2021 Summer Beerchasing Miscellany – Part I

Now That Really is a Dirty Shame!

While I’m happy for my friend, John Runkle, the owner of the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana, I lament for the rich history of legendary dive bars, that John has sold the bar – the new owners take over in late August.  Originally there was talk that they would change the name, but that appears to be a false rumor.

After reading about the history of the bar in Joan Melchers’ two books “Montana Watering Holes,” I called John and arranged a visit and stay in 2019 at the Yaak River Lodge, which John also owns – located on 7.5 acres along the beautiful Yaak River.

I stayed for two nights in the Moose Room (the Wolf Room was already occupied) – waking to John’s home-cooked breakfasts of bacon, hashbrowns and blueberry pancakes.  In the near term, He will continue to operate the Lodge – a rustic retreat shown below which is about one mile from the Saloon.

My enthusiasm for the Bar, John and his staff as well as the entire Yaak community of about 250 people, is evidenced by the four blog posts I wrote – necessary to adequately convey John’s and the “Shame’s” amazing stories. 

The last one entitled “Thebeerchaser’s Final Thoughts on the Dirty Shame Saloon,” published in October 2019, contains only some of the tales I heard there.  Check it out and the others to understand some of the reasons why this remains my favorite bar in ten years of Beerchasing.

So what’s in store for this soon to be father of three kids under six after his wife Dallas Runkle’s projected delivery date in September.  They live much of the time in the Tri-City area in Washington where Dallas is completing her graduate studies in education and counseling.

A conversation this week with John went like this:

Beerchaser: “Are you going to sell the Lodge at some point?”

Runkle: “Yes, we’ve temporarily taken it off the market, but when Dallas finishes her educational requirements in about a year, we’ll probably move to Texas.”

Beerchaser:  “What are you going to do, John – Run another saloon, run for office, run a marathon…” (John is a staunch conservative and we had some great debates about politics and life during my two days in Yaak while we drank beer.)

Runkle:  “Since Dallas will be working and at sixty, I’ll be the oldest dad in the world with three kids under six, I’ll probably be taking care of my offspring.  (Laughing) Joe Biden’s child-care credits will help me do that!”

John hasn’t met the new owners of the Dirty Shame yet, but they are a group of radiologists from San Luis Obispo, California, who also bought the Yaak River Tavern across the street from the Dirty Shame and evidently acquired the nearby  Overdale Lodge as well.  Does this seem a little like the premise of the series “Yellowstone?”

Regardless of the name change, the bar will not have the same character as when John was the owner and what he has made of this legendary watering hole since he bought it out of foreclosure in 2013. 

John’s humor, great heart and sense of community, have made this a focal point for the community and miles around for events such as the Sasquatch Festival, the Crawfish Festival, the Adult Easter Egg Hunt or the “Yaak Attack.”  After the two previous owners failed, John’s business acumen prevailed and the saloon has increased revenue every year except in 2020 with COVID.  It has never been more profitable.

He ended our phone call by saying, “Don, don’t forget that on July 31st, we will have the last staging of Female Cream Wrestling (last year it was canceled because of COVID) and the farewell party with live music will be on August 28th.”  

Let’s see – it’s 520 miles or 8 hours and 29 minutes from my house to Yaak.  And, if I hurry, I might be able to get a reservation in the Moose Room again…..(See the end of this post for another photo album of my visit to the Dirty Shame.)

Back to Beerchasing but Farewell to Some Favorite Haunts

With vaccination rates at a good level and restrictions lifted in Oregon, Thebeerchaser is back in business – visiting new bars and breweries to add to the total – now approaching 400 – since starting this retirement hobby in August 2011.  My most recent post related my four great visits to Corner 14 – a wonderful community watering hole in Oregon City which opened in February of 2020.  Stay tuned…..

That said, the pandemic and lockdown were brutal to hospitality establishments and some of my favorite bars and a few breweries didn’t make it.  And while we lost a number during the pandemic, it exacerbated an already tough economic environment.   An 4/4/21 Oregon Live article entitled, “Brewers Were Soaked by the Pandemic” stated in part:

“Oregon breweries were already undergoing a generational transition in the months before the pandemic hit.  In 2018 and 2019, Lompoc, Bridgeport, Portland Brewing and Widmer Brewing all closed restaurants and/or bars.  Alameda Brewhouse, Columbia River Brewing and Burnside Brewing shut their doors too.”  (Click on the links to see Thebeerchaser reviews.)

