John Foust, a life-long Bitterrooter, fly-fishing guide and outfitter, remembers the way it used to be. Foust now guides fishing trips for the resort’s guests when needed, but in the early days he sold the Lodge the meat they served at the bar. He’d often hang around for dinner after his weekly delivery. The bar was known for its roasted chicken and jojos.
“But things could get pretty rowdy,” says Foust. He remembers the old bar had a few bullet holes in the ceiling. “One time all the ceiling was covered with memorabilia. There was everything from bed pans, to old pieces of guns.” A tradition was to sign a dollar bill and hang it from the ceiling. “They had dollar bills signed from people all over the world,” Foust says. Quirks like this make it one of the most authentic lodges in Montana.
Initially, the place was busiest during the winter, with annual snowmobile and dog sled races. During the events the place would get crowded with people dancing, drinking and raising hell, he says.
Another tradition was carving your name in the top of the old bar. The thick, heavy top was made from of a single piece of pine, about 10-feet long and four inches thick. The origin of the graffiti tradition is unknown, but by the time the Health Department made them replace the bar few years ago, it had thousands of names, dates, and various other things carved in the top.
The new top is a shiny, thick pine slab and the old bar top hangs on the wall as a reminder of the wilder days. There are other reminders too.
On any given day, Keal, a long-time patron and Bitterrooter, sits on his stool at the end of the bar. The seat’s ownership is confirmed by a plate on the back bearing his name.
Keal first came to the bar in the mid-70s. The memory which rests most prominently in his mind from that era was an ornery, long-horned billygoat that had the run of the place. “When you’d get out of your truck, you didn’t know whether that sucker’d take you or not,” Keal says, grinning. “The door to the bar was often open and the goat would wander in and butt someone sitting at the bar.”