largest mobile harbor cranes in North America which are typically used to unload wind energy equipment.

The General and Aaron, our bartender, at Sidecar 11 with the original Beerchaser logo

I realized that Larry and I had not been Beerchasing since his two previous expeditions – the first in 2012 at Interurban and then in 2013 at Sidecar 11 – both on Mississippi Avenue in North Portland.

Given the number of lawyer stories we both know and Larry’s tales from his many years in the military, the situation had to be remedied.

I checked out the options in Vancouver and was surprised that there were quite a few.  In fact, according to Brewcouver.com there are fourteen and a number of additional brewpubs.  Visiting all fourteen makes one eligible for some unidentified prizes and benefits.

The convenient location of Loowit Brewing – one block away from the Schwabe office which I knew how to get to and some reasonably good social media reviews made it an easy choice.

But perhaps the ultimate factor in making the decision was Willamette Week’s endorsement below from the Loowit web site.  WW has traditionally been a good resource for Thebeerchaser in researching Northwest watering holes:

“Loowit Brewing has been a mainstay of the burgeoning craft brew scene in Vancouver since opening in in 2012, and their ever-growing portfolio of dank IPAs, rich stouts and smooth lagers continues to keep them in the running as one of the area’s best.”

And in a 2017 review entitled, “Loowit is the Best Beer Hang in Vancouver,” the weekly was very positive about the ambiance and the beer.

General Paulson scoping out the menu.

Loowit – that’s the native American name for Mt. St. Helens meaning “Lady of Fire” –  like many of the independent micro-breweries, is a good story – two long-time friends – Devon Bray and Thomas Poffenroth – whose vision was initially fulfilled when they opened the brewery and taproom in 2012.

I was surprised that a small brewery had so many beers – 18 of its drafts in the taproom – and they have an impressive collection of awards on its resume.

An impressive number of awards for its beers.

Thirteen of the Loowit beers, starting in 2014, have been recipients of awards ranging from regional competitions such as the Washington Beer Awards and Bend’s Best of Craft Beer Awards to international competitions – a Silver Medal in the 2016 World Beer Cup for its Grimlock Rye Porter and a Bronze in 2018 at the Great American Beer Festival for its Shimmer Gloom Imperial Stout

The taproom has a nice, but not distinctive ambiance, from its open concept and appears to be smaller than it is because a separate game room (two traditional pinballs and two video games) and patio expand the capacity.  They also have a stage for music and a space for two dart boards.

They have live music a few times a month and show Portland Timber games and have good discounts whenever the soccer team to the south has a match.  A Happy Hour each weekday from 3:00 to 5:00 PM features $1 off beer and some food specials.

The brewpub has a limited, but typical pub menu with appetizers, salads, sandwiches and burgers.   The prices are a little steeper than in many establishments, but not unusual for one located in a downtown urban environment. (Sandwiches from $9 to $11 and burgers from $10 to $13.)

In the fair weather months, the open garage door, the large windows and the patio allow one to enjoy the downtown Vancouver bustle.

Larry and I each had a Cubano sandwich, which was good but not spectacular.   Typically, I make a return visit before doing a review, but I wanted to get this first Vancouver watering hole posted.   The next time I’ll have one of their burgers which get repeated praise on social media. Typical was this recent Yelp review from 6/8/19:

“We arrived – a party of four, all ordered burgers and agree these were some of the best burgers we’ve had.  And we’ve eaten many burger.  The sauces were very flavorful and the burgers were complemented by the challah buns.”

Similarly, when I return, I will have a flight of beers given their diverse and distinguished lineup.  After getting a very good and informed briefing from Andre, the bartender, I chose the Two-Sixteen Red Ale, since I like red ales and this one had understandably garnered awards in 2014, 16 and 19.

Larry downed a draft pint of one of their flagship beers – the Shadow Shinobi IPA – their best selling beer.

With continuing new releases – two in April (If You are to Bloom and Ms. Lazurus), numerous awards and their impressive equipment, Loowit Brewing is serious about beer and has established credibility as a player in the NW Micro-craft scene.

Of course, the experience was enhanced with a great companion like The General who is a wonderful human being, family man and whose broad experience provides endless conversations – interesting enough that the tales make one forget the traffic hell that awaited me after leaving……

“Don, did I tell you how the wind turbines being trucked to Eastern Oregon got stuck in an underpass.”

Loowit Brewing       507 Columbia St, Vancouver

Big Sky Preface – Part II

The 3,700 mile route of our fourteen-day trip through Oregon, Washington, Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho

As I mentioned on the previous blog post, we recently completed a 3,700 mile trip through six states besides Oregon.  On the first six says, I drove solo – spending nights in Yaak (2), Kalispell, Hamilton, Anaconda and Livingston before meeting my bride who flew into Billings.

The lobby of the historic Murray Hotel on Main Street in Livingston

From that point, we spent eight more days together hitting three National Parks, two National Monuments, two Memorials and one incredible State Park (Custer in South Dakota.)

On a walk next to the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park

While on my own, I visited twenty-three bars and seven breweries and Janet and I subsequently stopped in ten bars and nine breweries for a total of forty-nine memorable establishments where we met wonderful people, had outstanding beer and good food.  The scenery was varied and stunning.  The complete list and some additional background information on the trip can be found at:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/07/05/big-sky-beerchasing-the-preface/

In future blog posts, I will talk in detail about the watering holes and the people, however, I think it fitting to again preface those narratives with what constituted the highlights of our trip – one that we will remember as a memorable and cherished journey across a big slice of Western America.

Favorite National Park

Badlands National Park in South Dakota – The clear winner.  The carved landscape reflecting the incredible and unceasing power of nature was dramatic and humbling.

Favorite Breweries

We visited sixteen breweries or brewpubs during the trip and I’m compelled to name three which topped the list.

Bias Brewing in Kalispell – I spent an hour interviewing (before they opened for the day) Gabe Mariman the co-owner.   Bias was opened by Adam and Amanda Robertson in 2018 and Gabe joined them shorty after.  He and his family moved from Bend.

They have an amazing story and are true entrepreneurs and innovators, are environmentally progressive and actively support their community.

Bitter Root Brewing in Hamilton – Founded in 1998, it’s one of the oldest breweries in the State and a family-owned and operated business.   Sarah, the daughter of the owners who moved home from Arizona, spent time briefing me on the history and their operations while I had an excellent dinner.

