A Decade of Beerchasing!

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  If you are seeing this post through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

I guess it is appropriate that my 300th post on Thebeerchaser blog be a celebration, of sorts – ten years of this retirement hobby – started in August 2011.  My plans for a more formal gathering in the early fall were delayed by the pandemic and will be held in 2022.

Some Background

After first working in the public sector and then legal management for the the last thirty-years of my career – the final twelve as the Chief Operating Officer at the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt law firm – a 150 attorney firm with its principal office in Portland, Oregon, I retired in early 2011.   

A retirement present from the firm – note the name of the wine which was appropriate….

Since I spent many of my waking hours working, there was some concern about how I would handle retirement.  But from the first day, I loved it.

There has never been a boring period whether it was from trying to remaster the oboe – I had abandoned after junior high – with lessons, traveling with my wife of thirty-one (now forty-one) years, playing with the blessings to come – four granddaughters, enjoying the Oregon coast or what became my primary hobby – a blog named Thebeerchaser.com.

The seed germinated before retirement was sown with visits to two great dive bars – The Stanley Rod and Gun Whitewater Saloon in Stanley, Idaho and Lumpy’s Landing in Dundee, Oregon.  It prompted the crazy idea to personally experience and then tell the story of bars and breweries – initially just in Portland – but shortly thereafter, all through Oregon and parts of the US and even a number in Europe.

The books and bar guides shown in the picture at the start of this post, are some of the references I used in framing my posts.

So Thebeerchaser.com was brewed –  starting slowly and with the help of two wonderful and talented friends who created the two logos I’ve used (Teresa Maclean and Jud Blakely), I slowly (and often painfully) learned how to use WordPress to convey the impressions on my subject. 

It was not a technical commentary on my favorite beverage, but narratives on the history of the bar or brewery, interviews with the regulars and bar staffs, descriptions of the trappings and what distinguished the ambiance from other watering holes.

Early on, I also decided to relate the stories of individuals or groups (primarily those I knew personally) who may not have had any connection with bars or beers, but had an interesting story and made a notable contribution to society in my humble opinion.  These soon came to be “honored” with the moniker of Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.

This is an eclectic group and past recipients include lawyers (some worked at the Schwabe firm), authors, athletes, clerics, musicians, environmentalists, military heroes, academicians and athletes.

Also three family members – Janet, my wife, in part, for supporting and joining me on many of my Beerchasing travels, my brother, Rick, for his remarkable career in the Navy which culminated as skipper of the nuclear sub USS Spadefish (SSN 668) and most recently, my Dad (F. Duane Williams – FDW), who although he passed away at the age of 54 in 1973, left a notable legacy.

For a composite list of these remarkable individuals and groups and some additional background, check out the following Beerchaser link for the 2020 post entitled, “Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter (Who,What,Why? – thirty-five at that time. 

Since I have expanded on my tribute to lawyers with multiple posts and composed several chapters to my Dad’s story in 2021, the count now is thirty-six which I hope to expand more diligently in 2022.

Some Statistics

Not once have I considered commercializing this blog – it’s strictly a hobby, so I don’t have to worry about deadlines, number of viewers, etc. That said, since I worked in a law firm for twenty-five years where statistics translated into economics i.e. compensation, I do have some interest in the metrics of my blog.

I will also freely admit that my posts are usually too long – they average 1,677 words for the ten years, but for the last five the average has increased to 2,136 and this one is over 3,000 (sorry!), which discourages most viewers from reading the entire post – even with the pictures scattered through the narrative.   But this trend, probably won’t change since I’m writing primarily for my own enjoyment after framing numerous legal management memos during my career that bored even me – the author!

And while Thebeerchaser.com is a hobby, I have been delighted with the additional exposure it has gotten every year which leads to more interactions with people from all over the world.   

My wife says I spend more time these days on the computer than when I worked and since my 299 posts have generated 501,485 words, she’s probably right.  Unfortunately, the pandemic has essentially curtailed my visits to new locations since early 2020

Up to that time I had visited (usually twice for each one counted) 366 establishments of which 119 were in the Portland metro area and the other 247 scattered through God’s country and beyond. It’s almost impossible to identify a few favorite watering holes, but the photos above show four of them. In reviewing my galleries for this selection, I note with sadness that a number I could have included are no longer in business.

