In June, we took a combined fourteen-day road trip through Montana with subsequent stops in North and South Dakota and Wyoming, before returning home through Montana, Idaho and Oregon’s Columbia Gorge. The magnificence of the vistas we encountered each day is still ingrained in our minds.
I use the term “combined” because on the first six days of the trip, I soloed – driving slightly over 1,400 miles starting with two nights in Yaak, Montana (stay tuned to find out why I chose that destination) and with overnight stays in Kalispell, Hamilton, Anaconda and Livingston, before picking Janet up at the airport in Billings.
(I should add that the idea for the solo part of my trip for which I am indebted to my wife of 39 years, originated in 2004, when for ten days of my law firm sabbatical, I traveled 2,600 miles through Eastern Oregon, Idaho and Western Montana enjoying our beautiful Western scenery.)
The pictures show the difference between the first trip and this one – I look a lot older now and I wised up and even though it looked cool to carry a bike on the back of the car, my plan on this trip was to rent a cycle if I had the opportunity to work that in.
In the 2004 trip, because of two flat tires, I ended riding a total of four blocks while lugging the bike the entire way!
On the earlier trip, I was still working and had not started my idiosyncratic retirement hobby of Beerchasing although a visit to one of the few bars at which I made stops – The Stanley Idaho Rod and Gun Whitewater Saloon – was a key factor in germinating the idea for my Beerchasing Tour – started in August 2011. (My wife and I returned to the Rod and Gun on another road trip in 2016 after I started the blog.)
From Billings, the two of us then tacked on another 2,300 miles, visiting three National Parks (Teddy Roosevelt, Badlands and Wind Cave), one National Monument (Jewel Cave), two Memorials (Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and the Crazy Horse Memorial) and what has to be one of the most impressive and expansive state parks in the US – Custer State Park in South Dakota.
Now since this is a blog about bars, saloons and breweries, and in order not to disappoint Beerchaser followers, I have to add that the combined total of establishments visited (meaning having a drink or meal and interacting with the bartender or customers and not just making an entrance) was 49, of which 30, I enjoyed on my first six days.
The remaining nineteen saw both of us participating. The picture of Trapper’s Saloon above in Eureka, Montana is a sample of the rich environment that characterized the great majority of the bars and breweries.
I have to add that some may think the statistics above demonstrate an unhealthy obsession with establishments operated primarily for the sale of intoxicating spirits. In defense, I would suggest that the usually brief visits we paid are one of the best methods to meet new and interesting people, find out what should be seen in a new city and in the case of older bars, educate oneself on rich and fascinating history.
In addition, it spurred us to visit smaller cities such as Eureka, Troy, Miles City and Wise River that we otherwise would have just passed by.
We hit establishments in twenty-seven different bergs on the trip. Stay tuned for the posts on this journey and you will have a better appreciation.
Note: Since I started Beerchasing, I realized that it was imperative that I drink responsibly in visiting the bars/breweries and never get behind the wheel without being absolutely sober,.
So to allay any concern about that issue, while alone, I would space my visits throughout the day and usually consumed a single bottle of Miller High Life (by the way, an excellent brew and deserving of the label, “The Champagne of Beers” rather than a pint of microbrew. My visits to most of the bars would last about 45 minutes to an hour.
Sometimes I would just have a soda water and when Janet and I were Beerchasing, we inevitably shared a pint or would have two or three four-ounce samplers between us.
Since I worked in legal management for over thirty years and a considerable part of my job was being immersed in statistics, I should point out the overall total would compute to one watering hole, for every 75.5 miles traveled.
The chart at the end of this post gives a complete listing including the name and location. In several subsequent posts, I will highlight or at least offer some brief comments on each one, but this post is intended to set the stage.
Why Start and Spend Two Nights in Yaak?
For three years, visiting the Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak – up near the Canadian border in NW Montana was a personal, if not peculiar, goal of mine.
