Modern(e) Family

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  Since this is a long post, if you are seeing it 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 narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

I have written at length in several posts about Thebeerchaser’s six-day solo Montana road trip in the fall of 2019 – solo, that is, until I picked up my wife, Janet when she flew into Billings for the remaining nine-days of our trip.

The trip began with two days in Yaak, Montana where I spent a great amount of time at the Dirty Shame Saloon, getting to know the unforgettable character and now friend, John Runkle while I stayed at John’s Yaak River Lodge.

Devouring John Runkle’s blueberry pancakes in the Yaak River Lodge dining room

Overnight stays in Kalispell, Hamilton, Anaconda and Livingston followed – all wonderful, towns that beckon a return after COVID becomes a vivid memory from 2020 – not one etched into our everyday thoughts and prayers.

Now during that time, I hit 29 bars and breweries in pursuit of my Beerchasing retirement hobby started in 2011.  Due to the number of establishments, aside from the Shame, I have featured multiple watering holes in each post until now — the Club Moderne in the historic mining town of Anaconda.

That’s because not only is the architecture and décor totally different than any other bar in Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming and Idaho, but the momentous story that continues to cement the Moderne’s legacy in the robust history of Anaconda is unique.

Now I am not and never will be a hunter, but I loved one almost universal characteristic of the Montana dive bars I visited.  Taxidermy is a recurring and dominant theme and as evidenced by the fact that there are 205 taxidermists registered in Montana and Helena even has the Montana School of Taxidermy and Tanning.

The 2019 annual convention of the Montana Taxidermists’ Association in Billings was the most well-attended ever according to the Billings Gazette.  The product of taxidermists is ingrained in the culture – kind of like soccer in Europe and losing in the Pac 12 Athletic Conference since Larry Scott became the Commissioner….

A notable example is the stuffed alligator hanging over what is reported to be the longest bar in Montana at the Blue Moon Saloon in Columbus Falls – the saloon also has a polar bear and grizzly in a gigantic glass display case among others on display. 

Although there are too many to mention in this post, don’t forget the albino mule deer fawn tucked in between multiple other formerly wild creatures on the west wall of the legendary New Atlas Saloon in the heart of Columbus – a bar that originated in 1906.

It’s described by Joan Melcher, author of two outstanding books on historic Montana watering holes:

“Hulking throughout the room are bald eagles, an albino mule deer fawn, a coyote howling to the moon, young bobcats fighting an Audak (African mountain sheep), a Canadian lynx, raccoon or two, a fox, a snow owl. moose heads, elk heads – buffalo, antelope, mountain sheep – all kinds of head….

….After a few drinks, you feel countless pairs of eyes bearing down.  You have another beer to relax under their scrutiny, look around again, and you’re among friends, the animals’ glares having softened to amused acceptance.”  (Page 95 – Montana Watering Holes by Joan Melcher)

One of multiple footrest spittoons at the New Atlas

The historic character is usually enhanced by dark wooden bars and backbars and in the New Atlas, spittoons, in the footrest running the full length of the bar.

But the Club had a one-of-a-kind exterior – at least in Montana – and possibly one of just two similar themes in the Western US (see below).

In Big Sky Country, such design was tantamount to finding a liberal arts major at an aggie school like Oregon State University or a guy, in what some regard as the Micro-brew capital of the Western Hemisphere, ordering a Budweiser at after-work gatherings in the PacWest Center in downtown Portland.  (Oh yeah, I guess I meet both of those conditions, but you understand my point – the Club Moderne is just very unusual and surprising given the context.)

Now even though I was a liberal arts major, I had to look up the definition of “moderne”  – it’s defined by the Free Dictionary, in part, as:

“Of or relating to the art deco style marked by bright colors and geometric shapes….An architectural and decorative style popular from the 1930s to the 1940s and characterized by streamlined and curved surfaces, strong horizontal lines, and minimal surface ornament.”

And the Club Moderne was added to the National  Trust for Historic Preservation in 1986 and described on its website:

“The bar was – and still is – a sight to behold, with its rounded front facade and Carrara glass panels that perfectly embody the Art Deco style of architecture popular in the U.S. earlier last century.  Club Moderne was built under the direction of owner John “Skinny” Francisco. The building was designed by Bozeman, Montana-based architect Fred Willson and built by local carpenters and craftspeople.”

And the City of Anaconda – dating back to 1893 and a with current population of about 10,000, has an interesting history:

“…..founded by Marcus Daly, one of the Copper Kings, who financed the construction of the Anaconda smelter on nearby Warm Springs Creek to process copper ore from the Butte mines……

The Anaconda company expanded smelting capacity over time; by 1919 the Washoe Reduction Works could boast that its 585-foot (178 m) smokestack was the tallest masonry structure in the world and that the smelter-refining complex constituted the world’s largest non-ferrous processing plant. In 1980, Atlantic Richfield Co. closed the smelter, bringing an end to almost a century of mineral processing.”  (Wikipedia)

One of my friends lived there during the 1950’s and said that the town bustled with activity.  There was a bar on almost every block of Commercial Street.  But disaster struck in 2016 and a devastating fire ravaged the Club Moderne the night of October 3rd. To understand the sentiment of Anaconda residents, consider an article in The Missoulian when the Moderne reopened in the spring of 2017 after community efforts to make it happen.

One resident described the loss of the Club Moderne as “the most devastating thing to happen to Anaconda.”….Victor Zenahlik, a captain with the Anaconda Fire Department, said he felt “heartbroken and sickened” when he got the call to respond to the Club Moderne.  (The Missoulian – May 13, 2017)

But the Moderne, at least from what I saw, never lost the family-type character and historic flavor which defined it.  According to an article in the Montana Standard on 10/4/16:

“‘This is a place where you brought your lady. This is a place where you could be comfortable. This is a place where they had it similar to Cheers where everyone knew your name,’ he said. ‘Everyone was welcomed when they came to the Club Moderne. It was a comfortable place and it spanned all the generations — from 21-year-olds to 80-year-olds.” ”

The Owl – not an inviting environment

And it was the exact opposite of The Owl Bar – another Anaconda bar I visited which was one of the few places on my trip where I had the distinct vibe that those who weren’t regulars should probably find another place to drink.