I also state – with disappointment – albeit with some anticipation, that in the last two years because of lockdowns and our own caution in dealing with COVID, I’ve added only nine premises to that total – seven in Portland and two in Bellingham, Washington – a very nice town we visited on a long weekend with lots of breweries, expansive parks and a nice college.  At both the Boundary Bay and Aslan Breweries, we were able to eat on decks with plenty of ventilation and mask protocols.  We will return!

Diverted, but not Diminished…

Instead, my blog posts have been devoted to catching up on the narratives of the forty-nine bars and breweries we visited on an extensive Montana road trip in 2019 – six days with Don flying solo and the remainder after I picked Janet up at the Billings Airport to continue our trip through the Dakotas, Wyoming and Idaho before returning to Oregon.

A wonderful 2019 road trip filled with watering holes and National Parks and Monuments

I also offered reflections on life during a worldwide pandemic, memories from high school and working around lawyers, sarcastic comments about technical reviews on beers, and updates on some of my Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter along with miscellaneous other trivia from my files – those that my wife insisted I clean out during the pandemic.

The blog now has 411 “followers” – individuals who get an e-mail every time there’s a new post.  I also realize that my metrics pale compared to some of the blogs I regularly follow and have gotten to know the authors – something I will elaborate on in a future post. 

In 2021 Thebeerchaser.com garnered a total of 28,500 views from just over 20,000 “visitors” – up from the comparable figures of 6,800 and 4,800 in 2012 – the first full year of the blog. The majority are people searching the internet and land on “Thebeerchaser.”

An increase in viewership through ten years

Although just over 90% of these views are from the US as one would expect, the exact localities in the 104 other countries where views have emanated in 2021, fill me with curiosity. 

This includes three from Iceland – a place I hope to eventually visit and raise a mug of their Kaldi Fresh Breeze beer at the Micro Bar on Second Street in Reykjavik after seeing the Northern Lights.

Related Benefits

Besides the opportunity to quaff hundreds of great craft beers (although I will always opt for a PBR Tallboy), the blog has presented many other ancillary benefits.  One I’ve written about numerous times is becoming involved in the planning of the Benedictine Brewery on the grounds of the Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary and which opened in late 2018.

The Brewery and St. Michael Taproom has since expanded and been very successful – even during a pandemic – under the skillful management and superb brewing skills of Fr. Martin Grassel, who has become a good friend.  It also led to my service on the Abbey Foundation of Oregon Board of Trustees for which I just started my second three-year term.

I’ve also had the pleasure of speaking about my Beerchasing journey to four Rotary Clubs in Oregon – West Linn and Lincoln City in person and Lake Oswego and Bend over ZOOM – a new and challenging experience in public speaking –  it was hard to tell if anyone was laughing at my bar and lawyer jokes…..During the in-person presentations, I, at least, knew that they weren’t!

Learning a lot of history and geography while researching the places I’m reviewing has been rewarding; however, the most beneficial and lasting aspect of this retirement pursuit (without question) has been the diverse range of people we’ve met while Beerchasing.  

I met people ranging from loggers in Wallace, Idaho at the North Idaho Mountain Brew pub; to an Alaska fisherman – a guy in his fifties named Bill – at Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage, who in the ’70’s used to transport marijuana in the fenders of his big Lincoln across the country.  And there was Irish Mike, who journeys twice yearly on his Harley from San Francisco, to Lincoln City, Oregon.

Irish Mike is a burly, bearded guy and designated the “local ambassador” at one of my favorite dives – The Old Oregon Saloon on the Central Oregon Coast.   As I was taking pictures, he motioned me to come over to him, reached in his wallet for some dollar bills and told me to plug the juke box adding “Don’t screw it up!”

Then there was the regular at Eilers’ Place in Pueblo, Colorado, who coincidentally happened to be in the bar with three friends after the bartender responded to my question about the history of the bar. She took out the photo below to demonstrate that the bar has always been a family oriented place and asked:

“You see that mama in the photo holding her baby – second from the end?  Well that baby is sitting in the booth right over by the door.” 

