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 Beerchasing – The Preface

Just above Kootenai Falls near Libby, Montana

On a back road right outside Yaak, Montana

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.

The Grand Hotel in downtown Kalispell – which was both historic and grand!

(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.)

This time a Prius instead of a Subaru….

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!

 

The day I left in 2004 – this time in a Subaru Forrester with a mountain bike (for decoration…)

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.

Badlands National Park

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.

Trappers’ Saloon in Eureka Montana – the third day on the way to Kalispell

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.

A bar with a rich history in the metropolis of Wise River…

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.

The Dewey Tavern

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.

John Runkle – owner of the Dirty Shame

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.

Blueberry Pancake Breakfast in the Lodge

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!!

Thebeerchaser and John Runkle with the ceremonial presentation of Benedictine Beer

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.

Ubiquitous!!

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. 

Back in the last ’60’s at OSU – Thebeerchaser and The Dude

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.

And miles to go before I sleep….

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 Gazettethis 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.

Ubiquitous!

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…..

Class A RVs – the baby boomers’ luxury ride.

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.

They typically drive these 80,000 pound behemoths (a single rig) between 2,000 to 3,000 miles per week and are often away from family usually for two to three weeks at a time.

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.

Sirius Satellite was good company….

My music tastes are eclectic and I roared down the road rocking to the TemptationsGeorge 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.

Muskrat Love was not vomit proof….

 

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.

Montana Humor

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?”

Subtle, but funny….

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.

Another example of Montana humor – in a field by Yaak.

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
Mint Bar Libby Montana
Trappers’ Saloon Eureka Montana
Bull Dog Saloon Whitefish Montana
Blue Moon Bar and Nite Club Columbia Falls Montana
VFW Bar Kalispell Montana
Moose Saloon Kalispell Montana
Bias Brewing Kalispell Montana
Del’s Bar Somers Montana
Higher Ground Brewing Hamilton Montana
Bitter Root Brewing Hamilton Montana
Sawmill Saloon Darby Montana
Antler Saloon Wisdom Montana
Wise River Club Wise River Montana
Dewey Dewey Montana
Club Moderne Anaconda Montana
Owl Bar Anaconda Montana
Katabatic Brewing Livingston Montana
Livingston Bar and Grille Livingston Montana
Neptune Brewing Livingston Montana
Murray Hotel Bar Livingston Montana
Mint Bar and Grill Livingston Montana
Stockman Bar Livingston Montana
Whiskey Creek Saloon Livingston Montana
Atlas Bar Columbus Montana
Caboose Saloon Laurel Montana
Angry Hanks Microbrewery Billings Montana
Montana Brewing Co. Billings Montana
Uberbrew 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
Outlaw Brewing Bozeman Montana
Bunkhouse Brewing Bozeman Montana
North Idaho Brewing Wallace Idaho

Bitter Root Brewing in Hamilton

 

Beerchaser Miscellany – Early Summer Edition

 

Taking in the Exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society – Barley, Barrels, Bottles and Brews

Approaching Watering Hole # 300

Those of you who follow Thebeerchaser blog might remember that at the end of 2018, my count of bars, breweries and taverns reviewed since I started this retirement hobby in August, 2011 was at 287 – 111 were in the Portland area and the remaining 176 in Europe, numerous parts of the US and throughout Oregon ranging from the beautiful Oregon Coast to Central and Eastern Oregon.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/01/17/hey-have-you-seen-thebeerchaser-during-the-last-seven-years/

The Gemini – Bar # 288 – on Thebeerchaser’s Journey..

Since the beginning of 2019, I’ve added four more Oregon establishments – the Gemini Bar and Grill, Old Town Brewing, the Bantam Tavern and Beachcrest Brewing and eight bars/breweries on our weeklong trip to Phoenix for a grand total of 299.

And after ruminating on what an appropriate watering hole would be to celebrate reaching the 300 mark, I settled on a Portland establishment – one which I initially visited in my early professional career on a regular basis, returned with some friends who are Beerchasing regulars in 2018 and made my customary second visit a few weeks ago with one of the most loyal Beerchasers – Dennis B. Ferguson.

Denny Ferguson with  Kathy Peterson, the owner of The Dockside in 2017.  (See below)

I will be posting the review of that bar when I return from a road trip to Montana in the near future – six days solo starting with two nights in Yaak, Montana – home of the Dirty Shame Saloon.  Then with my wife, Janet, for the second leg of the journey.