Admittedly, this sentiment is based on only one try, although my visits to about 400 watering holes since 2011, gives me a pretty good feel for mood.   The Owl originally, and for many years, didn’t have stools at the bar which is some indication that it was more of a place to throw down shots than to mingle.

In contrast, the Moderne had and has a family environment which is what led to its recovery after the fire.   In the words of Stephanie Hekkel, the Moderne owner’s words, describing what she liked best – “….hanging out with some of Anaconda’s old-timers, who ranged from miners to smelter workers, lawyers, teachers and policemen…..They had their stools. Everyone knew where you sat…..Some regulars came five days a week.”  The Montana Standard 10/4/16

Is this what you call a “beer chaser…?”

I sat down at the bar and the friendly bartender, Destiny, went through the tap list while a woman named Wanda sitting on an adjacent bar stool, advised me that I should try the Bloody Mary – it was a great choice and not just because it was served in a tall Bud Lite glass….

It turned out that Wanda had some Oregon roots as she went to college at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon – about twenty miles from my house.

And joining in the conversation were two affable young guys – Kyle and Logan – who it turned out were staying at the same hotel as I was and were in Anaconda for a month on a contract for the Montana Highway Department to install underground culverts.  The Club had quickly become their “bar of choice.”

The front of the establishment where the bar and booths are located is a bright and inviting room where various ornate trinkets and mementos adorn a lighted display case over the full length of the backbar. (The Moderne does not have a website and research did not yield any underlying story, but they were interesting.)

Author Melcher describe the front room in her 2009 visit:

“We order drinks and settle in, taking in the unerring details of art deco design.  The perfect geometry of the back bar, the copper and aluminum checkerboard ceiling, the stainless steel accents, the angles and lines in inlaid wood, the chromium and leather furniture – all details – all preserved.”

The larger back room – once restricted for ladies – because in Montana, as in many American jurisdictions, females could not drink in the same room as males – they had a separate entrance on the side or back of the establishment.   It’s now reserved for community events with a number of chairs, a shuffleboard game and an electronic dart board.

As a wonderful coincidence, Camille (Cam) Fallow, one of our nearby Oregon friends, when I related my Montana road trip experience and visit to the Club effused:

“Oh, You have found part of Anaconda’s history!  Many years ago, Club Moderne’s bartenders wore starched white vests and ties and the back room area was very formal.

Much of the design of the building was unique.  Folks far and wide knew about Anaconda’s Club Moderne, owned and operated by my step-father,
Skinny Francisco!  So happy that you stopped by there!”

The picture below from the Club’s Facebook page affirms Cam’s statement in this picture on its 80th birthday in 2017, when everyone dressed up as in the “old days.”
So, if you travel to Montana, be sure to put this bar on your itinerary.  And speaking of Cam’s step-dad, Skinny Francisco, if you prefer a more urban setting on the West Coast where you can check out the art-deco architecture, you might want to try the country’s other Club Moderne in the heart of San Francisco.

Stookey’s Club Moderne is located between Nob Hill and Union Square on the corner of Bush and Taylor Streets, where owner Tim Stookey also provides the art-deco vibe according to an article in Liquor.com.

“Tim Stookey, Stookey’s namesake co-owner, has spent nearly 20 years behind a bar. After much reconnaissance, he landed on the space near the city’s Nob Hill neighborhood.

The building itself has, appropriately, been a bar since 1944 and in all likelihood, ‘they were slinging booze here since Prohibition,’ says Stookey. The former Faverman’s Pharmacy #4—there were once five locations in San Francisco—became Faverman’s Liquors and remained a bar until its current incarnation.”

Cheers and Stay Safe!

Image by Pam Williams

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

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.

 

 

 

Pondering the Pandemic – No. 2

The historic New Atlas Bar in Columbus, Montana – notice the albino mule deer

(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.)

As I’ve mentioned in my last few posts – probably self-evident – visits to new watering holes whether bars or breweries are temporarily on hold for Thebeerchaser.  That said, I have a lot of old memories and thoughts about my favorite topic which can still provide grist to loyal followers – at least for awhile.

That was true reminiscing about our road trip through Montana last year in the recent post (see link below)  and that narrative was about just five of the 49 new establishments we visited on that 3,700 mile trip — like the historic New Atlas Bar in Columbus, Montana.

Joan Melcher, who wrote two books on Montana bars described the New Atlas  – one of her favorites below – and the second paragraph is a little curious.  The New Atlas, indeed, was one of the most curious of the forty-nine bars we hit on the trip:

“Hulking throughout the room are bald eagles, an albino mule deer fawn, a coyote howling to the moon, young bobcats fighting an Audak (African mountain sheep), a Canadian lynx, raccoon or two, a fox, a snow owl. moose heads, elk heads – buffalo, antelope, mountain sheep – all kinds of heads…

Amused acceptance?!  What’s the other option??

…..There’s a queer sensation that goes with drinking sur-rounded by dead, stuffed animals.  The first reaction is one of nonchalance – ah some nice stuffed animals. 

After a few drinks, you feel countless pairs of eyes bearing down.  You have another beer to relax under their scrutiny, look around again, and you’re among friends, the animals’ glares having softened to amused acceptance.”

The last post with the five other Montana bar descriptions (Trapper’s Saloon in Eureka, the Saw Mill Saloon in Darby – a town with a legendary Town Marshal, the Wise River Club in Wise River, the Antler Saloon in Wisdom and the Dewey Tavern also in Wise River – all Montana classics is at the link below:

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

A Return to the Central Oregon Coast

Right now, however, I’m coming back to Oregon – some of my favorite spots – dive bars on the Oregon Coast. These institutions are in jeopardy especially since the pandemic and be protected as should any endangered species such as the Washington golden mantel ground squirrel…..

The Sportsman in Pacific City

One of the great resources in the earlier days of this blog (2011-14) was a similar blog I came upon in doing research for my posts.  Matt Love, a prolific and talented author and now owner of a small Astoria publishing house he founded in 2003 – The Nestucca Spit Press

His blog, “Let it Pour”, originated as a popular column in Hipfish Monthly, an alternative magazine in Astoria. He no longer maintains the site and unfortunately a number of the watering holes are no longer in business..