I went over and introduced myself and he shook hands and he said, “I’m James Mohorcich, but you should just call me ‘Horse.’  I live across the street and I’ve been coming here for at least forty years.”

“You can call me, “Horse.”

I’ve met some wonderful bartenders and owners from Phoebe Newcombe – who gave me a baseball cap she autographed on my first Beerchase in 2011 at the Brooklyn Park Pub, to  Andre’, from Macedonia, who had an infectious smile, a warm personality and joked with us notwithstanding a very busy bar at the Little Missouri Saloon in Medora, North Dakota.   

On one of our East Coast swings we visited the Marshall Wharf Brewery in quaint Belfast.  This Maine town of a little less than 7,000 was founded in 1770 and like our Portland, the name (derived from the Northern Ireland city) was determined by a coin toss. 

There, Kathryn, our friendly bartender, went through the list of their brews (German beer is their specialty) and talked me into trying a  German Rauchbier – a smoked malt beer – Marshall’s Deep Purple Rauchbier (6.0%).  Beer Advocate described it as:

“Smoke on the water!  This Bamberg (Germany) inspired smoked ale is Bacon in a Glass (emphasis added).  Very polarizing beer – you either like the style and taste or you never want to drink it again…..”   

I loved it.  Of course, what food or drink with bacon infusion wouldn’t I savor…..?

Kathryn at Marshall Wharf Brewery

I love the bars in Montana and won’t forget  one of my favorite regulars of Thebeerchaser’s Tour – Fritz – who had his own stool at the Antler Saloon in Wisdom, Montana.  About fifty miles away from that great bar, I had a long chat while nursing a Miller High Life with Tom Davis, the “seasoned” owner of the Wise River Club.

He emigrated from Scotland in 1964 and told me, “In those days if you had an accent and could sing, you could make some money.”  He formed a band and played lead guitar. Tom 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.

And, by chance, when I walked in one late Saturday afternoon, after reading about them in the book “Montana Watering Holes,” I had a memorable and extended conversation with Dick and Charlotte Sappa, the legendary owners since 1973 of the Blue Moon Saloon in Columbus Falls, Montana.   

It’s purported to have the longest bar in Montana and is known for its legendary taxidermy including a polar bear.  I was fortunate to get a tour of the “Upper Room” – filled with exotic trophies – by their son, Bill“something we don’t usually do for strangers……”

Three “Unforgettable Characters“!

I can’t end without naming three of the most unforgettable people I’ve met strictly as a result of this hobby – again hard to narrow the candidates down – but they stand out – John Runkle, the late Brian Doyle and Matt Love.

John Runkle, who up until one month ago, was the owner of my favorite and most iconic bar I visited in the ten years – the Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana. 

I spent two days in Yaak and stayed in the Wolf Room at the Yaak River Lodge which John still owns.  (His goal is to move to Texas.)  John has charisma and both a personality and heart as big as the Montana sky.  (He also claims to be the only sixty-year old with three kids under five (four, two and three months!)

I met the late author, Brian Doyle, in 2013 after I wrote a letter and asked him to meet me at his favorite bar (the Fulton Pub) so I could interview him for Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter honors.  To my surprise, he agreed.  He was a wonderful human being who left a legacy at the University of Portland, where he was on the faculty, the basketball courts of the Boston City League and most notably fans of great literature.  His award-winning books and essays are mentioned in the post I dedicated to him – Brian Doyle – Beerchaser Eternal

Matt Love, is a fellow Oregon City High School grad who lived in Oregon City during his junior high and high school years and graduated from OCHS in 1982.  He is a prolific author (nineteen books) who owns the Nestucca Spit Press – a small publishing company.  His repertoire, to name a few I’ve read, includes Oregon Tavern Age – an exploration of dive bars on the Oregon Coast – something Thebeerchaser relished.

Add to this list, “The Bonnie and Clyde Files – How Two Senior Dogs Saved a Middle-aged Man.”  In 2009, he won the prestigious Oregon Literary Arts’ Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award for his contributions to Oregon history and literature. 