I originally talked to owner, John Runkel, three years ago after an Idaho bartender at the Moose Saloon in Coeur d’aline told me that she had worked there and my blog should include a review of the Dirty Shame.

509th Airborne Infantry Logo

John and his partner, Ray Falzone, who are both former paratroopers in the Army’s 509 Airborne Infantry, bought the bar out of foreclosure in 2013.  John, who is a great guy and a true patriot, stated at the time:

“When we came up here, we had to pull bullet slugs out of the wall…One of the owners used to shoot pool balls off the table with his .357, you know.” (Daily Inter Lake, June 8, 2013)

I wrote up the following post at that time and made a vow to ultimately visit Yaak and meet John personally.

https://thebeerchaser.com/tag/john-runkle-owner-of-the-dirty-shame-saloon/

It turns out that he is also the owner of the Yaak River Lodge and I will be staying in the Wolf Room at that hostelry for two nights so I can spend adequate time checking out the bar and interviewing him.

Yaak River Lodge – a shuttle to the Dirty Shame…!

Then on to stays in Kalispell, Hamilton, Anaconda and Livingston before picking up my wonderful spouse who is flying into Billings. and is allowing me to make this trip – with the proviso that I reflect, read and get some exercise besides forays into the many historic bars and the new breweries in those and surrounding Montana bergs.

It will be a challenge to keep that pledge because I have spent hours pouring through the fascinating two books by Montana author Joan MelcherWatering Hole – A User’s Guide to Montana Bars (1980) and Montana Watering Holes – The Big Sky’s Best Bars (2009).   The latter was of significant benefit on our 2016 trip to Montana and Wyoming.

It is not surprising that the Dirty Shame is featured in both volumes – which chronicles the tales of many historic bars throughout the Big Sky.  She’s a great writer but I think I will definitely disagree with Joan’s initial statement in her 2009 book:

“I guess someone had to do it.  Someone bought the Dirty Shame and gave it a good cleaning.  More than that, they cleaned up its lifestyle – so much so that many locals won’t step foot in it anymore…..

What I learn is that the Dirty Shame died a raucous death and has been reborn as a law-abiding establishment that is really more of a coffeehouse….The Dirty Shame is dead.  Long live the Dirty Shame.” (Page 54 and 59)

My challenge to Joan’s assertion is based, in part, because times have changed in ten years – especially in Yaak!  Joan’s quote above was after a female stockbroker (Gloria – a sweet smiling non-drinker) who moved from New York’s Wall Street came to Yaak. She and her husband bought the bar in 2007 and cleaned it up – they even had some book readings and a lot of dances. They sold it after a few years to a former Episcopal priest who eventually failed financially trying to operate the bar.

Owner John Runkel and Cora

And yes, “Long live the Dirty Shame!”    I think the evidence will show when I visit that it is absolutely no Starbucks type of place.

For example, I submit the text message I got from John Runkel with the following link to a December, 2017 story in the Daily Missoulian entitled:   “Troy Man Charged Following Saturday Night Incident at Yaak’s Dirty Shame Saloon.

As John stated in his text:

 “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!”

So coffee house or wilderness dive bar full of adventure?  Stay tuned for the verdict!

After Billings, we will drive to North and South Dakota to see the three National Parks and Mount Rushmore National Monument besides the Crazy Horse Memorial and the notable Custer State Park.   Then home while listening to audio books on the 1,200 mile drive back to Oregon.  Now I just need to get the gun rack installed on our Prius before I start the trip.

The Oregon Historical Society Beer Exhibit

Janet with David and Kate Dickson

The Oregon Historical Society is a treasure conveniently located in the Park Blocks in the heart of downtown Portland.   And Kerry Tymchuk, the Executive Director since 2011, has made amazing strides to both make OHS financially viable and a showpiece – a change because it had struggled in the prior years.

We joined our friends, Kate and David Dickson, primarily to see the exhibit  “Beer – Barley, Barrels, Bottles and Brews – A Century of Oregon Beer” (ends on June 9th)

“The history of beer in Oregon and the passion Oregonians hold for beer and brewing extends back over two hundred years. This exhibition connects these moments in history, from the Lewis and Clark Expedition to early pioneer hop growers, from the nineteenth century European immigrants who established Oregon’s first breweries to the craft brewery revolution centered here today.” 

