Biker bar bounces back – New owners revive Yaak’s Dirty Shame Saloon
By Seaborn Larson/Special to the Inter Lake
The legendary Dirty Shame Saloon was brought out of foreclosure in February and purchased by longtime friends John Runkle and Ray Falzone.
By the end of July, the new owners plan to return the Yaak landmark back into a roadhouse as dirty and shameful as it ever was.
The pair met in 1981 as roommates stationed in Italy, both U.S. paratroopers in the 509th Airborne Battalion combat team. Runkle and Falzone kept in contact for the next 30 years, ultimately leading to a reunion in Yaak.
Over the years, the Dirty Shame earned a reputation as a tough biker bar. Several festivals that routinely attracted thousands of visitors to the outpost during the summer months punctuate its rich history. The annual Crawdad Festival and its predecessor, the Yaak Attack, have drawn crowds of bikers and adventure-seekers.
Locals said the most captivating stories about the Dirty Shame would be inappropriate for a family newspaper.
“When we came up here, we had to pull bullet slugs out of the wall,” Runkle said. “One of the owners used to shoot pool balls off the table with his .357, you know.”
Before Runkle and Falzone bought the saloon, it was owned by a former Episcopal priest, Don W. Belcher. Belcher had taken steps to turn the establishment into what he described as “an attractive bistro,” even putting carpet down on the bar floor.
However, Belcher was convicted in the summer of 2011 on molestation charges in Maryland and was sentenced to five years of probation.
The Dirty Shame was foreclosed upon after Belcher’s conviction, giving Runkle an opportunity to expand his business holdings in Yaak.
Runkle had already reunited with Falzone after purchasing the Yaak River Lodge nine years ago. At that time, Runkle asked his old friend to help with renovations, drawing from Falzone’s 12 years of experience at Home Depot. Then Runkle presented a proposal Falzone couldn’t resist.
“Do you want to get into the saloon business?” Runkle recalled asking his friend.
On a recent afternoon, the front of the Shame appeared a little tilted, and old planks that once lined the inside walls were scattered among the tall grass and weeds. Runkle, Falzone and their contractor took a short break beneath the shade of the front sign to observe the progress of their reconstruction project.
Inside, sawdust carpeted a barroom that has apparently undergone several transformations — the original Dirty Shame burned down nearly half a century ago — but pillars remain etched with names, hearts and years that stand as proof that Jen loved Jake, Steve loved Deb and somebody “danced with Shep.”
The new owners said they will be happy to continue this tradition, encouraging more names to be carved forever into the Shame.
“Just no Sharpies,” Falzone said. “That’s cheap.”
Since the purchase was finalized in March, the team has repaired the plumbing and wall paneling, and replaced the bar top, this time with a beautiful coat of ebony paint to complement the Harley Davidson orange that will line several areas of the lounge. Runkle is still contemplating leaving the shotgun pellets to rest inside the side door.
“The best part,” Runkle said, pointing to the space next to the bar — “my 1981 Harley Shovelhead is going right here.”
The new owners are excited to bring back the summer festivals that once brought people to Yaak, including the Crawdad Fest and Yaak Attack. Endeavors may also include an art festival — Falzone was a professional artist more than 30 years — and a music festival they’ve already named “Yaaktoberfest.”
These festivities were intended to bring the Shame back to full action in the Yaak, but the new owners remained fully aware of their responsibility to the public.
“We’re not contributing to white crosses,” Falzone said. “If people are getting on a little too loud, we’re just going to ship them down to the lodge.”
The business market in Yaak is small, but suitable for the residents. The return of the Shame will undoubtedly boost the number of people entering the Yaak, and locals are proud to see it back in the hands of businessmen.
“I think it’ll be great for everyone” said Chris Kunkle, bartending across the street at the Yaak River Tavern. “It’s not necessarily competition. The word ‘competition’ doesn’t really fit, it’s a nice community up here.”