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.

Two Montana Classics – The Bulldog and the Blue Moon

Yaak River Falls in NW Montana

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

Unless you have been hiding under a rock since early March, you know that the ability to explore new bars and breweries is either extremely limited or in many locations, non-existent.  Thus, Thebeerchaser, in a fit of maudlin retrospective, has harkened back to past trips to Montana (2004, 2016 and last summer) and the wonderful scenery and historic watering holes of the Big Sky State.

In a recent blog post, I remembered the great adventure we had last June when Janet and I embarked on a fifteen-day road trip through Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming before we returned to Oregon.  We visited 49 great establishments in addition to our adventures in several memorable National Parks and Monuments we encountered on the 3,700 mile journey.

Mt Rushmore – still with the original four…..

In the above post, I mentioned five bars – all in Montana which were my favorites and I want to continue the story on others since I didn’t write these up right after the trip.

Bernie – bartender at the
Antler Saloon in Wisdom

https://thebeerchaser.com/2020/08/24/pondering-the-panemic-no-2/j   All five have robust histories and great character as evident in the picture above.

Now one might wonder, “Why focus on Montana?”  I’ve visited almost 400 bars and breweries in the last nine years since commencing my Beerchasing exploits – 125 in Portland, Oregon and the others throughout Oregon, various regions of the US and even a couple in Europe – talk about memorable!!

Sheriff Plummer – a man of controversy

Well, perhaps I can answer that with a description from my most recent book:

Hanging the Sheriff – A Biography of Henry Plummer – a fascinating book about an iconic Montana ghost-town that I visited while on a sabbatical from my former law firm in  2004 road trip.

I spent about seven hours touring Bannack – including Hangman’s Gulch where Sheriff Plummer came to his untimely demise, and the cemetery in this photo I took.  Men – both innocent and guilty were summarily tried, immediately hanged by the vigilantes, and left to “swing” so they could be a graphic example to others before they were laid to rest.

The book describes one notable saloon in “downtown” Bannack:

“…..the important role played by the saloons:  They occupied a ‘large space in the social and public life of the camps to which nearly everyone was driven….’ Most were ‘hospitable, conducted by well-behaved attendants or proprietors, only a few of them contented to be known as bad.’

Of the ‘bad’ saloons, the one guaranteeing the most action was the Elkhorn, so named because of the pair of huge antlers the owner, Cyrus Skinner had purchased and tacked over the front door.   Inside was a long, polished, dark wood bar, a few card tables and attached to one wall, two rows of bunks with grass-stuffed mattresses, usually occupied by customers.”

The Montana Bar – present day in Miles City

Indeed, besides the mattresses, the narrative above could describe a majority of the bars I visited on my trips to Montana as evidenced by this picture of the Montana Bar in Miles City which has been serving beer since 1908.

And while I love Oregon, Montana will continue to lure me back.  I contemplated showing you a few stanzas of the Montana state song to convey that allure, but they are really boring.  So I decided to illustrate with the song written by my new friend, Geoff, and to which I and several others were serenaded at the Yaak River Tavern after I bought him a beer on my trip last summer.  (Besides, every song about the Big Sky State should also have the word “banana” in it.)

(I asked the bartender to credit his tab and let him collect the next day as he didn’t need another beer that evening……)

 The Bulldog and the Blue Moon – Two Great Watering Holes 

In the interest of brevity, I’ll only touch on two additional bars and save others for future posts.   The Bulldog Saloon in Whitefish and the Blue Moon Saloon in Columbus Falls, right outside Kalispell.

I didn’t stay in Whitefish – just passed through on Highway 93 on a Sunday afternoon in between nights at Yaak River Lodge and the historic Grand Hotel in Kalispell, both of which I strongly recommend.

Author, Joan Melcher’s second book – Montana Watering Holes  describes the Bulldog Saloon as:

“Sometimes there’s nothing better than a surprise.  And the Bulldog is that…..A step in the door and you know you’re in a world unto itself.  The walls and ceilings are black, providing a sharp relief to the hundreds of decoupage photos mounted on primal colors of wood and varnished to a glow…..School pennants hang from black ceiling tiles”

(I immediately noticed the Oregon State banner in one section of the ceiling – also occupied by the LA Dodgers and the SF Giants, the Hamilton Mont. High School Broncs and the Marquette University Golden Eagles…)

And I had a feeling of ambivalence as I drank a bottled Miller’s and talked in the dark environs of the saloon to the great young bartender – a college student on summer break from Montana State .

He filled me in on the bar’s history and told me about recent visits from sports stars, Stephen Curry, who owns a place on nearby Flathead Lake and his brother, Seth – also Jerry Rice and NBA star, Kevin Durant, who stopped in while vacationing.