Matt in his younger days sans beard…

Matt is a keen observer of both the ambiance of dive bars and the interactions that take place among the patrons – and is an expert in describing those in entertaining style.  Take this one from LetItPour.net that made me check out the Old Oregon as one of my first Coast dives.

“(It’s) a damn fine gritty place to drink beer – a lot of beer….The regulars call it The Old O and after spending time there over the years, I feel it is not too outrageous to suggest the nickname stands not only for The Old Oregon Tavern in Lincoln City — which it does — but really some of the patrons’ last long ago orgasm.  Maybe in the Johnson Administration.”

The interior of the Old O reflects the taste of the owners and its rich history as a tavern.  According to one patron who smoked cigarettes (Matt wrote this before the 2009 law banning smoking) and drank beer while attached to a portable oxygen tank, the joint dates to World War II, but maybe earlier.”

So with some curiosity, but no expectations, I hunkered into the Old O – right on Highway 101 in the heart of Lincoln City with my brother-in-law, Dave Booher and our friend, Steve Larson for a few beers and to observe. 

As per my usual Beerchaser process, I was sitting at the bar drinking draft PBR’s, asking the bartender questions and taking photos around the quaint place.  As per Matt’s observation about the family character of Coast dives, we noted  there was going to be a wake for a recently deceased regular – “Rod.”  We did not take the sign literally and assumed that when it stated, “Have a drink on Rod,” that his casket was not going to be in the Old O for the celebration.

A wake – but no casket….

Then, in walks a very stocky middle-aged guy in a motorcycle jacket and hat and purposefully strides towards a seat at the back of the bar where he could observe everything going on.   The bartender said softly, “That’s Irish Mike – our local ambassador.”   I took a few more pictures and rejoined my companions at the bar.

At that point Irish Mike pointed and motioned me to come to his chair.  With some trepidation, but also curiosity, I headed back to him and as I approached, he reached into his wallet and pulled out two one-dollar bills.  He stared at me and said:

“It’s your turn to plug the juke box. Don’t screw it up!”

Irish Mike and Thebeerchaser

Fortunately, he liked my selections of Van Morrison and the Eagles.  We had a great chat and I found out that he is a retired exec from San Francisco and rides his Harley up to Oregon a few times a year and the Old O is always one of his stops.

That stop after three years of Beerchasing, affirmed that there were many more yarns in the future. My stories, however, pale to Matt’s Love’s.  So take a look at his newspaper-tabloid publication Oregon Tavern Age – a bargain at $10 or three copies for $20 at his Nestucca Spit Press website where you will also find other wonderful books on Oregon he has written.

Before we get to OTA, the picture above gives me reason to momentarily digress.   I asked Matt what spurred his fascination with beavers – pervasive and tactically placed throughout the almost eighty different bar tails… (sorry – I couldn’t resist) tales throughout the 58-page OTA publication.

I thought it might be because he, like I, was an OSU grad but he got his degrees at Portland State and Lewis and Clark.  His captivation with the flat-tailed, semi-aquatic rodent was a product of observing them in the woods during his walks on the Oregon coast and his collection of beaver wood – an obsession, of sorts, for the last ten years – and an amazing sight adjacent to his RV.

Beaverwood – ten years worth…

The topic of Beavers then provides a convenient segue to my next topic – Oregon State Football and whether the Beavs under Coach Jonathan Smith will exceed expectations this fall.

However, not only will the Beaver quarterbacks, lineman and defensive backs, etc. be occupied otherwise on Saturday afternoons, but so will the midfielders on the soccer team and the setter and outside hitter on the volleyball team.

The Pac 12, as did some of the other NCAA conferences made the wise decision to protect athletes and fans by either suspending or delaying fall and winter sports.

So instead of being on the gridiron, the Beaver football players will have a chance to spend time in the library until at least next spring and help bolster the academic standing of OSU – possibly to a scholastic peak that the football team can be proud of. Thus, any current discussion of football would be strictly academic……

Oregon Tavern Age

Don’t bother Googling Oregon Tavern Preservation Society. That’s Matt’s imagination…

Matt describes how the phrase was coined based on an experience thirty-four years ago when he and some friends were sitting in Seaside’s The Beach Club, drinking 50-cent drafts:

“A man blasted through the door and obliterated the tavern’s somnolent mood.  His hair was feathered….and perfect.  He appeared anywhere from 40 to 70 years old.  Many years later, I coined the phrase ‘Oregon Tavern Age’ or ‘OTA’ to describe the condition….*1

The man’s name was Larry or Wayne, both solid OTA names.  He sat down with us at the bar.  He was loud.  I struck up a conversation with him and learned he had $10,000 in cash stuffed into his pants pocket…..*2

He had cashed a check the previous afternoon – a settlement from an injury suffered in an automobile accident and was ready to party down – hard.  He bought the house a round, screamed an encouraging profanity, and then bolted out the door.”

*1 I am appalled now that I’m 72, Matt doesn’t consider me part of OTA.  Through my lawyer, I will consider notifying federal and state agencies (such as the Oregon Liquor Control Commission) and WCTU (?) on possible sanctions for age discrimination.

*2  Wayne or Larry probably only had about 70% of that amount of cash on him as his lawyer would have taken the other 30% as his or her contingency fee.

This was clearly not the last or even a tiny slice of the stories and observations Love makes in this treatise that was so interesting and enjoyable to me that I used a yellow highlighter so I could come back and savor parts of it again later.

Matt published OTA in 2019, but these stories go back years to:

“…the halcyon days of Oregon tavern life:  no liquor, no craft beers, no meth, no video poker or  slots, smoke-filled and the classic cheap Pacific Northwest lagers brewing in the Pacific Northwest by union men reigned supreme.”

Now based on the 375 watering holes I have visited, I have a lot of stories, but Matt is a master of observation not only of the human interaction, but the trappings and character of these dives.  He converts the notes he took “jotting down observations with a pencil on a golf score card” and his conversations with the regulars into a captivating collection of stories and anecdotes with great graphic illustrations – courtesy of his ex-wife.

