Thebeerchaser’s Final Thoughts on the Dirty Shame Saloon

In three prior posts on Thebeerchaser, I have written about the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana – its fabled history, the Shame’s character, the staff,  the regulars, the events that capture the imagination of the community and its erstwhile owner, John Runkle – the most recent recipient of the Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter “honor.” (Click on the links to see these posts.)

Since I stated in a previous narrative that it is the most interesting of the 350 establishments I’ve visited and reviewed in the eight years of Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Breweries, the Dirty Shame and John Runkle collectively deserve one final narrative.

The most recent Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter

Now many bars can be defined as “a place where lonely desperate people go to get hammered enough to find other lonely, desperate people suddenly irresistible.” *1 The Dirty Shame Saloon is the antithesis of this description.

*1 The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm – A Lexicon for Those of Us Who Are Brighter and Smarter Than the Rest of You (Page 34)

The book is by James Napoli and a brilliant tome you should definitely read – one rivaling in wit and intellect, the legendary On Bullshit by Princeton Professor Emeritus, Harry Frankfurt – another Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter. (January 2012)

The Shame is a community treasure and one which Yaak residents regard with affection.  I previously tried to convey the stories which John related to me ranging from the AR-15 incident last summer as well as the  the “crack pillow.”

And don’t forget the double shots of whiskey downed in a quick and unfriendly visit to the bar by a now convicted murderess and her boyfriend after they dispatched her husband at Milepost 48 on the Yaak River Road – the Shame is at Milepost 29.

There’s also the tale about the kidnapping of the life-size Trump poster, the young women who “bartered” for their fare to Portland, Oregon, the Missing Person chronicle or the personable and courteous nature of the direct relatives of the leader of the Kehoe Gang related in the second post:  https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/09/11/the-dirty-shame-saloon-in-yaak-part-ii/

You will find out if you stay tuned to this blog for rundowns of the other 48 bars and breweries on our June road trip through Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming, that there are many other historic dive bars and excellent breweries in nearby Kalispell and surrounding Montana villages not far from the Dirty Shame. You can then hit these on your road trip as listed in an earlier blog post on Beerchasing in Big Sky Country.

Thus, it is my strong recommendation that you add a visit to the Dirty Shame Saloon and raising a mug with John Runkle to your bucket list.   As such, you will need lodging, so l want to provide a little more info on the Yaak River Lodge – about 1.5 miles down the road from the Saloon – also owned by John since 2004.

Drop in on Sunday to hear Pastor Clayton..

The Lodge sits on a beautiful 7.5 acre site on the Yaak River and across from the wonderful Yaak Community Church.  I attended their Sunday service on my last morning in Yaak and Pastor Clayton gave an inspiring sermon.   I also sat next to a memorable career Naval officer who retired in Yaak.

The church was built in the tradition of community barn-raising by members of the congregation and with no debt incurred.  You should view this impressive YouTube video to visually comprehend

At  the Lodge, you will see llamas and a horse grazing in the pasture in back.   There are no locks on the doors to the Lodge or its rooms, but whether you stay in the Moose Room or the Wolf Room, you will be secure.   In the event of inclement weather, just read a book in the living room by the roaring fire.

Folgers, cheese omelet and bacon….It doesn’t get any better.

And the $115 nightly charge (that’s during the busy season) also includes breakfast – one morning it was memorable blueberry pancakes cooked by John and the second it was an outstanding omelet cooked by Darilyn, who is also the lead bartender at the Shame.  There was plenty of bacon with it……

Or you can sit in the back and tell stories with friends…… as you can see by the photo, this fire pit is a great place to have a nightcap.

During the summer months the average high temperature is in the 70’s to low 80’s lowering to the low 40’s at night.   September is also usually pretty moderate.

Or take a walk down to the beautiful Yaak River flowing through the property….

The Yaak River at the back of the Lodge.

The coffee was also notable – not Starbucks but Mountain-grown Folgers which lent credence to their slogan, “The best part of wakin’ up is Folgers in your cup.”  (I might add that Folgers (black) goes extremely well with either the blueberry pancakes or cheese omelets.)

Although there are a number of gun stories related to the Dirty Shame, John told me he did not hunt so I asked him why he had a package of shot gun shells on the kitchen counter. “Oh those. My mom who lives near by has a recurring bear problem at her house which is nearby……”

Bear issues….