Bitter Root has a wonderful and personable staff and it was obvious that they enjoyed their jobs and took pride in their company.   The manner in which Sarah interacted with customers and her staff was remarkable.

They are proud of their kitchen and “source local and organic whenever possible and love partnering with local providers.”

Rachael, Emile, Sarah and Miles – a personable staff

Smith Alley Brewing – Sheridan, Wyoming – It’s opening in January, 2019, made it the third brewery in Sheridan and after having some of their excellent beer we came back for dinner – another good decision.

The brewpub quarters have great ambiance – located in one of Sheridan’s historical buildings right on Main Street.   And we were particularly impressed with their new head brewer – Jason.

He stopped what he was doing in the brewery to talk with us, pour us a sample of a new beer which he was still in the process of refining the new brew so it was not yet available on tap – excellent taste and aroma.  Turns out, he recently moved from Oregon City, where I graduated from high school and plans to move his family to Sheridan in the next month.  

Favorite National Monument or Memorial 

While the Little Big Horn National Monument imbued a sense of being on hallowed ground, the visit to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial should be on every person’s bucket list.

Fortunately, due to the admonition of some good friends about crowds, we hit it early on a Monday morning.   There were few people at that time and being able to view this incredible sight from a distance and then walk up to see a close-up unobstructed perspective of these American icons left what will be a lasting and memorable impression.

And the background and story of sculptor, Gutzon Borglum and the 400 workers who worked on this fourteen-year project (1927-41) is fascinating.

Favorite Bars

This presents a dilemma because there were so many bars – many with rich histories, located in historic buildings and with wonderful bartenders.

The Dirty Shame Saloon – Yaak, Montana – Since meeting John Runkle and visiting the Dirty Shame was a primary motivation for the trip, and the time spent there exceeded my expectations, it is obviously first on the list.   Future posts will inform you why you should also visit this legendary bar.

John Runkle and the center of Yaak, Montana!

Montana Bar – Miles City – As Joan Melcher wrote in 1983 in her wonderful first book Watering Holes – A User’s Guide to Montana Bars:

“I wondered when I first walked into the Montana if I had not found a bar about as close to perfect as I was going to find….The Montana was built in 1902 by James Kenney and outside of a new coat of paint and new wallpaper, the bar has hardly changed.”

In 2019, this bar still exudes its rich and historic past and the effusive bartender, Blake, was friendly and helpful in telling us the story.

Blue Moon Saloon – Columbus Falls – Based on the aforementioned Joan Melchor’s book, I had to see the Blue Moon on my trip.  It’s in a rural area close to Kalispell and I stopped in mid-afternoon on the first Sunday of my trip.

A portion of what is purported to be the longest bar in Montana

It’s purported to have the longest bar in Montana and is know for its legendary taxidermy and the charisma of its owners, Dick and Charlotte Sapa, who bought the bar in 1973.   When I walked in, sat down in the middle of the bar and ordered a beer, I asked the bartender if the Sapas still owned it.

The amazing Sapas

She pointed to her right and said, that’s them sitting down at the end of the bar.  That began an extended conversation with this amazing couple who were not hesitant to regale me with stories.

Their son, Bill, after we talked awhile, offered to take me up to the fabled upper room – an honor – which is completely filled with additional trophies from the hunts all over the world.

Bill Sappa and part of the fabled “upper room.”

I am looking forward to telling a more complete story of this bar, but it was one of the highlights of my solo trip.

(You will love the true story of the guy who wanted to show off his new horse, shortly after they opened the bar.  Charlotte agreed and the entrance and exit of the rider and his steed is a perfect example of why I want to return to visit more Montana saloons.)

Favorite Bartenders

This is another category that given the warmth of the bartenders who greeted me and shared their own and their bar’s stories after I gave them my Beerchaser card, is a challenge to single out a few.  That said, here’s a valiant attempt and I will let you know about the others when I describe their bars in future posts:

Andre at the Little Missouri Saloon in Medora, North Dakota – We have found on three of our last major trips – Alaska, New England and this one, that a number of the bartenders and servers are natives of the Caucasus, Eastern, Southern or Central Europe.

They come over during the summers to work and return in the fall – often for continuing university study.  In general, they speak English quite well, are personable and enjoy sharing their story when you ask.

Such was the case with Andre’ from Macedonia, who had an infectious smile, a warm personality and joked with us notwithstanding a very busy bar.   We enjoyed him and wish Andre’  well.

Andre from Macedonia

Tom Davis – bartender and owner of the Wise River Club in Wise River, Montana – Wise River is really “in the sticks” (on the north edge of the Beaverhead National Forest and about 40 miles from the Antler Saloon in Wisdom so you will have some context…..)

I stopped in about noon and ordered a Miller High Life from Tom, who told me he and his wife are the owners of both the bar and the RV park behind it – they bought them eleven years ago – and his story. He emigrated from Scotland in 1964. “In those days if you had an accent and could sing, you could make some money.”

He formed a band and played lead guitar, and he and his group fronted and toured with Sonny and Cher, the Mamas and Papas and in the Northwest with Portland’s own Paul Revere and the Raiders.

I was sorry I didn’t hit Wise River on the weekends because Tom still plays and sings.  He was a great guy with a still wonderful accent and sparkling personality.

DarilynCook and bartendar at the Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak – The story of the Dirty Shame and the background of its owner and staff will more than fill two future posts, but suffice to say that Darilyn – is a gem.

She and her family live in Troy and they come up to help John Runkle at various times of the year around the bar and at the Lodge.   She is soft spoken, but is an asset to John and probably manages him better than anyone except his wife!

John Runkle and Darilyn

Favorite Bar Regulars

There is no question on the two below although I met scores of great bar regulars.

Geoff at the Yaak River Tavern – There is some competition between the Dirty Shame and this bar right across the highway.  Also no question that the Dirty Shame has more character.  In John Runkle’s apt way of describing the distinction:

“Yaak River Tavern has an Ugly Sweater Contest.  The Dirty Shame has a Wet T-shirt Contest.”

Geoff – a character to remember

That said, I did go over there for about an hour on my first night in Yaak.   An affable old guy named Geoff was playing guitar and singing – right on a bar stool at the bar – nursing one of a number of beers he had that day/night and telling stories.

I told the owner that I was buying him a beer when he came in the next day to credit his account.   So he sang us his favorite song.  (When the lyrics have “palm trees,” “banana,” “beach” and “Montana” in the same verse, you know there’s creativity!)