The exhibit is fascinating and does a remarkable job chronicling Oregon’s rich brewing history.  

For example, I learned that in the 1870’s the average US adult drank over 10 gallons of beer annually, which increased to 26 in the 1900’s, due in part to German immigration and the introduction of German lager.

Statistics vary, but at least in 2015, according to an article in USA Today, annual US consumption was 28 gallons with North Dakota, the highest per capita state for beer drinkers at 44 according to Beer Marketer’s Insight. (It should be noted that this statistic is not why Janet and I are traveling to North Dakota – it’s to see Teddy Roosevelt National Park….!)

I was also pleased that Oregon State University’s Fermentation Science Program was recognized.  In fact, Cascade Hops were developed in the 1960’s at OSU as part of a USDA breeding program.

The richness of OHS was demonstrated because supplementing the beer exhibit was another current exhibit – “Ladies and Gentlemen – The Beatles” (through November 19th) and the absolute highlight of the day for us – the permanent exhibit Experience Oregon – with multi-media displays and artifacts that will take your breath away.

Make a point of visiting – better yet joining OHS and while you’re there, say hello to Terry.

This native of Reedsport, educated at Willamette University and then Willamette U’s School of Law, absolutely radiates enthusiasm for his organization and a passion for history.

Kerry Tymchuk on the right

He was named 2018 Statesman of the Year by Oregon Business and Industries and also honored by the Portland Business Journal as the Most Admired Non-profit Executive in Portland.

And given OHS’s great location, plan to raise a mug afterwards at one of the many nearby establishments.  

We were rewarded with a terrific happy-hour food and beverage afterwards at the new (May 2018) Xport Bar and Lounge on the roof of the 16-story Porter Hotel with stunning views of downtown high-rises and the Willamette River.

A “Trek” Worth Making – and you don’t  have to Go to the South Pole to get There

The Dockside (reviewed by Thebeerchaser in 2018) is a remarkable Portland watering hole in North Portland owned by Kathy and Terry Peterson since 1986 – a bar with great character and regulars plus friendly staff.

It’s also known for its incredible breakfasts – most notably the hashbrowns:

“I know only one joint in Portland that consistently serves hash browns like you’ll find at any decent Waffle House. I’m not telling you where it is…You can’t have my hash browns.”  (Aaron Mesh – Willamette Week 11/28/2018)

From Thebeerchaser’s 2017 visit

It has now gained another distinction.  As stated in a 2/15/19 Willamette Week article entitled “31 Reasons to Love Portland,” it was singled out by endurance athlete and adventurer, Colin O’Brady.

On December 26, 2018, he completed the first unsupported and unaided solo crossing of Antarctica in 54 days.  It was a 932 journey – that’s an average of over 17 miles per day through the freezing ice and snow!

“I’d walk 932 miles for The Dockside’s hashbrowns..”

And The Dockside is his favorite:

“I live across the street from the greatest landmark in all of Portland – the Dockside….You have this old Portland relic combined with New Portland development.  They were like, ‘No, we’re not knocking down The Dockside to build condos, we can have both.'”

 

And Finally – To Dramatic for Words!!

On Memorial Day, I was going through my late brother, Garry’s files and found the picture at the end of this post.  Garry was a 1972 graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point and after graduation, one of his early duty posts was with the Armored Cavalry – that’s the Tank Corps – in Schweinfurt Germany.

My wonderful and talented brother had a rich and dry sense of humor which was demonstrated in our family’s Army vs. Navy rivalry since both my youngest brother, Rick and I were in NROTC and received our commissions in the latter.  (The picture below was a Christmas present Garry gave to me in 1970…)

From the West Point lingerie shop…

While at West Point, he had some remarkable experiences as a member of the West Point Glee Club, singing at various events, appearing on national television and even a gig at the White House in 1972, where his five-member combo – The Headliners got to pose with President Richard Nixon.

Garry (just to the left of Nixon) with the Headliners in 1972

Garry talked about some of the tank exercises they had in Germany and how the iron behemoth’s chewed up the fields and even roads as they maneuvered.   But this picture takes the cake – I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t one from his platoon, but maybe he kept it just to demonstrate the power and size of this weapon!  (I used this picture once before in the review of the Tanker Bar in Portland, but it is too good not to repeat.)

Hey Soldier – Haven’t you heard the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me….!”

Cheers and Stay Tuned for the 300th Beerchaser Bar