Why the contradictory perceptions? Well in Portland, aside from Claudia’s Sports Pub and Grill – I reviewed in 2012 and was opened in 1959, none of the sports bars are historic. The Bulldog, is on the ground floor of a 1903 building, which housed doctors’ offices on the second floor, but a pool hall – the Pastime thrived on the first floor.

“In addition to pool, the Pastime was the place to go for card games such as poker, pinochle and pan. During the prohibition era, the Pastime survived selling everything from guns, fishing tackle, batteries, and work gloves, to tobacco and cigars. There was even a soda fountain for teenagers located in the basement during a short period following World War II.”

Named after Whitefish HS mascot

It eventually became The Bulldog Saloon in 1983, when the owners, Buck and Linda May, opened it and named the bar after the Whitefish High School mascot.

Most sports bars, I’ve visited in almost ten years of Beerchasing are not family-type bars, but that’s not true of the Bulldog.   That said, there’s a slight dissonance, because both the men’s and women’s heads, have semi and fully nude photos from magazines decorating the walls along with additional sports memorabilia.

A small section of mens’ restroom photos

For example, on the photo at the right, you can see the Penthouse Pet of the Month’s photo right above an autographed photo of former New York Met pitching star, Ron Taylor (1967-71) thanking the Bulldog for its hospitality.

And aside from that, it’s pretty typical – scads of big screen TVs, video poker, local team photos, signed jerseys and memorabilia from college and pro sports stars.

But my favorite part and a lasting image of the Bulldog Saloon was ensconced in my memory as I was leaving the men’s head — the life-size, smiling visage of a younger, Boston Celtic great, Kevin McHale holding 60% of a basketball in his left hand and a full can of Miller Lite – only 96 calories and 4.2 ABV – in his right.  He was rumored to favor the beer because it tasted great rather than being less filling….

The Blue Moon Saloon

After reading Joan Melcher’s effusive reviews in both her books about the history and the memorable owners, Dick and Charlotte Sapa, I absolutely had to stop at the Blue Moon – less than 25 minutes outside of Kalispell in an expansive building.  Maybe that’s because the bar is over sixty feet long – one of the longest in the north western states.

Over 60 feet long

There’s also a big dance floor and multiple glass-covered exhibits which house the largest display of taxidermy I saw on my trip.  And as you will see from the picture shown below, they weren’t just native Montana species such as grizzly bear, moose, elk and antelope and the biggest big horn sheep brought down in Montana.   That’s a polar bear which they bagged in northern Ontario, Canada.

When I walked in, sat down at the middle of the (very long) bar – which had a stuffed alligator hanging from the backbar – and ordered a beer,  I asked the bartender if the Sapas still were the owners.

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

The Sapas opened the bar in 1947 and have owned it since.   They were very friendly and among the questions I asked was whether the story about the cowboy patron who showed up shortly after the bar opened  was true.  They knew which one I meant!

As Joan Melcher relates:

“A young man was bragging about the horse he just acquired.  He told Charlotte, he wanted to bring the horse over to show it off…..Sure enough, the guy goes and gets the horse and rides it into the bar.

He orders a ditch (a small glass filled with some ice and 2 oz. of whiskey and 2 oz. of water) for himself and a gin and tonic for horse. (Charlotte explains that they are supposed to like gin.)”   

Dick and Charlotte

But as Charlotte explained to me while laughing, the story doesn’t end there:

“The cowboy rode right in front of the middle of the bar and his horse took a big dump!   We spread saw dust on it until we could fully clean it up after the bar closed.”  

What made the story even funnier was that while Charlotte was relating it, the song on the jukebox happened to be “Wildfire” by Michael Martin Murphy, about another pony, but this one in Nebraska.  I still thought it was a funny coincidence….

Charlotte told me about their family and Dick talked about the rodeo they have at the adjacent arena which draws big crowds and professional riders every weekend during the summer. 

Their son, Bill, who was drafted by the New York Yankees came in with his son – they were still tired after branding cattle on their 200 acre farm the day before.

After we talked awhile, he offered to take me up to the fabled upper rooms – “an honor not many outsiders get” .  You walk behind the bar to almost a hidden door and then a stairway to the second floor – several rooms are completely filled with additional trophies from their big game hunts in Montana and all over the world

Bill Sapas – son of Charlotte and Dick

The Sapas are wonderful people – typical of the owners and regulars I met during the solo part of my trip, and later Janet and I encountered throughout the remainder.  I could have stayed there and talked for several more hours but the dinner special at Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell beckoned.

Nevertheless, if you take a road trip to Montana, stop at the Blue Moon Saloon.  It’s a rather non-descript building on the outside, but oozes character once you walk in and is a great example of why I have such an affinity for the bars in this beautiful state.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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