(If you don’t see the arrow to play on the video below, tap on the photo and it will take you to the You Tube I posted on Geoff’s song.)

Fritz at the Antler Saloon in Wisdom, Montana –  The Antler is a picturesque and historic bar in Wisdom – also out in the Montana boonies – one which requires driving through some beautiful country.

“Bernie” was the bartender and also self-described herself as the “pizza maker” – the bar is known for that but I arrived there about 10:00 AM.  I had a very nice chat with her and one of the owners, Tom, who at one time worked at Oregon Steel in Portland and a good client of my former law firm.

That’s my Miller High Life on the bar at the bottom right.

A sign in the men’s john stated, ” Please spit chew in the garbage, not the urinal,” and another said, “This establishment serves no drinks with tiny umbrellas.”

But the biggest impact on me was Fritz – Bernie’s dog.  He epitomized a great bar regular and waved a paw from his bar stool as I left.

Fritz – a memorable regular

Favorite Lodging Options

We are loyal to the Marriott Hotel chain and like the different options presented with the mid-price options (or ability to use points) which always include a decent, if not enticing, breakfast option.   We stayed in a number – all after Janet joined the trip, because I tried to hit either historic or low budget, but interesting motels, when I drove solo.

From a price standpoint, at $55 per night, I might suggest Deffy’s Motel in Livingston, but it was borderline.   Although for that price, I got a couch, full kitchen, desk and even cable TV, Janet would have vetoed out of hand.

I noticed from both a sign and on-line that Deffy’s is for sale – price not disclosed – if anybody is interesting in relocating to Hamilton and taking over an “established” business.

The Murray Hotel in Hamilton –  I got in this historic hotel because of Janet’s checking after most of the lodging options when I checked, were unavailable because they were filming an episode of “Yellowstone” with Kevin Costner right outside the city.

A great bar

But this was a rustic gem, with a great bar and very comfortable room right on Main Street.  The clerk at the desk was Val – a former land-use planner who had worked for the City of Hillsboro and had some Oregon roots so we had a great conversation.

“Since its grand opening in 1904, the Murray Hotel’s guest registry has been more like a who’s who of history and Hollywood. Celebrities such as Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane have graced the threshold of what was once “the” elegant railroad hotel.”  (Murray Hotel website)

Will Rogers and his friend purportedly tried to use it to bring his favorite saddle horse to their  suite on the third floor at one time.

From the décor in the lobby, to the bar and overall ambiance, it was great.  I loved it and would strongly recommend.  And if you hit there at the right time, you might well run into a noted entertainer, artist or writer on vacation.

Marriott Element in Bozeman – A factor in this choice may be how much we liked Bozeman as a city and the hotel was about two blocks off the main street.  It had a great lobby, nice staff, a happy hour with complimentary beer and cheese and even tea at 8:00 as a nightcap besides a breakfast better than most Mariott options.

And because of our Mariott loyalty program, we got an upgrade to a suite, but the paramount element to making this list was the view from our room – just outstanding!  This was taken right from the window of our room.

Big Sky Country at its best..

Favorite Cities in Which I/We had an Overnight Stay

There was really only one city on the trip through seven states that I didn’t care for – Anaconda – and part of one afternoon and an hour the next morning, probably isn’t enough time to bond with a municipality.  That said, besides Yaak, there were no stays longer than one night.

I should also state, that while we really liked Teddy Roosevelt National Park and the bar and brewpub we went to, Medora, North Dakota had kind of a weird or unsettling vibe.

I might add that while the scenery, the people and the setting of many of the cities and towns we experienced, tempted one to say,  “I could definitely move here,” reality set in when we remembered the weather during the winter months.

Teddy Roosevelt National Park was great. Medora – not so much.

As stated in one website, “Winter sees some extremes in Montana weather.  During the winter, it is very common for the areas east of the Continental Divide to be in the deep-freeze of below zero temperatures.”

And besides 50 to 100 inches of snow, it is usually blowing snow.  This July night it is a pleasant 61 degrees, but if you plan to relocate, look at the full annual picture.

Hamilton, Montana – One thing that prompted me to check out Hamilton was an article in The Oregonian  the city on small western cities by David Lynch of The Washington Post.  Further research revealed this excerpt from The Oregonian in July 2014.

Hamilton, population 4,508,  is located near the center of the Bitterroot Valley, an 80-mile north-south valley tucked in on the east slope of the Bitterroot Mountains in far western Montana and about 50 miles south of Missoula. Blodgett Canyon, just five miles from the center of town, is nothing short of gorgeous.

Hamilton was a designed town, with planned street grids right from the beginning, unlike so many other Montana towns that grew up out of mining camps.”

Tree-lined streets..

Now I have to admit that driving in on State Highway 93, my first glimpse of Hamilton was very disappointing.  It was a commercial strip along the highway.  However, an evening walk and getting only a few blocks off the main drag revealed a charming town with the Bitter Root River flowing through the very impressive River Park.

The Park had a wonderful playground and river walk.  I then hit both of the breweries, which were great stories.

Higher Ground Brewing –  the story of “Two local boys (Jasper Miller and Fenn Nelson) who came home from college and launched a brewery (2011) that takes more than $1 million in annual sales.”  They became the youngest owner and head brewer in Montana. (Washington Post April 5, 2019.)

Part of River Park

Bitter Root Brewing – one of the oldest in the state (1998) and a family owned business as mentioned earlier in this post.

Right next to brewery, was an impressive baseball field and I watched several innings of American Legion Baseball and saw the first-place hometown Bitter Root Red Sox in the process of thrashing the Kalispell Lakers.

The Red Sox in their stadium next to Bitter Root Brewing

I was impressed by the Montana version of Big Green as the left-field fence.  On a Monday night, it was a well-attended family affair.

Unfortunately, my stay in Hamilton was limited to one night as I would have liked to take one of the hikes right outside town in the Bitter Root National Forest.

However, that would have meant another night in Deffy’s Motel….

The Bitter Root River right by River Park

Sheridan, Wyoming – This northern Wyoming city with a population of 17,500 and founded in 1882, is halfway between Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park.

The view of Sheridan and its surrounding scenery

Named for the legendary General Phil Sheridan, my attachment to this berg, may have been, in part, based on some family roots. My dad’s father Floyd Williams, was a US Postal Service Inspector and while traveling by train which stopped in Sheridan in 1912, he spotted the young Clara Sarah Willey on the platform at the station.

