Posted on 28 March 2013.
Rusty’s Saloon and Grill used to have a reputation as the kind of place you wouldn’t want to wander into late at night. Non-locals knew the Bishop bar as a hangout for a tougher crowd, a watering hole where casual visitors, especially young women, might not feel entirely at home. Now, current owners Michele and Mike Allen hope to change that reputation with a remodel and a revised attitude toward the management of the historic saloon.
The Allens acquired Rusty’s in 2005, taking over from a previous owner who, in Michele’s words, “made poor decisions in management. The whole atmosphere changed; I didn’t want to come in here. It made me sad to see that happen.”
The couple didn’t take their own decision to buy the bar lightly. “I literally prayed about it,” Michele said. “But I felt like it was important to give Rusty’s back to the town.”
Michele and Mike are keen to honor the history of the bar, which has been Rusty’s since 1947, and “The Spot” before that, while creating a new, comfortable and communal environment. Renovations have expanded the shuffleboard and dartboard area, and replaced a bathroom Michele described as one step above an outhouse with new, handicap friendly restrooms.
Much of the rustic charm of Rusty’s remains intact, however. Take a peek at the “new” bar and you’ll find much of the old: a fascinating blend of mounted deer heads, dried hornets’ nests, rusted cowbells, antique pistols, oil paintings, historic photographs, dusty glass bottles, a faded bordello sign, and an elegant elk antler rack adorn the walls, bar rafters, and entryway.
Sit down at the bar, and you might hear bartender and promotions manager Shauna Trim, daughter of Michele and Allen, call the other patrons by name, trading jokes and asides, and encouraging them to pick their favorite songs on the jukebox. “Rusty’s is like Cheers,” said Michele; “everyone knows your name, and you can always walk in and see a friendly face. It’s family here, for some people. This is where people come when they need a shoulder.”
The family feel is integral to the Allens, who run Rusty’s with the help of daughter Shauna, as well as son Rob, manager of the bar. Creating a safe space, where patrons feel welcomed and cared for like family, is equally important. Michele emphasized monthly security training for employees, as well as security cameras that “we hope we’ll never need,” she said. Mike Allen’s main goal when renovating Rusty’s was to “make a place where unaccompanied women feel comfortable coming in,” daughter Shauna said.
Another one of Mike’s goals: expanding the space while preserving the atmosphere. “He didn’t want to come in and make a modern sports bar,” said Michele. The bar still offers a competition-sized shuffleboard, dartboards, foosball and pool tables, but the Allens chose not to mount a TV on every wall to distract patrons from the games at hand. “He wanted to keep the feel of Rusty’s,” she said. “It’s almost like a museum for Bishop.”
The couple plans to continue the remodel, adding a new kitchen, a bar built from harvested pine trees, wall decorations hewn from White Mountain Research Station logs, and a bandstand to accommodate live entertainment on the weekends.
Michele gave kudos to promotions manager Shauna, who brings a variety of entertainment to the bar. Nightly options include karaoke, DJs, live bands, ladies’ nights, as well as Wednesday pool tournaments and Thursday dart league. Shauna also organizes monthly parties, like the Stoplight, 80s Summer Beach, Halloween, Redneck, Miner’s Ball, and Ugly Sweater Party.
Still more events, like a recent raffle to support a local who broke his elbow in a car accident, have a philanthropic emphasis.
This past weekend, Shauna executed a 3-day St. Patrick’s extravaganza. “It’s always a tradition in Bishop to go to Rusty’s on St. Patrick’s Day,” she said. Friday kicked off with DJ Mo Funk, Saturday offered a ladies’ ‘Naughty Leprechaun’ contest, and Sunday, Shauna served free, homemade corn beef and cabbage until supplies ran out.
To Michele, one of the great signs of Rusty’s success is the returning clientele. Whether they come for the special events, or for the largest liquor selection in Bishop, which includes seasonal draft beers like the microbrew “Mule Drool” during Mule Days, a one-time visitor frequently turns into a hooked regular. Mementos like Christmas tree ornaments with the names of patrons, hung on the Rusty’s Christmas tree during the holidays, remind Michele of “the most important part of having a local bar,” she said.
Rusty’s Saloon might be raunchy or rowdy, depending on the night, but under the ownership of the Allens, it will always be a place for patrons to come together and have a good time.