It will make you want to drive down to Pacific City and have a draft Budweiser at the Sportsman Pub and Grub where for years, Matt served as the bar’s Writer in Residence (Thebeerchaser reviewed this great dive in October 2014.)

“I like Old!”

For example, his observation upon getting a recommendation to check out the Crow’s Nest Lounge in Gold Beach – although being warned it’s regulars were an older crowd:

“’Good,’ I thought. I like old.”   That’s where the real OTA action unfolds like so much frozen molasses locked inside a glacier.  I hate fast bars with loud, dumb kids throwing down jello shots while fiddiling on their fancy phones.  They need a little Black Velvet to calm then down…..We all do.”

And I can just visualize Matt, sitting at a dark red booth with cracked vinyl, enveloped in second-hand smoke and nursing a cheap Hamm’s – this as he observed a guy drinking white wine:

“The white wine hailed from a black box.  The man sat next to another OTA man drinking Budweiser from a tall can.  In the wings, a female bartender fiddled on her phone.  The Stanley Cup Final highlights played quietly on a flatscreen.

At a nearby table, an OTA woman drank coffee and ate clam chowder and dunked a peanut butter bar, in both, while reading a firearms magazine.  She hacked an ex-smoker’s hack between dunks and turning the pages.”

Now there have been about eight dives on the coast that have either closed permanently or indefinitely suspended operations   It’s not possible for someone to open a new dive bar – it’s somewhat of a contradiction of terms. And Matt is the cerebral vault in which many of the stories are maintained and only unlocked on special occasions.  For example:

“One day, many years ago, a woman sat in Pitch’s Tavern in Port Orford.   She saw a horse drinking beer from a saucer on the counter.  On another visit, she saw a live boxer crab holding an unlit cigarette in one claw and a glass of beer in the other.”

The author is sometimes maudlin and philosophical in his musings and I will leave you with his rhetorical question and the recommendation that you order the Oregon Tavern Age and join Thebeerchaser in reveling at the stories of a gifted writer:

“Could all the bartenders in OTA country be replaced by Alexa-like robot devices?  Can you imagine Alexa responding to a question like: “Alexa, can I have the bear tacos and Hamm’s special?’ 

There will never be an algorithm for that.  There will never be an algorithm for OTA country. Everything is utterly random, except for the consistency of the regulars and their stories and the utter unpredictability of the bartenders.  If I want an algorithm, I’ll go to a brewpub.”

Savor the story of the Deep Fried Miller High Life at the Mad Dog Country Tavern just out of Newport (that and The Triangle Tavern under the Megler Bridge in Astoria are two of his favorites )

Or check out the one on the blue parrot playing video poker (and winning) at the historic Bay Haven Inn in the heart of Newport, by ordering Matt’s OTA.  And take a look at some of the other great offerings at the Nestucca Spit Press while you’re at it.

And Finally…

Courtesy of Molly Larson Cook

With two daughters who are both nurses, I’ve stated before, my plea for everyone to wear masks.   And here’s a great place to get one plus a bonus from Patty Voldbaeck – a former excellent legal secretary at the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt firm. 

Patty’s masks are made of 100%cotton fabric with ultralight fusible interfacing (if requested) and a pocket insert protector of your personal preference.  She also has a piece of N-95 fabric available with instructions for care.

Designer Masks

The bonus is that one of Patty’s Famous Molasses Cookies comes with each mask order or if you would like more (based on my experience, you will….) they are available at $12 a dozen. 
 
GP   Grandma Patty’s Famous Creations
Masks, Molasses Cookies & Scrubbys
Notary-Oregon
503-476-2216

Pondering During the Pandemic – 1

Vortex 1 – Protesting in 1970…No tear gas, projectiles and violence – just sunburn!

(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.)

Thebeerchaser’s exploration of new establishments during the pandemic has been limited (or basically non-existent) so on recent posts I’ve covered some miscellaneous topics such as reminiscing about Vortex 1  – the only state-sponsored rock concert in US history held near Estacada, Oregon in 1970.  It’s a fascinating story: https://thebeerchaser.com/2020/07/16/beerchasing-miscellany-lockdown-version-ii/

In a number of posts, I’m also “revisiting,” in a manner of speaking, some of my favorite bars and breweries visited during the nine years I’ve pursued my idiosyncratic retirement hobby with the tally now at 375 establishments reviewed since August, 2011.  This time I will focus on the Big Sky State.

Oh Montana!!

No gun rack, but Starbucks and Sirius satellite radio

In June 2019, my wife and I had a marvelous combined road trip of fourteen days from Oregon to the Dakotas and back.

I say “combined” because the first six days, I drove our 2015 Prius (without any gun rack) through Montana  – solo before picking my wife up at the Billings, Montana Airport for the remainder of that trip.

If it weren’t for the weather from October to March, Montana, with its outstanding scenery, would be an ideal place to live.

Lake Koocanusa near Eureka, Montana

We love road trips and miss them greatly. In the last six months, about the only road trip I’ve taken is into the next county to a store that was one of the few places that had Chlorox Wipes available.  That 49 mile round-trip had none of the benefits I experienced in Montana other than picking up an all-beef Seven-Eleven Big Bite Hot Dog for only $1 on National Hot Dog Day on the way (unbeknownst to my wife…..).

Only $1 on National Hot Dog Day

My first two nights were in Yaak, in the far NW corner of Montana where I spent much of that time in the Dirty Shame Saloon with owner, John Runkle.  The Shame was the most interesting and my favorite watering hole of the 375 in the nine years of Beerchasing and John, one of the most interesting personalities.

(Click on the links in the para above or below to see one of the four posts I did on this legendary saloon and put it on your bucket list — I mean Right Now!!   https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/10/16/thebeerchasers-final-thoughts-on-the-dirty-shame-saloon/

John Runkle in front of the bar that reflects his personality

Thebeerchaser and John Runkle with the gift of Benedictine Beer from the monks at Mt. Angel, Oregon

Subsequent nights in Kalispell, Hamilton, Anaconda and Livingston increased my bar tally by 29 establishments.   After I picked up Janet, we hit the road, visiting six National Parks and Monuments in addition to museums and, of course, bars and breweries in North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho before returning home.

The total of 3,700 miles on the combined trip saw us visit a total of forty-nine new establishments for my Beerchasing reviews.

