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……
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.
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.”
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!)
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…..”
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 Gang – Chevie 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.
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.
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.”)
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!”
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.
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 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.
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.
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