Matt and I after communicating by e-mail for several years, finally met last fall – joined by another OCHS grad – former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter Jim Westwood at the Falls View Tavern.

Matt’s writing style, his humor and rich descriptions are especially evident in his 102-page tome on dogs entitled Of Dogs and Meaning.- it’s absolutely captivating – and I make that assertion even though Janet and I have never had a dog during our 41 years of marriage.

Besides Matt’s own heart-warming stories from athletics, teaching and most notably, of his own dogs – Sonny, Bonnie and Clyde, and Tex, he relates canine tales ranging from those involving George Washington, James Madison, John Kennedy, Barack Obama, Winston Churchill and WC Fields.  And of course, his years in dive bars yield a few good anecdotes:

“I met a dog in an Oregon Tavern who fetched cans of Hamm’s for humans from behind the bar, but only Hamm’s. Budweiser was out.”

A Wonderful Book from the Nestucca Spit Press

Matt also has a big heart and compassion and respect for others.  His latest project is a newsletter entitled “The New American Diaspora.”   You can (and should) subscribe by clicking on the link:

“I coined the phrase the New American Diaspora to describe the growing phenomenon of those people living in homelessness and those people checking out of the so-called American dream and taking up residence in the margins.

The focus of this newsletter is on Oregon where I live. I float around the state. I don’t necessarily hold my observations and interactions out as representative of what’s happening elsewhere around the country, but perhaps they are.”

Say Goodnight, Geoff!!

For the finale and to further explain why Montana will always be my favorite Beerchasing state, I have to leave you with a tune by an affable old guy named Geoff at the Yaak River Tavern – across the street from the Dirty Shame Saloon (but no comparison on the ambiance). He was playing guitar and singing – on a bar stool at the bar – nursing one of a number of beers he had consumed that day/night and telling stories.

I told the owner that I was buying him a beer when he came in the next day (he didn’t need any more that night…) and to credit his account.   So Geoff sang us his favorite song.  This is an excerpt although it essentially captures all the lyrics in 19 seconds…. (When the lyrics have “palm trees,” “banana,” “beach” and “Montana” in the same verse, you know there’s creativity!)

Geoff Rocks Out

Cheers and Happy New Year!

External Photo Attribution

*1 – 2  Facebook Page – Micro Bar – Rekjavik, Iceland (https://www.facebook.com/MicroBarIceland/photos/a.305930982827754/30593102949441

*3  Kaldi Brewery Website (https://www.bruggsmidjan.is/is/bjorinn/kaldi

*4  Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moon_and_Aurora.jpg)  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  Author:  Wa17gs  6 April 2017.

Reflections on Western Towns and Cities – Part 1

I’ve mentioned in prior posts, our September 2019, fifteen-day 3,700-mile road trip through six western states.

And those who follow Thebeerchaser know that besides touring a number of fantastic National Parks and Monuments as well as the impressive Custer State Park, we visited wonderful bars and breweries – 29 of which I hit on my first six days (23 bars and 6 breweries).   After my first two nights in the village of Yaak, I stayed in scenic Montana cities of Kalispell, Hamilton, Anaconda and Livingston.

A field at the city limits of Hamilton

The idea for this road journey emanated from the ten-day solo road trip I took through Eastern Oregon, Idaho and Montana in 2004 during part of a law firm sabbatical.  In that 2,600-mile journey in which I carried my Trek bicycle on our Subaru Forester and essentially had no planned itinerary except to explore and discover – also to escape my Blackberry….

Oh, to be 56 again — my 2004 Road Trip

A number of those miles were on gravel Forest Service roads – including the challenging Trail Creek Road out of Ketchum, Idaho shown in the photo with the cattle I saw along the way.

After staying at Oregon’s beautiful Wallowa Lake, and lodging for two nights nights in Stanley, Idaho,I stayed in Salmon, Idaho – right on the west border of Montana – and joined  a lot of folk rocking out to a country-western group at the Lantern Bar on Saturday night.