Sarah’s family ranched cattle (the Diamond Bar T brand) there for three quarters of a century.  Kings Saddlery, one of the largest tack stores (equestrian outfitting) in the US, also had a museum (through the rope store in back of the main saddlery) in addition to countless saddles and western gear and there were historic pictures from the Willey spread.

Kings Saddlery – the main building

Sheridan has some sprawl along the highways, but a picturesque and historic and thriving main street with fascinating shops and one of our favorite breweries – Smith Alley Brewing (see above)

There are great walking paths through the city, nice parks and notable outdoor art sculptures on almost every corner.  It is a picturesque and charming village.

 

Stayed tuned for future posts on Thebeerchaser which will tell you the stories of the forty-nine bars and breweries we visited on our route.

Cheers!

 

In the park along the walking path by Goose Creek in downtown Sheridan

 

 

 

 

B

Big Sky Beerchasing – The Preface

Just above Kootenai Falls near Libby, Montana

On a back road right outside Yaak, Montana

In June, we took a combined fourteen-day road trip through Montana with subsequent stops in North and South Dakota and Wyoming, before returning home through Montana, Idaho and Oregon’s Columbia Gorge.  The magnificence of the vistas we encountered each day is still ingrained in our minds.

I use the term “combined” because on the first six days of the trip, I soloed – driving slightly over 1,400 miles starting with two nights in Yaak, Montana (stay tuned to find out why I chose that destination) and with overnight stays in Kalispell, Hamilton, Anaconda and Livingston, before picking Janet up at the airport in Billings.

The Grand Hotel in downtown Kalispell – which was both historic and grand!

(I should add that the idea for the solo part of my trip for which I am indebted to my wife of 39 years, originated in 2004, when for ten days of my law firm sabbatical, I traveled 2,600 miles through Eastern Oregon, Idaho and Western Montana enjoying our beautiful Western scenery.)

This time a Prius instead of a Subaru….

The pictures show the difference between the first trip and this one – I look a lot older now and I wised up and even though it looked cool to carry a bike on the back of the car, my plan on this trip was to rent a cycle if I had the opportunity to work that in.

In the 2004 trip, because of two flat tires, I ended riding a total of four blocks while lugging the bike the entire way!

 

The day I left in 2004 – this time in a Subaru Forrester with a mountain bike (for decoration…)

On the earlier trip, I was still working and had not started my idiosyncratic retirement hobby of Beerchasing although a visit to one of the few bars at which I made stops – The Stanley Idaho Rod and Gun Whitewater Saloon – was a key factor in germinating the idea for my Beerchasing Tour – started in August 2011. (My wife and I returned to the Rod and Gun on another road trip in 2016 after I started the blog.)

From Billings, the two of us then tacked on another 2,300 miles, visiting three National Parks (Teddy Roosevelt, Badlands and Wind Cave), one National Monument (Jewel Cave), two Memorials (Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and the Crazy Horse Memorial) and what has to be one of the most impressive and expansive state parks in the US – Custer State Park in South Dakota.

Badlands National Park

Now since this is a blog about bars, saloons and breweries, and in order not to disappoint Beerchaser followers, I have to add that the combined total of establishments visited (meaning having a drink or meal and interacting with the bartender or customers and not just making an entrance) was 49, of which 30, I enjoyed on my first six days.

Trappers’ Saloon in Eureka Montana – the third day on the way to Kalispell

The remaining nineteen saw both of us participating.  The picture of Trapper’s Saloon above in Eureka, Montana is a sample of the rich environment that characterized the great majority of the bars and breweries.

A bar with a rich history in the metropolis of Wise River…

I  have to add that some may think the statistics above demonstrate an unhealthy obsession with establishments operated primarily for the sale of intoxicating spirits.  In defense, I would suggest that the usually brief visits we paid are one of the best methods to meet new and interesting people, find out what should be seen in a new city and in the case of older bars, educate oneself on rich and fascinating history.

The Dewey Tavern

In addition, it spurred us to visit smaller cities such as Eureka, Troy, Miles City and Wise River that we otherwise would have just passed by.

We hit establishments in twenty-seven different bergs on the trip.  Stay tuned for the posts on this journey and you will have a better appreciation.

Note:  Since I started Beerchasing, I realized that it was imperative that I drink responsibly in visiting the bars/breweries and never get behind the wheel without being absolutely sober,.

So to allay any concern about that issue, while alone, I would space my visits throughout the day and usually consumed a single bottle of Miller High Life (by the way, an excellent brew and deserving of the label, “The Champagne of Beers” rather than a pint of microbrew.  My visits to most of the bars would last about 45 minutes to an hour.

Sometimes I would just have a soda water and when Janet and I were Beerchasing, we inevitably shared a pint or would have two or three four-ounce samplers between us.

Since I worked in legal management for over thirty years and a considerable part of my job was being immersed in statistics, I should point out the overall total would compute to one watering hole, for every 75.5 miles traveled.

The chart at the end of this post gives a complete listing including the name and location.   In several subsequent posts, I will highlight or at least offer some brief comments on each one, but this post is intended to set the stage.

Why Start and Spend Two Nights in Yaak?

For three years, visiting the Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak – up near the Canadian border in NW Montana was a personal, if not peculiar, goal of mine.

John Runkle – owner of the Dirty Shame

Since talking to a bartender in Idaho, who used to work there and subsequently calling the owner, former Army paratrooper, John Runkle and doing a short post on his revival of the Dirty Shame when he purchased it out of foreclosure in 2013, visiting it has been on my bucket list.

Blueberry Pancake Breakfast in the Lodge

And the two nights I spent in the Moose Room of the outstanding Yaak River Lodge – John is also the owner – and my time spent hanging at the bar and interviewing John, were a wonderful start to my trip – one which you will be reading about in future posts. 

I presented him with two bottles of Benedictine Beer from the monk-owned brewery in Mount Angel, Oregon which now occupy a shelf in the Dirty Shame Saloon.

The Dirty Shame had the most stories of any of the 300 watering holes I’ve reviewed in over seven years — and they are all true!!

Thebeerchaser and John Runkle with the ceremonial presentation of Benedictine Beer

Janet was willing to go on a road trip through Montana but agreed to my six-day solo venture because although she likes breweries, she has an aversion to the dive bars I cherish.   She also thought the opportunity for me to read, reflect and see some wonderful scenery on my own would be enriching.

Ubiquitous!!