Since talking to a bartender in Idaho, who used to work there and subsequently calling the owner, former Army paratrooper, John Runkle and doing a short post on his revival of the Dirty Shame when he purchased it out of foreclosure in 2013, visiting it has been on my bucket list.
And the two nights I spent in the Moose Room of the outstanding Yaak River Lodge – John is also the owner – and my time spent hanging at the bar and interviewing John, were a wonderful start to my trip – one which you will be reading about in future posts.
I presented him with two bottles of Benedictine Beer from the monk-owned brewery in Mount Angel, Oregon which now occupy a shelf in the Dirty Shame Saloon.
The Dirty Shame had the most stories of any of the 300 watering holes I’ve reviewed in over seven years — and they are all true!!
Janet was willing to go on a road trip through Montana but agreed to my six-day solo venture because although she likes breweries, she has an aversion to the dive bars I cherish. She also thought the opportunity for me to read, reflect and see some wonderful scenery on my own would be enriching.
I use this term meaning “found everywhere” to recognize my long-term and cherished friendship with Oregon State SAE fraternity brother and former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, Craig – The Dude – Hanneman, for his legendary athletic, mountaineering and notable professional accomplishments.
Kirby Neuman-Rhea, the Editor of the Hood River News is also part of the tale. The story behind our attachment to this word is too long to relate the background, but it’s funny.
There were certain features or characteristics that one encountered everywhere in Montana and, for the most part, added to its charm and distinction.
Big Sky Scenery – One was the beautiful and varied scenery – it made the miles of road never boring. The stunning vistas made it difficult not to stop and take photos. It became obvious why Montana is commonly referred to as “Big Sky Country.”
Straight Roads – Speaking of miles of roads, those roads were often long and straight – not only the Interstate, but the State highways we traveled. Janet was driving when I took this picture.
Taxidermy – virtually every bar and many of the breweries had mounted wildlife as part of the bar’s décor. In some cases it was overwhelming, but in most, it accurately reflected the culture of the state.
A little research revealed that there are 205 taxidermists registered in the state and Helena even has the Montana School of Taxidermy and Tanning. And this year’s annual convention of the Montana Taxidermists’ Association in Billings was the most well-attended ever according to the Billings Gazette.
Now one may disagree with the entire concept of hunting (I went hunting for deer one time in junior high and never had the desire to do it again…) but it appears that taxidermists and most of hunters use the entire animal and don’t just kill for sport. As evidence, the sign on this firm which I photographed in Anaconda.
Crosses Along the Highway – Montana has a very high rate of traffic fatalities. It’s a combination of a high speed limit especially in rural areas, bad weather and road conditions in many months of the year and a high rate of alcohol consumption.
In my first few days, I kept seeing crosses along the highways – even in very remote areas and wondered about the background. According to a 2004 article in the Billings Gazette, this program started in 1953 by the American Legion and is done solely by volunteers.
By 2015, there were more than 2,000 crosses erected. Last year the 181 traffic fatalities was the third straight year the death toll dropped because of State programs to reduce car accidents. And seeing those symbols is a sobering reminder to drive responsibly.
Casinos – Although many Oregon bars have video poker, the number of “casinos” in Montana and the signs advertising them is annoying – they are everywhere (or one might say, “ubiquitous…”).
The licenses for bars and restaurants are cheap and they can have up to 20 video games in the establishment although most bar “casinos” only had about five to ten. There are also six tribal casinos.
According to GamblingSites.com, there are “1.033 million people spread out across 147,000 square miles…. and Montana offers 292 different gambling establishments.”
Recreational Vehicles (RV’s) and Long-haul Truckers – I’m sure that the number on the road is similar to other states which have major Interstates.
I was amazed, however, at the quantity and diverse makes of RVs – usually with the male driving and the female in the co-pilot role. I’m interested in how the economic analysis of RV travel verses lodging and eating in inexpensive or moderately priced motels and restaurants charts out…..
Long-haul trucks were an oft-repeated vehicle one passed on all of the Montana. And I have the utmost respect for the long-haul owner/operators. They have a tough job and are skilled drivers which make the highways safer for the rest of us.