There was no room except one seat at the bar and I started talking to a construction worker about where I should head.   He was very helpful and I asked him if I could buy him a drink.  He responded “No.  But you can dance with my girlfriend.”  (Sitting next to him.)  She then made a valiant effort to teach me how to do the Cowboy Two Step.  (I was about the only guy in the bar without cowboy boots…)

The next morning I attended church at Salmon’s United Methodist Church where I enjoyed the sermon and talking with friendly members of the congregation at the coffee-hour afterwards. 

I then headed for Butte and marveled at the Big Sky Country and camped near Wisdom before staying my last night in Missoula.

Historical sites such as the Big Hole National Battlefield and the Historic Montana State Prison and Auto Museum at Deer Lodge took an entire day to adequately appreciate.

Of course, I also hit several of the “ghost towns” – all of which were fascinating, especially Bannack, Bonanza – home of the now restored Yankee Fork Dredge and nearby Custer, which has many of the historic structures preserved – founded in 1879 by a Harvard Law School graduate who gave up his law career to become a prospector.

Looking down from Boot Hill in Bannack

The seeds of Thebeerchaser Tour of Bars and Taverns which commenced upon retirement seven years later, were sown on that 2004 trip based on my initial visit to the legendary Rod and Gun Whitewater Saloon in Stanley, Idaho and the the Dewey Bar in Wise River, Montana..

The Dewey Bar in Wise River, Montana

The narrative on those two bars can be viewed at:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2016/09/08/beerchasing-in-idaho-part-ii-stanley-and-the-sawtooths/

and

https://thebeerchaser.com/2020/08/19/pondering-during-the-pandemic-1/

Downtown Stanley

The Rod and Gun was operated from 1971 until his death in 1990, by the singer and songwriter Cassanova Jack.  It’s located just east of the corner of Ace of Diamonds and Wall Streets in Stanley.

Located in Custer County, the town has a population of a little less than 100 and winter temperatures that made it once, the coldest place in North America. It’s in the heart of the wonderous Sawtooth Mountains and the gateway to the Idaho backcountry.

I returned – this time with my wife in 2016, and Cassanova Jack’s brother and fellow musician, Jonny Ray, was an engaging host and full of stories on their days touring and captivating bar stories.

Jack’s band was named the Stardusters and Jonny Ray (who still is known as the “Singing Bartender“) subsequent band was named JR & Cheap-N-Easy

Johnny Ray at the Rod and Gun in 2016

The Dewey Bar, is really in a remote area – in Wise River, Montana, along the Big Hole River.  I camped that night in a Forest Service Campground.   I naively walked into what came close to being the first bar fight I witnessed.

Due to the mediating skill of a retired attorney from Seattle, the fracas was avoided when he admonished the two guys on the brink of fisticuffs in a commanding voice, “If you two will sit down and shut up, I’ll buy everybody in the house a drink.” 

This was followed by rousing cheers and a fairly hefty bar bill which he gladly dispatched.  I then spent the next hour sharing lawyer stories and a few drinks with this former counselor, which was the last time I’ve ever seen him. (I checked with the regulars to see if he was still around when I went back in 2019.)

Telling law firm stories in 2004

Just as in the fall 2019 trip, in my earlier road journey, besides the magnificent scenery, I was captivated by the rich history and most notably, the character and heritage of some of the smaller cities such as Stanley and Salmon, Idaho; Darby and Missoula, Montana; and Joseph and Baker Oregon. 

American Historian

This journey reaffirmed Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis”:

“….the American character was decisively shaped by conditions on the frontier, in particular the abundance of free land, the settling of which engendered such traits as self-reliance, individualism, inventiveness, restless energy, mobility, materialism, and optimism.” (Britannica.com)

The Sawtooth Range from the outskirts of Stanley

On the 2019 trip, I also discovered that Turner’s premise shapes the political philosophy of Montana residents but more about that in Part II.

My trip in 2004 was ten unforgettable days of adventure and gaining an appreciation for the rustic western countryside.

Janet – “Don’t Even Think About It!”

Runkle – An invitation for a bucket list item….

When we discussed the 2019 proposed route for our trip, my wonderful spouse of 40 years, informed me in unequivocal terms that she was not going to take a several hundred mile side trip to the far NW corner of Montana so I could visit the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak.