I use this term meaning “found everywhere” to recognize my long-term and cherished friendship with Oregon State SAE fraternity brother and former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, Craig – The Dude – Hanneman, for his legendary athletic, mountaineering and notable professional accomplishments. 

Back in the last ’60’s at OSU – Thebeerchaser and The Dude

Kirby Neuman-Rhea, the Editor of the Hood River News is also part of the tale. The story behind our attachment to this word is too long to relate the background, but it’s funny. 

There were certain features or characteristics that one encountered everywhere in Montana and, for the most part, added to its charm and distinction.

Big Sky Scenery – One was the beautiful and varied scenery – it made the miles of road never boring.  The stunning vistas made it difficult not to stop and take photos.  It became obvious why Montana is commonly referred to as “Big Sky Country.”

Straight Roads – Speaking of miles of roads, those roads were often long and straight – not only the Interstate, but the State highways we traveled.  Janet was driving when I took this picture.

And miles to go before I sleep….

Taxidermy – virtually every bar and many of the breweries had mounted wildlife as part of the bar’s décor.  In some cases it was overwhelming, but in most, it accurately reflected the culture of the state.

A little research revealed that there are 205 taxidermists registered in the state and Helena even has the Montana School of Taxidermy and Tanning.   And this year’s annual convention of the Montana Taxidermists’ Association in Billings was the most well-attended ever according to the Billings Gazette.

Now one may disagree with the entire concept of hunting (I went hunting for deer one time in junior high and never had the desire to do it again…)  but it appears that taxidermists and most of hunters use the entire animal and don’t just kill for sport.   As evidence, the sign on this firm which I photographed in Anaconda.

Crosses Along the Highway – Montana has a very high rate of traffic fatalities.  It’s a combination of a high speed limit especially in rural areas, bad weather and road conditions in many months of the year and a high rate of alcohol consumption.  

In my first few days, I kept seeing crosses along the highways – even in very remote areas and wondered about the background. According to a  2004 article in the Billings Gazettethis program started in 1953 by the American Legion and is done solely by volunteers.

By 2015, there were more than 2,000 crosses erected.  Last year the 181 traffic fatalities was the third straight year the death toll dropped because of State programs to reduce car accidents.  And seeing those symbols is a sobering reminder to drive responsibly.

Casinos – Although many Oregon bars have video poker, the number of “casinos” in Montana and the signs advertising them is annoying – they are everywhere (or one might say, “ubiquitous…”).

The licenses for bars and restaurants are cheap and they can have up to 20 video games in the establishment although most bar “casinos” only had about five to ten.  There are also six tribal casinos.

Ubiquitous!

According to GamblingSites.com, there are “1.033 million people spread out across 147,000 square miles…. and Montana offers 292 different gambling establishments.”

Recreational Vehicles (RV’s) and Long-haul Truckers – I’m sure that the number on the road is similar to other states which have major Interstates.

I was amazed, however, at the quantity and diverse makes of RVs – usually with the male driving and the female in the co-pilot role.  I’m interested in how the economic analysis of RV travel verses lodging and eating in inexpensive or moderately priced motels and restaurants charts out…..

Class A RVs – the baby boomers’ luxury ride.

Long-haul trucks were an oft-repeated vehicle one passed on all of the Montana.  And I have the utmost respect for the long-haul owner/operators.  They have a tough job and are skilled drivers which make the highways safer for the rest of us.

They typically drive these 80,000 pound behemoths (a single rig) between 2,000 to 3,000 miles per week and are often away from family usually for two to three weeks at a time.

Sirius Satellite Radio –  I subscribe to Sirius Radio on our Prius.   And the low monthly price was well worth it during the days on the road when the AM and FM frequencies would be hard to receive.

Other than a very few remote locations, I got the Sirius signal clearly and besides two cable news channels which admittedly have a politically biased slant, I also listened to channels called Bluesville, Yacht Rock, Soul Town, Rockin’ Country BBQ and Forties Junction.

Sirius Satellite was good company….

My music tastes are eclectic and I roared down the road rocking to the TemptationsGeorge Benson, George Jones and Don Williams, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller and America and Phoebe Snow. (I must have heard “Sister Golden Hair” at least twenty times and loved it.)

It was only when Yacht Rock teed up “Muskrat Love” by the Captain and Tennille that I drew the line because I did not have a vomit bag.

Muskrat Love was not vomit proof….

 

Fox News – Without getting immersed in politics, I will state that I am not a fan of Fox News (although I admit to being a moderate Republican) and its political commentators.

While in most Oregon bars, one sees multiple screens with athletic events, it appeared to me that there were fewer big screen TVs, but they were almost always turned to Fox be it in bars, restaurants or hotels.

Montana Humor

Many native Montanans are not happy about the influx of people from other states – most notably Californians moving to the state and buying up land.

The sign below reminded me of Oregon during the Governor Tom McCall era when we wanted people to “visit but not stay.”

Although there are political divisions and critical economic and natural resources facing the state, I was still impressed with the good nature, welcoming conversation (especially the bartenders and bar regulars with whom we interacted) and indications of the positive outlook and sense of humor of Montanans.

Given all that Janet and I witnessed, it begs the question:  “Why would Montana Governor Steve Bullock ever want to win the Presidency and move to Washington DC?”

Subtle, but funny….

Stay tuned for the next several month’s post on Thebeerchaser where I will tell the rich story of not only The Dirty Shame Saloon, but convey the highlights of many of the other historic bars we hit in Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho.

Also the great breweries, especially in Montana that now rank it second per capita in the US on number of breweries according to Statistica.com – only Vermont exceeds it while Oregon comes in at #4, right behind Maine.

Another example of Montana humor – in a field by Yaak.

