Rural bar owners adapt old establishments to modern era

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SHERIDAN — Parkman Bar & Grill owner Dennis Davis’ tenure had an inauspicious beginning. His first day as owner came on a hot, dry July day in the late 1980s. Davis was burning garbage behind the bar with the previous owner, who hadn’t cut the grass or weeds nearby, which grew to several feet in height.

All of a sudden, the burn got out of control and a larger fire started. Flames neared a propane tank, and the bar was miles and miles from the nearest fire station.

“I didn’t even know where the hoses were at,” Davis said, laughing about the incident years later. “So I take a broom and basically beat the fire out. I sit down on the steps and think, ‘Good God, what have I got myself into?’”

Despite the ominous start, Davis has owned the bar for about 30 years. The Parkman Bar & Grill is one of several establishments in Sheridan County that continues to operate in relative isolation. The rural bars aren’t stopping points, but rather final destinations.

Most of the bars began near the turn of the 20th century, opening when the railroads were being built. Davis said the original Parkman Bar was constructed in 1894. The current building has stood in its location off Highway 345 since 1950.

The Arvada Bar was built in 1892. It used to be a combination general store, post office and bar and now stands as one of the last monuments of that era. Likewise, the Wyarno Roadhouse was erected in the early 1900s.

The rural watering holes have been upgraded over the years. Davis expanded the Parkman Bar around 2006 to include a kitchen and additional seating. Inside the bar, black and white photographs of locals line the walls. Customers can play bumper pool, foosball and darts inside or horseshoes outside.

The original Arvada Bar included only the middle portion of the current building. It has expanded over time and now has a larger bar, kitchen, small dance floor with a piano, pool table, significant additional seating and an outdoor porch.

Inside, the Arvada Bar walls and ceiling are stuffed with memorabilia. Dollar bills and playing cards hang from the ceiling. Mounted fish and animal heads line the walls, in addition to a long piece of wood with branding logos from different area ranches. Authentic and replica guns hang above the bar, and various photographs and paintings are scattered around the building, along with framed arrowheads.

The Wyarno Roadhouse didn’t have indoor bathrooms until owner Walt Bohler installed them recently.

The bar was closed for five years until Bohler took it over about two years ago. It used to mainly serve sparse food options, but Bohler has transformed it into a restaurant that offers a standard array of beers and mixed drinks. He also installed central heat and renovated the dance hall to make it more appealing for live music and events like weddings, class reunions and flea markets.

There are only two full-time employees, including Bohler, and a few part-timers to help on Fridays. Bohler is the sole cook, which makes it difficult to oversee the bar and restaurant while also making all of the orders.

Bohler said attracting people to the roadhouse is tough, but he always enjoys talking with nice, interesting people and seeing repeat visitors.

“Everybody that comes out here is a pleasure to be with,” Bohler said.

The bars in Parkman and Arvada are open seven days per week, while the Wyarno Roadhouse is only open Friday to Sunday most of the year, and on Thursdays in the summer. Naturally, most customers stop by when the weather warms up. Because of their remote settings, the bars don’t attract a ton of tourists but do have a few explorers and motorcyclists come in for a drink or bite of food.

The bars also serve as de facto social clubs.

In winter, Arvada Bar employee Debbie Malli said ranchers arrive in the morning for coffee and conversation.

The bars are a throwback to a long-gone century but have adapted to changing times in order to stay in business.

By |May 8th, 2018|

About the Author:

Ryan Patterson joined The Sheridan Press staff as a reporter covering education, business and sports in August 2017. He's a native of Wisconsin and graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor's in journalism in May 2017. Email him at: ryan.patterson@thesheridanpress.com.

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