This storied bar had been a bucket list item since shortly after I started this blog in 2011 and had talked to the owner, John Runkle.  He  extended an invitation to visit him and stay in Yaak.  I was therefore downcast with the ultimatum….

But through the negotiating process, refined over those four decades, she then generously agreed to my spending the first six days sans companion and picking her up when she flew into Billings, Montana to complete the rest of our trek.  Now you know why I honored Janet with Thebeerchaser-of-the-Year title in 2015.

In South Dakota’s Badlands National Park

So like a little kid on Christmas Eve, I drove the 520 miles from our residence in West Linn – a burb of Portland – to Yaak where I stayed for two nights in the Wolf Room of the Yaak River Lodge – it’s also owned by John Runkle – and about a mile down the highway from his saloon.

Yaak, with a year-round population of about 250 is an unincorporated community with minimal commercial operations and on which the “Welcome To” and “Come Again” signs could theoretically be placed on the same telephone pole.  It’s thirty miles west of Route 2 in the heart of the Kootenai National Forest on the Yaak River Road.

The Yaak River

But it was a wonderful start to the trip.  John was an outstanding host and I loved the people I met those two days on which I will expand in my next blog post.

On the remaining four days before I picked up Janet, I drove our Prius (sans gun rack) while being enthralled with the sights from Flathead Lake to the 585 foot Anaconda Smelter Stack.   My companion, of sorts, was Sirius Satellite Radio and I rotated through the channels from Jazz, to classical to Big Band, while always returning to Classic Country.

A plethora of styles on Sirius

That’s because these tunes helped capture the mood while visiting bars such as the historic Montana Bar in Miles City – serving folk since 1908 – shown below.  Each watering hole was filled with friendly bartenders and regulars, wild animal trophies, spittoons (a few) and juke boxes.

And they didn’t play the new pseudo country rock tunes – but the old-time vocalists I love, most notably, George Jones, Don Williams, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and more recent crooners like Alan Jackson and Dan Seals.

Unfortunately, I never heard the tune I longed for “She Was a Bootlegger’s Daughter and I Loved Her Still.” 

(Maybe that one was a figment of my imagination and I made up the title while downing a Miller High Life at the Antlers Saloon in Wisdom.

The Champagne of Bottled Beers

Now with the pandemic and resulting lockdowns, I’ve had a lot more time to reflect – rather than visit new bars.  And what brought back the best memories were some of the towns and smaller cities which just seemed like great communities to live, work and raise a family.

I’ll talk about that in my next post, but since I mentioned Dan Seals, it’s fitting – at least in my view – to end with some of the lyrics of his song, “God Must be a Cowboy at Heart” which perfectly captures the sentiment engrained on that trip.

Sleepin’ in the moonlight
A blanket for my bed
Leaves a peaceful feelin’ in my mind…
Wakin’ up in the mornin’
With an eagle overhead
Makes me want to fly away before my time

And I think God must be a cowboy at heart
He made wide open spaces from the start…
He made grass and trees and mountains
And a horse to be a friend
And trails to lead old cowboys home a-gain…

Along Montana Highway 43 near Wisdom

Montana Bars – The Continuing Saga – Kalispell

Since I started recounting my adventures on our 2019 Montana (and more…..) road trip – 3,700 miles in fifteen days – in the last two blog posts, I’m on a roll of sorts.  So I’ll tell you about a few more of the 29 I hit in the six days I drove solo before I picked up my wife in Billings, for the remaining nine days of our trip.

The Blue Moon’s bar – plenty of room for bellying up…

In my last post –  “Two Montana Classics,” I told you about the Bulldog Saloon in Whitefish and the Blue Moon Saloon in Columbus Falls.

The Antler Saloon

And before that in “Pondering the Pandemic – No. 1”, it was the Saw Mill Saloon in Darby, the Wise River Club in Wise River, the Antler Saloon in Wisdom and the Dewey Bar – also in Wisdom.