As I mentioned previously, John is an Orange County, California native, served as a paratrooper and instructor in the Army and returned to earn his degree at Cal State Fullerton.

 

 

 

Starting in 1988, he then built a successful real estate company.  In the twenty years he managed it, he successfully expanded the business to seven states with 300 realtors.

Runkle realized one day after being inundated with business calls while vacationing in Glacier National Park that his ambition was nature’s way of preparing him for heart medication. (* 1 Page 22)   So he threw his cell phone out the window and ended up buying first the Lodge in 2004 and then the Saloon in 2013. He and his wife, Dallas, welcomed their second daughter in August.

In the entry way to the Lodge was a framed advertisement for the Lodge and the Saloon.  I asked him (with some element of concern) about this.

That said, I certainly hope to visit Yaak again in ten years and see John still at the helm of these two great businesses in NW Montana.

John told me, “At 57, I’m no spring chicken and I don’t have much of a bucket list left. I’m usually at the bar until 2:30 AM on Friday nights and then Saturday morning, I’m up cooking breakfast at 5:30. On Monday morning, it’s tough to get going.”

Up at 5:30 cooking breakfast – but still with a smile….

 And he realizes that each Monday is one of 52 opportunities we are given each year to question what the hell we are doing with the rest of our lives……That said, the following Facebook post also demonstrates why John continues his legacy as a leader, a hard worker at whatever he does and why those who work with him admire his character.

“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.”

John, helping to unload food for the Crawfish Festival

I think John would be the guy who in an office setting, would fix the copy machine after a paper jam.  You know the situation – the copier sits there non-functional for several hours with everyone just ignoring it.   After he fixed it, he would then photocopy his rear end and leave it for the next user as the Runkle “signature”…….

Unjamming and leaving a signature….

So I was not surprised to see another recent Facebook post by John asking for feedback on whether Yaak – with the Dirty Shame as the focal point – should become the new site of the legendary Testicle Festival.

The Testy Festy was an annual event held for years in Clinton, Montana although discontinued in 2018. It attracted people from all over the West for a chance to sample the culinary delicacy Rocky Mountain Oysters.

Testicle Festival Canceled Following Deaths – Attendance Decline:  After 35 years of drinking, nudity, debauchery and tens of thousands of Rocky Mountain oysters, the Testicle Festival is over…….”  (The Missoulian  4/23/2018)

Considered a delicacy by some……

Whether Yaak has the infrastructure to support the resurrection of this “carnival” remains to be seen, but it shows that John is still ready to promote and his entrepreneurial spirit still courses through his bloodstream.

And if you don’t know what Rocky Mountain Oysters are, you should look it up.  You might be surprised…..  (The Beerchaser’s personal recommendation is to keep the current Yaak celebrations and not try to resurrect this jubilee, ball or whatever you want to call it.)

Because with the Adult Easter Egg Hunt, the Sasquatch Festival, the Crawfish Festival and spontaneous celebrations, John and his crew keep the residents of Yaak entertained and offer the chance to celebrate their community.

Some regulars told me that John should use his real estate skill and negotiate either the purchase or merger with the Yaak River Tavern (a nice bar with a personality that could use some spark) across the road – possibly even construct Yaak’s first skybridge between them…….

That way Geoff, the amiable, slightly inebriated singer I met at the Tavern, could entertain at either location.  Those at the Tavern that night got to hear Geoff’s original creation celebrating the joys of beer, bananas and Montana beaches…!

Don’t wait too long to plan your visit.   Now if you are looking for the Dirty Shame on the internet, don’t get confused with the Dirty Shame Saloon in Garden Valley, Idaho.

Besides a probable violation of John Runkle’s federal trademark on his bar (he is not interested in a lawsuit – “The lawyers would get all the money…” ) it is a poor and unsatisfactory imitation of the “World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon” as evidenced, in part, by the fact that the Idaho establishment on Yelp gets 2.5 stars (out of 5) while the Yaak authentic garners a rating of 4.5.

And if you want to talk to John and find out more about the Lodge i.e. seasonal rates and availability, give him a call at (406) 295-5463.  You will enjoy the conversation and tell him that Thebeerchaser suggested it.

The World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon  

29453 Yaak River Road   Troy Montana 59935       (406) 295-5100

The Yaak River Lodge

27744 Yaak River Rd     Troy, MT 59935      406-295-5463

yaakriverlodge@aol.com

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.