Visiting Badlands Natl. Park in South Dakota

One can go for for miles and miles without seeing anybody or even having to turn your steering wheel!  Montana is known is the Big Sky State although it could easily be captioned as the long, straight road state as well. For road trippers, it’s superb.

If you want to see, the composite list of bars for that trip, check out the end of the following post: https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/07/05/big-sky-beerchasing-the-preface/

On those six days solo in Montana, I hit some of the most memorable bars and met the most colorful characters since I began Beerchasing and a sample is shown below.   One common theme is taxidermy and Miller High Life. (I had the Time and the bars had the beer……..)

This picture of the Trappers’ Saloon on Highway 93 near Eureka, Montana is a great example and also very typical.  Their slogan is “Where the West is Still Wild!” and they try to prove that in the horseshoe pit by the side of the bar each day.

The Trapper – an exquisite example Where the West is Still Wild…

And the 205 taxidermists in Montana are ubiquitous.   All parts of the animal are used as can be seen from the lower left of this photo: 

And it’s not just in the bars where you will see mounted wildlife – birds, snakes, fish, beaver, deer and elk, bison and even an alligator and a polar bear (Blue Moon Saloon outside Kalispell) decorating the walls as evidenced by this picture of the lobby in the historic Murray Hotel on Main Street in Livingston.

Speaking of Taxidermy….

In going through old files from the law firm that I have kept for almost ten years since retirement, I came across this one from one of the Schwabe lawyers coincidentally related to this topic…..

For those uncomfortable with the end result of taxidermy, at least this actual case involved the more cuddly substitute. One of Schwabe’s female appellate lawyers sent this e-mail to the firm in April 2001:

“I need a small to medium sized stuffed squirrel for an oral argument at the Court of Appeals next Wednesday.  No taxidermy please.  I promise to return said squirrel safely after the argument.”     

Cute and protected…..

Well, she told me a few days ago in response to an e-mail that the case involved the golden mantle ground squirrel – a protected species in Oregon, but not Washington where it is a native species, but curiously not protected.

Unfortunately for our client – an Oregon rancher – one of the pesky critters had hopped a log raft and took a leisurely cruise across the Columbia River and “invaded” his Oregon property.  The State wanted to shut his operation down. Schwabe was trying to get the case reversed after an unfavorable verdict in the lower court:

“The State had cutesy pictures of the little critters in its brief so I needed the stuffed squirrels for “live action” pictures.”

Did she get a stuffed squirrel for her court appearance?

Just kidding – Counsel would have dressed her’s up in male outfits because it was an all-male panel in the Court of Appeals.

“I ended up with ten stuffed squirrels from various firm members, I lined them up on counsel table.  One of them fell off the table during my argument…I heard from a law clerk several years later that the three judges never stopped talking about it…and, I lost.” 

But I Digress – Back to Montana

After two nights in Yaak, I spent a night in Kalispell and then Hamilton – a nice berg on the western border of Montana.  Then I took a “rural” and roundabout route to my next stay in Anaconda, but only after stopping at four great bars in the boonies.

The Sawmill Saloon in Darby

Having graduated from an aggie school –  Oregon State University (in Corvallis, Oregon not Montana – see below) with a great forestry program – and given the history of the Oregon Timber Industry, I was very interested in another bar – the Saw Mill Saloon.

Darby is right on Highway 93 and has a population of only 720 (it gained 10 between the 2000 and 2010 census) and this watering hole was understandably not hopping on a weekday morning.  Located in the historic State Bank of Darby building, the bartender showed me the two big vaults, one of which is now used to store kegs and cases of beer.

Darby was once a bustling timber, mining and transportation hub, but since the ’70’s has relied mostly on tourism.  Town Marshall, Larry Rose (who is also a taxidermist… ) has been marshal for 36 years as chronicled in a fascinating 2014 article in the Billings Gazette:

“…..(Rose) once punched the town judge during a city council meeting before handcuffing him. (That made the late Paul Harvey’s news broadcast) In a town that celebrates Old West individualism, Rose has more law enforcement surveillance cameras monitoring his citizens than any other city in Montana.

Obey the speed limit and watch for Larry’s surveillance cameras

…..Rose’s station house looks like a memorial to the town’s Old West heyday. It features an iron-barred jail cell in the corner, a gun rack full of lever-action Winchester rifles and mountain lion skins on the wall. The 71-year-old Rose flicks a button on his computer. A checkerboard of 16 little screens pops up.

They’re the surveillance cameras Rose has strategically positioned around town, on light poles and balconies, and even in flower planter barrels. The software spots vehicle license plates and automatically records the numbers.”

I wish Rose had been at the Saw Mill Saloon that morning since he was born only 22 miles up Highway 93 in Corvallis, Montana – only 675 miles from the OSU campus.  We we could have regaled each other with Corvallis stories while raising a mug.  Based on a call to Darby yesterday, they confirmed that Rose – now 76 – still holds the office.

Don’t you go speedin through my town, Mr. Letterman!

For example there was the time in 1998 when he came into contact with the former host of the Late Night Show“Town Marshal Lassoes Letterman”)

“David Letterman can’t escape traffic tickets even in a state noted for its high-speed highways.  While Montana has no posted daytime speed limit on its highways, Letterman found out the same can’t be said of city speed limits.

He was stopped Saturday for driving 38 mph in a 25 mph zone and was pleasant as he paid a $50 fine, said Larry Rose, town marshal of Darby, population 800.”

If you look on Google, Rose’s tenure has been filled with internal political turmoil, he’s been in the middle of a town polarized on the issues and even involved in a 2005 incident, when Rose killed a man who tried to take away his firearm during a domestic disturbance. (He was exonerated after an inquest although the family of the victim was unsatisfied with the decision – so his Corvallis stories would probably be more interesting than mine…….)

Not used for cash and bonds any more – just kegs and cases!

And you would not believe the number of old chain saws and lumber mill saw blades hanging from the ceiling, which gives the Sawmill Saloon a great Montana ambiance.