All of these had great people – bartenders and regulars, great historic ambiance and the “watering hole character” which the forward to author, Joan Melcher’s first book Watering Holes – A User’s Guide to Montana Bars:sums up:

“…..the role of the western saloon remains what it has always been.  As an institution of importance it has always had its detractors — indeed it has always been been venomously attacked by the pious and the righteous. 

The attacks have never really mattered to the  keepers of the institutions nor to the patrons.  The western saloon is simply too important a social, economic and political instrument of western society to be turned aside from its predestined course.” 

(K. Ross Toole – Hammond Professor of History, University of Montana) 

Although the bars discussed below are not historic, they still fit that mold.  And Moose’s Saloon is another shining example of Montana culture – this time as part of the bustling city of Kalispell.

Moose’s Saloon

I rolled in late on a Sunday afternoon after driving from Yaak with stops in Whitefish and Columbus Falls – only about 125 miles and through beautiful Big Sky scenery.

I checked into the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel right in the center of town.  It dates back to 1912 – the bars aren’t the only vestibules of frontier history – and it still has an outstanding old-fashioned elevator and a pipe organ in the lobby.

The lobby of the Grand Kalispell

Then a dinner – only a few blocks away – in a former blacksmith shop – now called The Forge which houses the Desoto Grill and a superb barbecued rib dinner.

Then I moved onto Moose’s Saloon on Main Street and the west end of town.  Since it was a Sunday evening, I expected somewhat of a staid environment – not what Joan Melcher described on most other nights:

“The first time I described Moose’s Saloon, I said walking into it was ‘like opening the door to an eighth grade study hall….Both times I drop by during the summer of 2008, the place is wild.”

Moose’s is not real impressive on the outside – kind of a tacky wooden false front – and the building doesn’t seem to be historic – evidently it was called the Corral Bar before it was transformed to Moose’s in 1957 by a guy who played tackle for the Montana Grizzly Football Team.

Moose and his wife built a thriving establishment and never looked back. (He died in 1999 and it’s now owned by his daughter according to my friendly bartender, Frank.)

Friendly Frank

Frank is from Pittsburgh and has worked there eight years although he called himself “the new boy” compared to the tenures of his co-wokers.

But Frank gives a great rundown of the 24 beers on tap.  I was inclined to get an MGD on tap, but thought “Dirt, (That’s me as you can see from the header at the top of the screen.) this is Montana,” so I had a pint of Moose Drool from Big Sky Brewing.

Although the room adjacent to the space housing the large rectangular bar, filled with big wooden booths and picnic tables, was hopping, the bar had only a few people seated.  That changed quickly and by the time I finished my mug, it was pretty much filled.  Moose’s has a lot of ongoing events and specials which draw customers as you can see by this sign. 

I had a great conversation with a guy and his wife who drove their RV out from the east coast for a conference in Great Falls. Since meeting new people is one of the joys of Beerchasing, I soon found out that the guy’s name was Huck, the conference was the Beer Now Conference and his avocation is of all things – a blog called “Huck’s Beer Buzz.”

What’s that you ask – as did Thebeerchaser!  It’s summed up in the home page of his blog and as you might suspect, Dirt and Huck had a fairly robust conversation about our favorite topic – bars and beers!

“Huck hails from Blacksburg Virginia in the Roanoke Valley. With the help of “Huckette,” his lovely wife, Huck writes about craft beer and various related topics.

Huck travels for work in his ‘real’ job which allows him to travel and sample beer at various locales. Huck  tries to document the places so that others can find the good places and be forewarned about the bad!”

Huck and The Huckette

We traded cards and then went on our separate ways.

Moose is known for it’s great pizza and I was almost sorry that I had eaten (although I still had some ribs in the mini-fridge in my hotel room that I would gobble down the next day – or maybe when I got back that night since Janet wasn’t with me…..)

The pizzas were flying and everybody at the bar was consuming loads of unshelled peanuts – a gob of them for only $1.50 – many of which landed on the sawdust floor. (They’re in the plastic bag in the photo below.)