List of Bars and Breweries Visited on our Trip

(The first thirty were visited by Don and the remainder by Don and Janet)

Name of Establishment City State
Kootenai Brewing Bonners Ferry Idaho
Dirty Shame Saloon Yaak Montana
Yaak River Tavern Yaak Montana
Silver Spur Bar Troy Montana
Cabinet Mountain Brewing Libby Montana
Mint Bar Libby Montana
Trappers’ Saloon Eureka Montana
Bull Dog Saloon Whitefish Montana
Blue Moon Bar and Nite Club Columbia Falls Montana
VFW Bar Kalispell Montana
Moose Saloon Kalispell Montana
Bias Brewing Kalispell Montana
Del’s Bar Somers Montana
Higher Ground Brewing Hamilton Montana
Bitter Root Brewing Hamilton Montana
Sawmill Saloon Darby Montana
Antler Saloon Wisdom Montana
Wise River Club Wise River Montana
Dewey Dewey Montana
Club Moderne Anaconda Montana
Owl Bar Anaconda Montana
Katabatic Brewing Livingston Montana
Livingston Bar and Grille Livingston Montana
Neptune Brewing Livingston Montana
Murray Hotel Bar Livingston Montana
Mint Bar and Grill Livingston Montana
Stockman Bar Livingston Montana
Whiskey Creek Saloon Livingston Montana
Atlas Bar Columbus Montana
Caboose Saloon Laurel Montana
Angry Hanks Microbrewery Billings Montana
Montana Brewing Co. Billings Montana
Uberbrew Billings Montana
Montana Bar Miles City Montana
Tubbs Pub Miles City Montana
Little Missouri Saloon Medora North Dakota
Boots Bar and Grill Medora North Dakota
Wild Bill Bar Deadwood South Dakota
Zymurcracy Beer Co. Rapid City South Dakota
Firehouse Brewing Rapid City South Dakota
Tallie’s Silver Spoon Rapid City South Dakota
State Game Lodge Bar Custer South Dakota
Smith Alley Brewing Sheridan Wyoming
Black Tooth Brewing Sheridan Wyoming
Plonk Wine Bar Bozeman Montana
Outlaw Brewing Bozeman Montana
Bunkhouse Brewing Bozeman Montana
North Idaho Brewing Wallace Idaho

Bitter Root Brewing in Hamilton

 

Arizona Beerchasing – Part II

A sunset cocktail at the Four Seasons Resort – Scottsdale at Troon North

This post is the second narrative on our weeklong  trip to Phoenix in March – a period of baseball, breweries and hiking.  The link below will take you to reviews of the first two breweries and two bars we visited – the most notable being Arizona Wilderness Brewery in Gilbert.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/05/14/arizona-beerchasing-the-second-chase/

I mentioned in the first post that we encountered great beer and nice people, but were disappointed by the “strip mall ambiance” of the exteriors of the establishments.   That’s also the case with two of the four breweries in this post.

For example, San Tan Brewing is a remarkable success story – founded in 2007 in Chandler and has had phenomenal growth and success with its craft beer and craft food.   In 2011, it was selected as the best brewery in Arizona by the Phoenix New TimesIt was the first brewery in Arizona to can their seasonal beers and this 2013 press release illustrates their growth pattern:

“On the heels of a $4M brewery additon at the current location, SanTan Brewing has continued to invest in its community and has added 125 new jobs to Chandler over the last 3 years. SanTan projects similar levels of growth for 2013 and 2014.”

We went to their Uptown Phoenix Brewpub – one weeknight for just a beer after dinner.  They now have three locations and this one was in a strip mall.

That said, it was hopping and our server, Brad, was another outstanding young man who was enthusiastic about  his employer.  He explained the good selection of 14 beers on tap.

We had a pint of the Sunspot Gold Ale and one of the Moon Juice IPA.  The good beer and Brad’s interpersonal skills negated the exterior blandness.

Moon Juice IPA and Sunspot Gold Ale

The next morning we went for another hike to supplement our arduous trek up Pinnacle Peak the day before.   The Ringtail Trail was far less strenuous – mostly level terrain – and this 2.4 mile loop allowed us to venture through some nice desert landscape.

 

That evening we had another Spring Training game – this one to see our Seattle Mariners play the SF Giants.  We were a definite minority in the stands in the field at Peoria Park.   We decided to have a pre-game brew and meal at Pedal Haus Brewing which is located in Tempe adjacent to the Arizona State University campus.

A rather unusual entrance to Pedal Haus Brewing just off the ASU campus

Although it was a weeknight and during Spring Break at the university – we were seniors, in fact and not in the university class context, at the pub in comparison to the average age of the clientele.   It had a nice and unique exterior – welcomed in light of what we had grown accustomed to in Phoenix and Scottsdale.    The interior was spacious and their patio was immense although the weather that evening ruled against enjoying it.

Pedal Haus was named one of the twelve best Tempe bars for ASU students in 2017 by Travel Pulse  (It made me wonder just how many total bars there were near my OSU campus and how the Corvallis waterhole inventory paled in comparison – both when I was there and even now…)

We had a good beer and the two salads for dinner – the Thai Peanut Steak Salad and the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Salad were scrumptious but all their food and its presentation appeared to be excellent.   The following excerpt from Travel Pulse is descriptive:

“Mill Avenue’s hip brewery is ultra cyclist-friendly with ample bike racks. Pedal Haus went through a remodel and expansion in 2016, with bungalows and fire pits added to the spacious 6,000-square-foot outdoor beer garden. The patio surrounds the perimeter of the restaurant, with games like ping pong, cornhole and ladder ball. Look for more than 20 beers on tap, or try one of the signature cocktails.”

Conversely, this 3/7/19 Yelp reviewer was upset and probably why one should always regard Yelp reviews with healthy skepticism – especially when they are critical – usually for nitpicks:

“Only thing I don’t like about this place is the bathroom setup. The men and women’s restrooms are only for toileting. The handwashing station and vanity mirrors are communal and  located outside in the common area. Kind of a bummer when you have braces like me and need to pick at your teeth and swish/gargle in private – lol.”    (Perhaps his or her orthodontist should prescreen this misguided individual’s choice of bars……)

Although we wore multiple layers, with a brisk wind and temperature in the forties, we were definitely cold, but we got to see Ichiro in one of his last appearances at the plate.  He didn’t get on base but received standing ovations each time he came to bat and the Mariners beat the Giants soundly.

A young and somewhat intoxicated – although not obnoxiously drunk – Giants fan was aggressively trash talking the Mariners – our seats were close to the infield near first base and in about the fourth inning, he was unceremoniously removed by security.   It made me think how compared to the typical fan at Ebbets Field (Dodgers) or the Polo Grounds (Giants) in the old days, he was kicked out for a relatively tame dialogue.

The Polo Grounds in 1913 – Rowdier Fans???

The last day, we hit two breweries – one that was really average and not worth returning – the Phoenix Ale Brewery Central Kitchen – marketed as an innovative collaboration with a pizza entrepreneur which purports:

“……pairing them (the craft brews) with one-of-a-kind dishes that make guests wonder why they ever settled for traditional pub fare.” (emphasis added)

Orange Peel IPA and then dinner at the pasta restaurant next door!