Take a look at one perspective from a very recent (June, 2020) Yelp reviewer – also named Don, who I gleaned from his website, like Thebeerchaser, also a native New Yorker. This interesting fella wrote:

Stihl in good operating condition…

“one of the main reasons i love it is that liberals really hate sawmills, mining, coal, gas and everything that keeps our country moving forward. so i love the decor. hopefully this is not just some shallow statement from people who really oppose sawmills and blue collar workers who keep our country great.”

As an aside, Don on his website also stated that his wife is his “latest crush,” the last great book he read was “Books not written by liberals or wacko leftists”  and his latest discovery is that “liberalism is a mental disorder.”

The bartender was a jovial, rather rotund guy, and I guess I missed a nice bartender – also named, Dawn, who a guy named Jonathan on Restaurant.com just this March, wrote:

Great bartender, really cute, going to be a great mother,”

Of course, this raises many questions and unfortunately, Jonathan didn’t elaborate on his criteria for “great” parental skills…..

The Antler Saloon in Wisdom

In a little less than an hour I got to Wisdom, Montana, where I met Bernie, the “head bartender and pizza maker” – their specialty which draws rave reviews – at the Antler Saloon.  As you can see below, the taxidermy was not disappointing nor was my  Miller High Life and I contemplated the beer’s 117 year history.

Bernie at the Antler

Fritz – soft spoken but friendly

I sat at the bar next to a warm-blooded character, although not the best conversationalist.  As I left, however, my new, but tight-lipped buddy, Fritz, waved a paw and I look forward to going back for heightened Wisdom.  I’m confident that my canine friend will be sitting on the same bar stool.

Bernie did not tell me if Fritz was the enforcer for those who violated the admonition in the  men’s (and possibly slightly modified in the women’s) restroom:

“Spit chew in the garbage not the urinal.”

Joan Melcher, in her outstanding book, Montana Watering Holes does point out that the Antler Saloon was previously named the Wisdom Inn which, in itself, had a fabled history.

 

The Wise River Club

Only 38 miles from Wisdom, through some stunningly exquisite scenery, I stopped in Wise River and had a Miller High Life and a great chat with Tom Davis at the Wise River Club.

Tom is the 75-year old owner and head bartender (also singer and guitarist for weekend live music based on his experience leading opening acts for Sonny and Cher, the Mamas and Papas and Paul Revere and the Raiders in the ‘60’s).

Tom Davis – bartender, storyteller, singer and guitarist

The cordial Scotchman also related the story about the guy who was murdered in the men’s room at the Club a number of years ago in this watering hole and hotel on the north edge of the Beaverhead National Forest.  (Marshall Larry Rose was not involved….)

One other distinguishing characteristic of this historic bar – it had the only working pay-phone of any of the 49 watering holes on the trip.  I guess you could call 911 in the event of a murder if you had a quarter or maybe it was just a dime…..

And the picture below may raise some questions which are answered, at least in theory, by author, Joan Melcher.  You are looking at elk antlers:

“Nineteen sets – attached to the ceiling and extending from the front of the bar to the end and around a corner.  They were all from one elk that was kept across the street, he says, in some sort of game farm.  The elk lived for twenty three years.” (Page 31)

Better than a draft – after all, it is the Champagne of Bottled Beers!

Perhaps it was the two bottles of Miller High Life – after all, it is the “Champagne of Bottled Beers” or perhaps it was the great bartenders and the history of the establishments, but after I left Wise River and then Wisdom, I just felt a bit more intelligent…..

The Dewey Bar in Wise River

Now, the Dewey Bar is only seven miles east of the Wise River Social Club on Highway 43 along the Big Hole River and you won’t find it in Joan Melcher’s book of classic Montana bars.  Nor will you find a website for it and their Facebook page went mostly inactive since 2015.  It’s just that it was a reunion stop for me.

Road trip sixteen years ago….

In 2004, I was on a two-month firm sabbatical and for part of that time, Janet let me take a ten-day road trip through Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

I had no set itinerary (except to stop in Stanley, Idaho to visit the Stanley Rod and Gun Whitewater Saloon) and carried my mountain bike on the back of my Forester.  I had not even thought of Beerchasing at that time because I was still a number of years from retirement.

But on about the sixth day out, I ended up at the Dewey Bar, in the late afternoon.  It was the one night I was car camping in a nearby National Forest Campground and I saw the Budweiser signs on the exterior near the front entrance in a one-room building with wood plank siding and it was Happy Hour!

I sat down at the bar next to a somewhat grizzled guy drinking a Bourbon and Coke and found out he was a retired lawyer from Seattle who had settled nearby.   About that time, there was some shouting at the other end of the bar – then occupied by about fifteen patrons – and two guys looked like they were going to square off.

Retired from Seattle

The lawyer suddenly shouted, “If you guys sit down and shut up, I’ll buy everybody in the house a round!”  They did – he did – and everyone toasted him.  The bartender took our picture above and that was the last time I laid eyes on him. But I always vowed to go back.

Lori, Shawn and Steve

(Fortunately I was not there in 2010 when the bar was fined $794 by the Montana Department of Environment Quality for failing to monitor the coliform bacteria in the bar’s water supply.)

But the bar looked exactly the same and I talked to the friendly bartender, Lori and had a beer with two great guys named Shawn and Steve who were on their day off from the Montana State Highway Division – also on their second round of  Bloody Mary’s (and listening to CNN – one of the few times a bar didn’t have Fox News on in Montana).

Jake Tapper rather than Sean Hannity – a refreshing change…….

They told the story about the day the bar opened fifteen years ago and some guy with a rifle shot off 64 rounds in the back area by the kitchen. A dog got wounded and went berserk and a Forest Service guy tackled the offender and told him he better switch from Budweiser to Gatorade.  As a result of the damage done by the rifle fire, they had to totally remodel the kitchen and the back area.

Well, after that I rolled into a rough old mining town – Anaconda – with one of the rougher bars I’ve been to in my Beerchasing journey.

But the story on The Owl in Anaconda will have to wait for another post.

Cheers!

The Owl Bar in Anaconda

 

Thebeerchaser’s 8th Annual Report – 2019

240 blog posts totaling 370,188 words since 2011

A little over eight years ago, I hesitantly walked into my first bar as Thebeerchaser.  Having recently retired as COO of the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt law firm, I became convinced after visiting Lumpy’s Landing in Dundee, Oregon and the Stanley Rod and Gun Whitewater Saloon in Idaho, that visiting and writing about bars, breweries and pubs would be an interesting hobby.