While Joan’s recommendation was enough for me, if in doubt, check out the comments on social media, almost all of which mention the great quality of the pizza:

“If you like an old fashioned country atmosphere, then this place is for you! Sawdust on the floor, beer flowing, and country music accompany the best pizza in town! Don’t miss out on this if you are visiting the Kalispell area. (Trip Advisor, November 24, 2019)

And they also usually mention the atmosphere like this one:
“Just what the title says! This is probably the most unique place in Northwest Montana! EXCELLENT pizza!”  (Trip Advisor , January 1 , 2020)

The VFW Bar 

I had seen that in Montana a number of the VFW Posts open their bars to the public and curiosity got the better of me as I was leaving Kalispell late the next morning, so I stopped in at one – again only a few blocks from the hotel and on 1st Street.   It was the Glacier Park Chapter.

It would be just a nice place to grab a beer, play some pool or have a card game and interact with some wonderful people, most of whom were veterans who had served their country.  I sat at the end of a long bar and talked to a grizzled regular former Army guy who talked about the good old days in Kalispell:

“There were thirteen bars within several blocks on Main Street.  We had a Friday night ritual – we’d start with a shot of Galliano (43.2% ABV!) and then start having a beer at each bar to see how many we could get before one guy would pass out.”

The bartender, a veteran, was friendly and when I told him about my blog he introduced me to Jonathan who was an officer in the Chapter and had recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan where he was an electronic aviation technician.   He and the bartender let me tour the Chapter museum which was in a spacious locked room adjacent to the bar.  It was interesting and humbling to see the magnitude of the military service of the members.

Del’s Bar in Somers Montana

After the great visit at the VFW, I drove about ten miles and stopped at Somers – on the north shore of Flathead Lake.   There was one more bar – not anything historic, but the reviews made it look like it was an interesting community bar — and it was.

Del’s Bar from the outside, would not pique your imagination or make one inclined to explore further, but I’m Thebeerchaser.

At 11:00 AM on a Monday morning, however, it was just the young female bartender, Kylee and a nice guy named Tom who was a painting contractor who was a Montana State grad in the place.

Now Del’s is spacious inside besides having a nice sized bar and it appeared to be a community-oriented watering hole which is a cherished spots for the regulars, who come for Bingo Night every Wednesday.  But the reactions from some others is somewhat tepid – at least that’s the cursory impression one would get looking at some of the Yelp reviews: https://www.yelp.com/biz/dels-somers

That said, the pizza gets great reviews and I wish I had been there to partake of some of their daily dinner specials such as the Buffalo Stew, which if you look at their Facebook Page is supplemented on other nights with chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, elk chili, spaghetti with sausage and mini corndogs – enough variety to keep you happy throughout the week, but lead to an early coronary if you are a regular.

Del’s also has a nice patio and a spacious outdoor area which in the months in Montana one can be outside, gets heavy use as you can see from this picture taken on one of their summer Bingo Nights – voted Best in Flathead in 2019:

Bingo Night – check out the reviews on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10157464601228316&set=

And to give you a better idea of the regular vs. tourist opinion to which I earlier alluded, check out the link on the picture above where a tourist commented:

“The woman bartender calling the numbers, used the “F” word all the time on the microphone. Very inappropriate. We won’t be back. Surprised the manager is not saying something to control her language.”

This comment garnered fifteen responses suggesting that they hoped the lady was serious about her threat not to return.  Every comment was along the sentiments below – most with profanity interlaced, including one guy who sarcastically agreed with the lady in a comment that had twelve uses of the F-word in one long paragraph:

“Don’t like it?? You don’t have to come, there’s plenty of other bingo’s to attend! Have at ‘er bud!!!  The bingo caller makes bingo at Dels worth going to. People come hours in advance to get a seat. Welcome to the bar and the best bingo in town.”

I finished my bottle of MGD – the first time during the trip I had a morning beer, but it was Monday……, bade farewell to Kylee and Tom and traveled south along beautiful Flathead Lake where I stopped and had my lunch (the rest of the ribs from the night before) at a picnic table.

Nice picnic spot

Then a drive through Missoula for about 160 miles and three hours to my next night stop in Hamilton – a wonderful Montana community on the west border of the state with great bars and breweries.   Stay tuned for more Beerchasing adventures…..

Cheers

Image by Pam Williams