Based on that description, we thought we would eat there, but I’m sorry – pizza, burgers, sandwiches and salads don’t fit my characterization of “one of a kind dishes.”   If you don’t believe me, take a look at their menu with this link.

You can see below that they had an interesting mix of beers on tap – we were curious but didn’t order the Beer Research Institute’s Morning Sex Stout but had an Orange Peel IPA.

So after splitting a pint – the good news was that during Hoppy Hour, pints were only $4 – we had a great meal of pasta at the Italian bistro next door!

Our final night in Phoenix, we went to our favorite brewery in the two trips to the desert – Craft 64:

30 Beers on Tap

“Craft 64 is Scottsdale’s premier venue for local craft beer, great wine and artisan wood-fired pizza…..We use local organic ingredients and make our own mozzarella from scratch every day. 

All our produce is from local farmers.  Our 100% wood oven heats to over 900 degrees.  We have 30 Tap handles featuring Arizona beer, extensive wine list and 50+ bottles for table-side use or to go!”

They have two locations – Chandler and Scottsdale – we went to the latter.  We loved Craft 64 – one factor was the exterior – it was in a picturesque building – standing alone not in a mall – and it had a nice patio.   Walking in on a Friday evening, there was a positive and upbeat murmur with patrons and staff all appearing happy to be there.

There was also a nice beer garden in the back. Most of the single tables inside were filled and we sat at a long table in front of the bar (we always try to do this anyway) and we met some interesting people – most from out of town who were there for Spring Training.

And their pizza lived up to its billing – outstanding in appearance and taste.

It can always be a little frustrating, trying to select from so many beer options, but I opted for what turned out to be the best pint I had in Phoenix that trip – Wheat the People, which also had one of the coolest labels.

Interestingly enough, it does not come close to a top mark in the beer rating services, but I thought it had a great appearance and taste. “Clean, American White Wheat Ale w/ Falconers Flight West Coast Hops and hint of citrus.” – 5.0 ABV – 15 IBU – (Untapped.com)

Craft 64 Brew

Also of interest is the fact that Portland’s Coalition Brewing has a Wheat the People – American Pale Wheat Ale – 4.4 ABV – 13 IBU (Untapped.com) too.

From Coalition Brewing in PDX

I have heard that there have been some intellectual property trademark battles because brewers are running out of names for their craft brews, but perhaps these have agreed to a peaceful coexistence……

Janet, who was a little burned out on IPA’s decided to have a glass of Reserve Pinot Noir – 2015 Santa Rita.

After dinner, we decided to hit Old Town – Scottsdale, but it was a real disappointment.  Besides having to look for a parking place for at least fifteen minutes, it was essentially touristy-type shops and had no character – unlike what one finds in San Diego’s Old Town.

We did see one bar that looked interesting and we ambled into the Rusty Spur Saloon.  It was totally jammed and reminded me of some of the much advertised watering holes “one just has to experience” such as the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau or the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson Wyoming.

As with these two, we walked into the Rusty Spur, but did not stay for a brew – not the kind of ambiance suitable to Thebeerchaser’s taste…..:maybe because Jennifer wasn’t at the bar.  I also assume that she, like me, has an aversion to drinking beer in a plastic cup!

The Rusty Spur Saloon is a Scottsdale destination. Celebrities like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Vince Vaughn, and Jennifer Anniston have walked through its swinging doors to take in the Old West décor and Scottsdale live country music. It’s located right on Main Street in Old Town Scottsdale. Look for the cowpoke in the red shirt with his lasso.”

Beer in plastic cups and no Jennifer….

 

 

 

 

 

So we stopped one night and I had an In-N-Out hamburger for $2.10 plus tax.

The chain was founded the same year I was born and although I waited almost 71 years to experience it, I was somewhat underwhelmed.

An Oregon corporation

In Oregon, I can have a much better Burgerville Original Cheeseburger for $1.75 without paying any sales tax.  I also know that I am patronizing a business founded in Oregon (1961) that has sustainability as a core value and partners with other great Oregon businesses. 

Another Burgerville fan..

It should also be noted that I am not the only one who came to this conclusion.  As reported by Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune in an interview with Klay Thompson, who spent some of his youth in Lake Oswego before becoming an NBA star with the Golden State Warriors: 

“Whenever Thompson visits the Portland area, ‘I try to hit Burgerville…’   Is Burgerville better than In-N-Out?  ‘Yeah, I like it better,’ Klay nods.”

Thunder Dan

Finally, those who have watched the NBA as long as I have will remember Phoenix Suns guard Dan Majerle.  He was a shooting guard who played 14 years in the NBA.

Majerle was on the US Olympic Gold Medal Team and was known as “Thunder Dan” and made one NBA All-Star Team (1992).  Upon retiring, he was an assistant coach for Phoenix, a broadcaster for TNT and ESPN and also a college head-coach for Grand Canyon University’s NCAA Division I Antelopes.

He is also an entrepreneur.  When only 27 and playing basketball, he started his own line of clothing including underwear – he modeled his own product.  In retirement he founded his own small chain of sports bars. 

Majerle’s Sports Grill has four locations, one of which was in the Desert Ridge Mall close to our hotelSo while we did not eat there, I had to go in and take a look.

The sports bar appeared to be an attractive venue and is evidently popular.  I used to enjoy watching Thunder Dan play hoop and am glad to see that he has moved from underwear to the bar scene! 

It’s also nice to know that he is one former pro athlete who did not squander his substantial earnings after his athletic prime.

Arizona Beerchasing – The Second Chase


In early March, 2019, Janet and I spent a week in Phoenix with three primary objectives – baseball, hikes and breweries.

What’s this drizzle stuff??

And while we encountered atypical Arizona weather – we were cold even with multiple layers at one of the night Spring Training games and had to wear rain gear at the other – it was a chance for a few great sunny days and an opportunity to escape the daily NW spring drizzle and clouds.

Spring Training is always a wonderful experience allowing close encounters with the players,  inexpensive tickets and a chance to meet great fans from all over the United States.

A drizzly night at Sloan Park (described as Wrigley Field West) to see the Cubs and the Reds.

That said, Phoenix is probably my least favorite major urban center in the US.  Admittedly, I’m not a great fan of the desert climate or environment, but the sprawl in the metro area is unappealing (to be extremely restrained).  Suffice to say, it always makes me feel blessed to return to the Rose City.