Sirius Satellite Radio – I subscribe to Sirius Radio on our Prius. And the low monthly price was well worth it during the days on the road when the AM and FM frequencies would be hard to receive.
Other than a very few remote locations, I got the Sirius signal clearly and besides two cable news channels which admittedly have a politically biased slant, I also listened to channels called Bluesville, Yacht Rock, Soul Town, Rockin’ Country BBQ and Forties Junction.
My music tastes are eclectic and I roared down the road rocking to the Temptations, George Benson, George Jones and Don Williams, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller and America and Phoebe Snow. (I must have heard “Sister Golden Hair” at least twenty times and loved it.)
It was only when Yacht Rock teed up “Muskrat Love” by the Captain and Tennille that I drew the line because I did not have a vomit bag.
Fox News – Without getting immersed in politics, I will state that I am not a fan of Fox News (although I admit to being a moderate Republican) and its political commentators.
While in most Oregon bars, one sees multiple screens with athletic events, it appeared to me that there were fewer big screen TVs, but they were almost always turned to Fox be it in bars, restaurants or hotels.
Many native Montanans are not happy about the influx of people from other states – most notably Californians moving to the state and buying up land.
The sign below reminded me of Oregon during the Governor Tom McCall era when we wanted people to “visit but not stay.”
Although there are political divisions and critical economic and natural resources facing the state, I was still impressed with the good nature, welcoming conversation (especially the bartenders and bar regulars with whom we interacted) and indications of the positive outlook and sense of humor of Montanans.
Given all that Janet and I witnessed, it begs the question: “Why would Montana Governor Steve Bullock ever want to win the Presidency and move to Washington DC?”
Stay tuned for the next several month’s post on Thebeerchaser where I will tell the rich story of not only The Dirty Shame Saloon, but convey the highlights of many of the other historic bars we hit in Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho.
Also the great breweries, especially in Montana that now rank it second per capita in the US on number of breweries according to Statistica.com – only Vermont exceeds it while Oregon comes in at #4, right behind Maine.
List of Bars and Breweries Visited on our Trip
(The first thirty were visited by Don and the remainder by Don and Janet)
|Name of Establishment||City||State|
|Kootenai Brewing||Bonners Ferry||Idaho|
|Dirty Shame Saloon||Yaak||Montana|
|Yaak River Tavern||Yaak||Montana|
|Silver Spur Bar||Troy||Montana|
|Cabinet Mountain Brewing||Libby||Montana|
|Bull Dog Saloon||Whitefish||Montana|
|Blue Moon Bar and Nite Club||Columbia Falls||Montana|
|Higher Ground Brewing||Hamilton||Montana|
|Bitter Root Brewing||Hamilton||Montana|
|Wise River Club||Wise River||Montana|
|Livingston Bar and Grille||Livingston||Montana|
|Murray Hotel Bar||Livingston||Montana|
|Mint Bar and Grill||Livingston||Montana|
|Whiskey Creek Saloon||Livingston||Montana|
|Angry Hanks Microbrewery||Billings||Montana|
|Montana Brewing Co.||Billings||Montana|
|Montana Bar||Miles City||Montana|
|Tubbs Pub||Miles City||Montana|
|Little Missouri Saloon||Medora||North Dakota|
|Boots Bar and Grill||Medora||North Dakota|
|Wild Bill Bar||Deadwood||South Dakota|
|Zymurcracy Beer Co.||Rapid City||South Dakota|
|Firehouse Brewing||Rapid City||South Dakota|
|Tallie’s Silver Spoon||Rapid City||South Dakota|
|State Game Lodge Bar||Custer||South Dakota|
|Smith Alley Brewing||Sheridan||Wyoming|
|Black Tooth Brewing||Sheridan||Wyoming|
|Plonk Wine Bar||Bozeman||Montana|
|North Idaho Brewing||Wallace||Idaho|