The Rod and Gun in Stanley

Thanks to the warm greeting I got at the Brooklyn Park Pub when I told Phoebe, the bartender, in August 2011, that her bar was the first of what I hoped would be many on this somewhat curious project, I was motivated to go forth!

She gave me a BPP cap and autographed it, gave me great info on the bar and posed for a picture.

 

Phoebe – where it all started….

 

 

 

 

The Beginning of 2019

The count of watering holes I had visited and reviewed (Unless on the road, I virtually always hit a watering hole twice to get a more accurate picture.)  was 287 establishments of which 111 were in the Portland metro area and the other 176 in locations ranging from Europe to most regions of the US and all over Oregon – from the coast to the desert in Eastern Oregon.

For the complete list, check out the link below which categorizes them by year and in or out of Portland.  https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/01/17/hey-have-you-seen-thebeerchaser-during-the-last-seven-years/

2019 Was a Very Good Year

The Gemini – a classic in Lake Oswego

Now the good news is I visited more bars this year than in any since the blog’s inception – 80.  I’m somewhat reluctant to admit that only 8 of those were in the Portland area – another 1 on the Oregon Coast and 3 in Washington.

The Caroline Tavern in Seattle

All of the remaining 68 were on three trips – Phoenix for Spring Training in March (8) and two wonderful road trips – Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas in June (48) and the Southwest (New Mexico and Colorado) in September (12).

To see the list for each trip, click on the links above.  The picture below from the Trappers’ Bar in Eureka, Montana was one of my favorites.

The chart below will give you the history by year of “Thebeerchasers 366”

Year Portland Outside Portland Yearly Total Composite Total
2019 8 72 80 366
2018 12 30 42 286
2017 15 27 42 244
2016 14 39 53 202
2015 11 36 47 149
2014 17 17 34 102
2013 13 21 34 68
2012 20 5 25 34
2011 9 0 9 9
  119 247 366

Blog Statistics

I’m pleased to state that Thebeerchaser.com for the fourth year in a row, had over 20,000 “visits” or internet hits – with 20,030 in 2019 by 14,800 individuals – that means each person who reached the blog looked at  an average of 1.35 different posts.

The Flag of Ukraine –

Persons from 111 different countries found Thebeerchaser with 17,621 from the US with India in second place at  601 hits.

And even the Ukraine registered 9 although I can’t tell if any were from the Embassy staff.   As was the case in 2018, one bold individual from Iraq took at least a momentary glimpse.  That’s where internet sites featuring bars and alcohol are probably discouraged…..

Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter

First Quarter 2020 – B-O-Q

While the number of bars I hit was a new high in 2019, I was remiss in “honoring” Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter, naming only two last year.

I have already got three good candidates for 2020, so that performance issue will be SOLVed.  (That’s a hint for the first quarter as is the untitled picture here.)

Retired Colonel Terry “Spike” McKinsey

Terry McKinsey became a friend when we were shipmates on our first midshipman cruise on a WW II destroyer – the USS John R. Craig – DD 885 – he from the US Naval Academy and me from Oregon State NROTC.   We discovered that we attended rival high schools in Oregon – he West Linn and me Oregon City. 

Two other middies on that cruise were Larry Walters also USNA and Ken Guest from University of Kansas NROTCThe four of us spent the summer learning about how a ship operates, trying to meet young debutantes at Navy sponsored dances and making fools of ourselves on liberty in Honolulu and San Francisco.

Larry and Terry on 1/c Midshipman cruise in the Mediterranean

Terry and Larry took their commissions in the United States Marine Corps.    Terry married Anna, his college sweetheart and they had two children during their forty-nine year marriage.

Spike distinguished himself as an aviator and had a remarkable career after the USMC including Base Commander of the Oregon Air National Guard and as the Assistant Chief Pilot for Horizon Airlines.

After a lapse in contact, we reconnected in the mid-1980’s through a humorous business incident when Spike had moved back to Oregon and I was Business Manager at the Schwabe firm.

Terry died last January after a short illness. My reason for trying to honor Terry with his story including the legendary “steamroller escapade” at West Linn High School when he was on summer leave from the Academy is summarized well by this quote from Larry, his classmate and best friend since Academy days:

I met Terry ‘Spike’ McKinsey in 1966.  The country was chaotic and would get worse.  But for Terry, the choices were always clear.  He was guided by his love of God, family, good friends, and country.   He didn’t have to tell you about it, he lived it!”

To read the story and remarkable service of this amazing patriot, athlete and family-man, click on the link above on his name.

John Runkle

After visiting 366 bars, I can say without equivocation, my favorite and the most interesting was the Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak Montana.   And John Runkle, the owner of both the bar and the nearby Yaak River Lodge where I stayed for two nights in the Moose Room during my two nights in Yaak was a clear choice for Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.

This former paratrooper and California real estate entrepreneur is a prime reason why the Shame  got three separate Beerchaser posts and more print in this blog than any of the waterholes during the past eight years.

He bought the Lodge in 2004 and the Saloon at auction in 2013 after the ignominious departure of the former owner left it in foreclosure (after being extradited back to Maryland).   John was the driving force to bring this fabled dive back to the status which had made it a destination for bikers, hunters and Beerchasers as well as a community gathering place.

John is a charismatic guy, who is a great story teller, born salesman and shepherds community events such as the Crawfish Festival, Yaak Attack and the Sasquatch Festival.

 

 

 

 

When we had a discussion in the bar with, Todd Berget – who died later last year – John described his friend as a guy “having a political philosophy slightly left of Stalin…” 

Todd and I tried to tell him without result that his politics were somewhat misguided and John needed to shift back and reflect some of his California upbringing, but at least we all ended laughing, shaking our heads and toasting  rather than cursing each other. (Rest in Peace, Todd!)

Todd and John – Still smiling after discussing national politics…

John puts in a work week at the Lodge and Saloon that would “shame” most people. his age.

He is also a devoted family man.   His beautiful wife, Dallas, just delivered their second daughter in August, shortly after I was in Yaak.