Our last trip to Phoenix was in January 2018 so we did not have Spring Training options, but enjoyed visiting ten breweries and one taphouse.  In the first of two posts on this prior adventure, however, I summed it up as follows:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2018/02/19/beerchasing-in-the-desert-part-i/

“However, the overall ambiance of this ‘disaster in urban planning’ made us immediately homesick for the concepts we take for granted – like trees, urban growth boundaries, good public transit, intersections which don’t require a ten-minute wait if you hit a red light, trails in Forest Park and, of course, the Oregon Coast.”

The typical Phoenix intersection

Our Beer-chasing ex-perience this year visiting two bars and six breweries or brewpubs was also very positive in most respects – excellent beer, nice people and cordial and helpful staff. 

That said, as in 2018, the exteriors of the establishments we visited were largely a reflection of the strip-mall ambiance of this SW desert metropolis.  With the exception of one (maybe two to be liberal in interpretation), they were all in shopping mall settings and the entrances were not inviting and for the most part dull and repetitious.

The first stop – Helio Basin Brewing Company

As evidence, compare the entrance of our first brewery above – Helio Basin Brewing – with the exteriors (shown below) of the last two Oregon watering holes reviewed by ThebeerchaserBantam Tavern in NW Portland and Beachcrest Brewing – a new venture on the Central Oregon Coast.

The Deck at Beachcrest Brewing

In a Portland urban setting, but with an inviting exterior

Helio Basin did have a good selection of beers – most notably, the award-winning Fayuca Rizing Xtra Pale Ale (we split a pint) and a great burger.  The brewery has been a successful fulfillment of the dreams of the young co-founders fifteen years ago.

 

 

 

 

On a warm Sunday after-noon, we hit our only day game of the three Spring Training contests we attended.  We decided to hit the ‘cheap seats” – on the grass terrace in left field at Salt River Fields where we saw the Colorado Rockies beat the LA Dodgers.

The lawn terrace seats are a good experience although it is difficult to really feel (and see) the pulse of the game given the distance from the action.

Watching the LA Dodgers play the Colorado Rockies at Peoria Field on the terrace.

After the game, we hit the only two bars on the trip which were in the Desert Ridge Mall near our hotel the Marriott Resort at Desert Ridge north of Phoenix.

The Whining Pig was an interesting bar – essentially underground with 125 beers and a slew of wines on tap. 

And as a “secret sister” to the Pig, we found – Pigtails – after looking for the entrance for a bit, a speakeasy of sorts – a craft cocktail bar with an amazing selection of hard alcohol and mixologists that know their stuff and the most interesting egress I’ve seen of all the bars visited while Beerchasing – one that would make James Bond proud.  It was through a large bookcase on hinges….!

As described in this 3/7/19 Yelp review:

“Dim lights, vibey music, a great cocktail menu, and a backbar that blew me away. ….It is a little hard to find, but I personally enjoy the speakeasy aspect to keep the vodka (and) red bull drinkers of Scottsdale away.”

The “Living Wall” and a back-bar which blows the mind….

The bartenders get uniform outstanding reviews on social media and the high ceiling, “living wall” and the ambiance is in stark contrast to most of what you see in Phoenix watering holes.

The next day, we hit the trail driving about twenty-five miles farther north to Pinnacle Peak a little over 3.5 miles of strictly up and then the reverse but some great views.   I will have to say from both our past trip and this one, that there are some very good hiking options available in the desert landscape outside the City.

Pinnacle Peak – A great hike north of Phoenix

Located in a strip mall, but Arizona Wilderness Brewing at least has some exterior ambiance….

And before our game that night to see the Chicago Cubs play “my” Cincinnati Reds at Sloan Park,  we stopped at one of the two best breweries on the trip.

Arizona Wilderness Brewing (AWB) has two locations – a Downtown Phoenix Beer Garden and the Gilbert Brewpub which is south of town.

(I say “my Reds” because I lived in Cincy from my fourth birthday – I remember because I got to sit on the lap of the stewardess as we landed because I was the birthday boy…. until we moved to Oregon when I was twelve.  That stewardess would now be over ninety if she were still living……)

They were renamed the Redlegs in 1952 during that period because it was during the Cold War and nobody was supposed to be cheering any Reds on….!

Ted Kluszewski, Frank Robinson, Rocky Bridges, Johnny Temple, Gus Bell, Smokey Burgess and youngster pitcher Joe Nuxhall – who came to the Majors when he was 15 and Manager Birdie Tebbetts, gave us a number of thrilling seasons.

The Reds didn’t disappoint that night and although it was a bit rainy, they prevailed.

Arizona Wilderness Brewing Facebook Profile Picture

But I digress….anyway the interesting story of AWB is related in a 2014 Esquire article entitled “The World’s Best New Brewery is Located in a Strip Mall in Phoenix.”

It conveys the story of how after being founded in 2013, the owners were struggling and about to go down.  According to Jonathan Buford, one of three bearded partners, who sold his window washing business to start the venture:

“Foreclosure and all that stuff looming. We were just taking money wherever we could get it, same for Brett and Patrick. We were all in—100 percent. If we’d been delayed another month, I would’ve been bankrupt. My wife and I would have filed bankruptcy, and she would have kicked my ass…..

In 2014 RateBeer.com, the authoritative and exhaustively comprehensi e craft-beer site, named the ten best new breweries in the world (out of 2,600 that opened in 2013)  The Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. was ranked number 1.”

Stephen was a great young man

The award changed the picture and today they are thriving – before the award 17 employees and now 39 with two locations.   One of these was our server – a wonderful young man named Stephen.

There was a waiting line that weekend afternoon and the place was bustling and notwithstanding his shift having just ended, he patiently went through the incredibly interesting selection of brews – Buford and his partners go up into the wilderness and write beer recipes and the original idea for the brewery was developed while they were backpacking.

There were so many good options that we ordered a flight of five – from left to right below:

March for Orange, La Ciudad IPA, Suit n Tie IPA, Tranquility Tree Blonde and Aravaipa Abbey Dubbel (“This beer was spontaneously fermented and laid to rest for over 2 years in French oak before being conditioned in bottles for an additional 7 months.”)

They had a good pub menu and we were also impressed with their efforts to be sustainable:

“In our efforts to become a more cognizant and sustainable business, we’ve partnered with Recycled City, whose vision of ‘Farmland for the Future’ is something we passionately support!  100% of the food waste collected by Recycled City goes towards building local-fertile farmland.

So ended our first weekend in Phoenix.  Stay tuned for the next post for the remaining breweries and Spring Training game we hit during our week in the desert.