Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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For decades I've been hearing about the Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana. Some of the stories I heard sent a shiver up my spine and made it sound like one of those rowdy roadhouses of the Deep South where hippies entered and never were heard from again. It is, so the stories go, the type of establishment non-locals might want to avoid, especially if you're decked out in Lycra, and if you dare enter, don't accidentally have eye contact with the wrong person or his girlfriend. Finally, at least two decades late, I had my chance to check it out, and it was almost a disappointment to learn that, nowadays, the most dangerous thing in the Dirty Shame Saloon is Double Haul IPA.

The Not-So-Dirty Shame Saloon

For decades I’ve been hearing about the Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana. Some of the stories I heard sent a shiver up my spine and made it sound like one of those rowdy roadhouses of the Deep South where hippies entered and never were heard from again. It is, so the stories go, the type of establishment non-locals might want to avoid, especially if you’re decked out in Lycra, and if you dare enter, don’t accidentally have eye contact with the wrong person or his girlfriend.

Finally, at least two decades late, I had my chance to check it out, and it was almost a disappointment to learn that, nowadays, the most dangerous thing in the Dirty Shame Saloon is Double Haul IPA.

I was on my summer cycling trip to Kootenai Country, and one of our long routes went right by the Dirty Shame. We were actually advised not to stop there, but obviously by somebody who hadn’t been there lately. Undeterred, we parked our bicycles out back, and after reading the sign on the door about checking my guns, boldly went where not many cyclists have gone before.

I didn’t see a raucous crowd throwing beer bottles or involved in knife fights. In fact, even though it was 5 pm on Wednesday night, I only saw one other person at the bar, a local contractor, and friendly one at that.

We sat our helmets and water bottles on the bar, almost disappointed at the quiet, quaint atmosphere.

Behind the bar was the new owner Don Belcher, who turned out to be quite the character. My cycling buddy was whining about getting too old for these long bike rides, and Don jumped right in with, “How old do you think I am?”

Always wary of that question, I figured he might be 70, so I said “65.”

“Ha,” he said. “Just turned 81.”

Then we found out he was also an Episcopal Priest who had recently bought the saloon and, I suspect, been responsible for toning down the crowd.

Now, Don and Gloria, his wife of 25 years and retired investment counselor, co-manage the place. Don tends bar and Gloria cooks, does the books, and plays classical jazz on the piano for evening entertainment. On their website, they describes the new Dirty Shame as “an attractive bistro,” and it seems to fit.

My mild disappointment didn’t last long. I ordered up a Dirty Shame Burger and an IPA, followed shortly by a huckleberry sundae. I suppose it might have something to do with just riding a hundred miles on my bicycle, but all three were so tasty, I considered doing it again.

We had to go, though. Still 37 miles to ride to get back to Libby before dark, but we made a pact to return next year, this time staying overnight at the cabin’s next door, also owned by the Belchers.

That’ll leave me enough time for risk having another of those notorious IPAs.

To read a companion article on Cycling Kootenai Country, click here.

About Bill Schneider

Comments

  1. Brock Anderson says:

    NewWest should do more stories like this. Get into the culture of the new west, explore folklore, bring us back to places like the dirty shame, highlight examples of why new west people are unique, make a difference, stand out, etc.

    Too often I log into this site these days and find just another diatribe (albeit very well written and researched) about a controversial issue facing the new west. Sure we have controversy and its important to highlight the issues but we also have fun, we laugh, we cry, we make mistakes, we make history we travel & have stories to tell.

    Diversify a bit, share a story about 82 year old Bob Hayes finishing the Ridge Run (again!), remind us why Ringling is such a historic and important community in Montana, take us out to the coulees of eastern MT, revisit Lincoln, MT 15 years after and tell us what we’ve learned from Ted Kacynski since his arrest, etc, etc, etc. These are the people, places and stories that inspire us for better and for worse.

    For the record, the Dirty Shame is a great place. Might I suggest visiting not on a sunny summer day, but rather, during a ‘Yaak Attack’ – the ‘driving’ tour of Northwest, MT.

  2. Bob Wire says:

    I’m one of the people who missed out on the Dirty Shame during its heyday (and mine). I’ve heard all kinds of stories from my Troy buddies about the exploits that went on at this isolated saloon way up in the corner of the state. But when I drove up that way this summer, I got word that the place had been purchased and spit-shined by a couple of Bible thumpers. Now it’s a BISTRO, for cryin’ out loud. Talk about a dirty shame.

    (And Brock, just for the record, I recently discovered that the people in Lincoln are still wary about talking about Ted Kaczynski. And don’t even think about going to his former cabin site. It’s been bought by a Baptist preacher and his…oh, never mind.)

  3. Cindy Younkin says:

    I’ve been to the Dirty Shame too – was in Libby a few years back and thought I might never be that close again to Yaak. Having been to Alzada prior to that, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to go to Yaak and the Dirty Shame (I bought the obligatory coffee mug to prove it), so I can now say I’ve traveled Montana from Alzada to Yaak. The Dirty Shame was a quaint place 5 years ago – I’m glad to hear it is still open and apparently upgrading! Good little article. Keep biking!

  4. kit carlson says:

    wow … never thought I’d hear an Episcopalian called a “Bible-thumper!”

  5. Bruno says:

    There were some wild nights at the Dirty Shame i my self put a lot of bullet holes in the wall back in the good ol days…

  6. Red says:

    Have been there three times, enjoyed the first two. After it changed sorry to say I won’t be back. Next time through I’ll stop on the other side of the street. Keep your Bistro. Guess I’m just old fashioned or nostalgic.

  7. David Starnes says:

    Yeah, good old Don Belcher was just arrested and thrown in jail. Looks like another “minister” gone bad. They are crooked and everyone in the Yaak knew it. That’s why there was never anyone there.