 

 

 

 

 

As author, Joan Melcher, wrote in her second book Watering Holes  – A User’s Guide to Montana Bars (Page 88):

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

The Dirty Shame was on my bucket list before my trip and now is the only item on that dwindling slate that returned to the list after getting there. If John Runkle stays in Yaak, you should add it to yours’ as well.

And 2019 Final Highlights

Beerchasing has been a wonderful hobby for a guy whose friends and family wondered how he was going to “survive” retirement.   As I’ve stated before, “I really like beer – especially a $2.50 Happy Hour PBR – but I could go to the bars and drink soda water rather than alchohol and continue this hobby indefinitely.”

My wife, Janet, has been a wonderful Beerchasing companion on our trips and even flew into Billings to join me so I could spend the first six nights solo – driving through Montana (in a Prius with no gun rack and a Starbucks mug) meeting bartenders and regulars at thirty historic bars before we continued to Wyoming and the Dakotas.

One of the highlights was hitting my 300th bar in June at the Leaky Roof in Portland, which was more memorable because I was joined by my friend of forty years, Denny Ferguson.

And for those of you who followed Thebeerchaser from the beginning and have continued through this post in January, 2020, you have read 241 posts which filled you with 372,173 words about bars, breweries and interesting people.  Thanks for sharing your time on this pursuit with me.

An always cheerful and youthful looking, Fergy..

The people I met this year continue to be unforgettable and supportive ranging from Ernie Bob at Second Street Brewing in Santa Fe to Edmonds Wash. Daphne’s Bar, legendary mixologist, Demond van Rensberg.

Ernie Bob and Janet in Santa Fe

Then there was Pete Pete Andrijeski of Seattlebars.org  King of the Beerchasers with 3,906 bars reviewed since he started his journey in 2006.  (1,659 of the bars in Seattle)

I met Pete at Daphne’s after coming across one of his posts when I was researching the history of the Caroline Tavern in Seattle.

Pete and Desmond on our night drinking cocktails at Daphne’s

And I can’t forget James “Horse” McHorsney, who is a regular at Eiler’s Place in Pueblo, Colorado.   Horse is in both of the pictures you see here and to learn the story, click on the following link:  https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/12/28/pueblo-rich-in-history-and-dive-bars/  

The Benedictine Brewery

Followers of the blog know I have been involved with this unique project for the last three years as a volunteer and I am proud to report that since the Brewery and St. Michael’s Taproom opened in September, 2018, it has been an impressive success.

Fr. Martin, the head brewer and general manager has now developed seven beers after the initial positive reception to Black Habit – our flagship beer and his brews have drawn rave reviews.

The Brewery is one of only three in the US where the monks own and operate the enterprise.  Plan on coming to the Taproom in Mt. Angel and visiting the beautiful Abbey Hilltop.

Beerchasing Event at the New Oakshire Beer Hall

In October, about thirty Beerchasing friends gathered at the Oakshire Beer Hall in NE Portland to try out the establishment which opened in July – a Portland addition to the popular Oakshire Brewery in Eugene.  One of the attendees was Oakshire Brewing Board member, Dr. Sam Holloway, a professor at the University of Portland, President of Crafting a Strategy and a former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.

Br. Thomas, Sam Holloway and Fr. Martin at the Oakshire Beerchasing

Thanks to the followers of this blog for their support and if you have suggestions for bars or breweries to add to my travels in 2020, please let me know by a blog comment or send an e-mail to dwilliams2951@gmail.com.

Although some might think it redundant, I loved the piece by Edgar Allen Poe which I used to end 2018.  While he is not known for a positive outlook, Poe got this one right!

Happy New Year.

Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain —
Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.

At least he was positive about ale!

The list of the bar’s outside Portland can be found at the links in the narrative above.   The list of Portland establishments is shown below:

2019 Portland Area Bars

  Name Location Type Date of Post
2019-1 The Gemini Bar and Grill Lake Oswego Neighborhood January
2019-2 Old Town Brewing NE Brewery and Pub February
2019-3 Xport Bar and Lounge SW Hotel Bar – Hotel Porter June
2019-4 Bantam Tavern NW Neighborhood April
2019-5 The Leaky Roof SW Neighborhood June
2018-6 Roots Lake Oswego Non-profit Neighborhood August
2019-7 Oakshire Beer Hall NE Brewpub October
2019-8 Mad Hanna NE Dive Bar October

The Dirty Shame Saloon – Continued Stories…..

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

Thebeerchaser and John Runkle

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

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

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

Joan Melcher’s first book published in 1983.

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

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

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

Part of the Montana culture…..

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

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

Stay away from Jimmies trailer…..

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

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

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

The AR-15 Incident at the Dirty Shame

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

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

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

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

The response to bear spray in the face….

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

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

The Good Old Days

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

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

The Yaak River Road Murder

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

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

Yaak River Falls

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

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

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

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

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

The Crawfish Festival

You missed 2019, but start planning for next Labor Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crack Pillow

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Crack Pillow”

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

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

The Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak – Part II

Big Sky Country between Yaak and Eureka

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taken from the window of my car on Yaak River Road

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

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

Thebeerchaser and John Runkle – owner.

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

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

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

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

Joan Melcher’s first book published in 1983.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howie Long – occasional visitor to Yaak

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

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

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

Chevis at his trial

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

The supermax prison that houses Chevie

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

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

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

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

The Sasquatch Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The replacement President….

The Bar Crew

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

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

John and Darilyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dirty Shame Saloon      

29453 Yaak River Road,    Troy Montana

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Lodge – A favorite for hunters and bikers…

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

Optional shuttle service to the Lodge….

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

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

Blueberry pancakes under the watchful eyes of the yak…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janet overlooking Teddy Roosevelt – one of three magnificant National Parks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cadillac Ranch – one of the Seven Wonders???

1. Visiting Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Bucket list pipe dream……!

 

 

 

 

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

Why the Dirty Shame?

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

In her first book (1983), Joan stated:

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

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

The DS in years past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchased out of foreclosure in 2013

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

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

Two thumbs up on life….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke ’em if you got ’em

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chief cook at Yaak River Lodge – not Burger King…

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

The Dirty Shame Saloon  

29453 Yaak River Road, Troy Montana

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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