“Oregon breweries shed 1,000 jobs between the summer of 2019 and the pandemic, nearly 12% of the sector’s employment.  Then 3,500 jobs vanished in the spring of 2020.

Employment….tumbled 43% in the first months of the pandemic.   While many of those jobs bounced back over the summer as the state gradually reopened, brewery jobs remained down nearly 29% — a greater fall than at restaurants and bars, overall.”

Ironically, liquor sales jumped 20%, last April, during the first month of the pandemic to a record high. But there is good news on the brewery front. 

A number are expanding their locations including Pelican Brewing in Lincoln City, Lake Oswego’s Stickman Brewing and Baerlic Brewing in NE Portland.  Chuckanut Brewing of Bellingham, known for its lagers, has filed to open a SE Portland beer hall.

I’m very excited to check out a new Portland brewery.  Steeplejack Brewing is scheduled to open in an historic church building (112 years old) in July.  (Soft opening on 7/16 and grand opening on 7/31.) .  Two University of California – Santa Cruz college buddies – Brody Day and Dustin Harder are partnering to restore this wonderful NE Portland landmark  (Willamette Week 2/20/21)

Demolition and rebuilding is underway as crews are digging up a section of the main hall of worship for a sunken brewery, but Steeplejack plans to keep many of the most iconic and timeless elements of the building intact.

William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, actually laid the cornerstone of the church at a ceremony in front of thousands of onlookers back in the day. But the primary feature is the 65’ ft. high steeple and bell tower from which the brewery gets it’s name.”  (“Steeplejack Brewing drafts All-Star Team for upcoming Portland brewpub in restored church.”  (The New School 4/20/21)

I  had a good telephone conversation with co-owner Brody Day and challenged him on the headline of the second article above asking, “What makes your team of the All-Star caliber?”  His response was good.

Steeplejack’s Head Brewer and Lead Brewer, Anna Buxton and Anne Aviles both have extensive experience in the brewing industry.    Anna at the  innovative Modern Times Brewing and Anne in the Experimental Brewing aspect at both DeGarde Brewing on the Oregon coast and Portland’s award-winning Breakside Brewing.  

The pent up desire to socialize with friends and family over a good beer portends a robust summer and fall for Northwest watering holes – that is if they can find adequate help.  The new Pelican pub in Lincoln City advertised a $2,500 signing bonus for cooking staff.

A late June visit one of our favorites on the Central Oregon coast – Depoe Bay’s Horn Public House and Brewery – had a big crowd, but the upstairs section of the pub was closed because they didn’t have enough kitchen help to accommodate the demand.

I’m also pleased to see the ill-conceived recent plan of a few Oregon Legislators in House Bill 3296 to raise the Oregon beer and wine tax by 2,600% and 1,400% respectively according to Willamette Week, died a well-deserved death before it even got out of Committee during the 2021 Session.

That said, I was saddened to see in a visit to Lincoln City that a favorite community dive bar for decades – the Cruise Inn, which I reviewed in 2014, appears to have closed its doors. Although I haven’t found any formal notice, the furniture, equipment and “library,” including the complete set of American Jurisprudence Legal Forms are gone and the phone disconnected.  

Check out a few photos from my posts on the Dirty Shame Saloon.

Photo Credits 

*1. Pelican Brewing Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/PelicanBrewingCompany/photos/10158384649633435

*2. Stickman Brewing Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/stickmenbeer/photos/a.254878121231579/

*3.  Baerlic Brewing Facebook Page  https://www.facebook.com/baerlicbrewing/photos/1360228664170193

*4.  Steeplejack Brewing Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/SteeplejackBeer/photos/106659551525747)

*5.  Steeplejack Brewing Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/SteeplejackBeer/photos/a.107641808094188/

*6. The Horn Public House and Brewery Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/thehornpublichouse/photos/878078125931167

*7.  The Horn Public House and Brewery Facebook Page   https://www.facebook.com/thehornpublichouse/photos/a.221404098265243/

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