South Dakota – 13991 Miles Driven.
The remote town of Rochford, South Dakota is by all accounts tiny. It consists of a couple of houses, a library that only opens on a Thursday, a general store that calls itself the Small of America, and a single restaurant, the Moonshine Gulch Saloon.
When I arrived at Rochford late at night I was half expecting Moonshine Gulch Saloon to be closed, but fortunately for me owner Betsy still had a couple of regulars there who were finishing up their drinks. From the outside Moonshine Gulch Saloon looks like it’s come straight from a Midwest American history book, and to say that the inside has character is an understatement. Covering the ceiling are worn baseball hats in their hundreds, business cards, and signed bank notes from all those who have visited Moonshine during the 38 years that Betsy has owned it.
Fancying a change from their lives as Colorado cattle farmers, Betsy and her late husband Roy moved to South Dakota and bought Moonshine, which has stood since 1910. The colorful ceiling started as being somewhere for Roy to store his extensive collection of hats, and the banknotes a sort of imaginative swear jar that people kept adding to.
No sooner had I arrived that I found myself drinking a beer with Betsy and her regulars. The handwritten menu comprises of what Betsy likes to cook, including hotdogs, homemade chili and nachos. Other options had Post-it notes with ‘out’ written on them, covering up what once was. The locals recommended the bacon cheeseburger as did Betsy, and I concluded that I should probably opt for what the chef was prepared to cook at such a late hour. I opted for the deluxe, meaning lettuce and tomatoes were included. The 4oz beef patties are prepared by hand and Betsy only uses the highest quality ingredients including the slightly crispy thick-cut bacon. It’s probably not what I should have been eating at 11pm but it perfectly hit the spot, it was a very good burger.
Betsy is fiercely protective of her business and wary of the outside world. To call her a technophobe wouldn’t be fair, but Betsy openly despises the Internet. She sees it as an intrusion on her privacy, which was a real pain for me as Wi-Fi would have been a welcome solution to my complete lack of phone signal. There’s so much else I could write about Betsy but words just wouldn’t do her justice, she was certainly one of the most interesting and friendly people I have met on this trip, if not slightly quirky.
She does have some hired help but it’s mainly Betsy that runs the show, which must be a lot of work. Betsy’s had numerous offers to buy Moonshine but the right owners haven’t come along. Part of me hopes that she’ll accept an offer and give herself an easier life, but loosing Betsy as its owner would be the end of what makes Moonshine Gulch Saloon the place it is today. I was looking for hidden gems on this trip, and in Betsy I most definitely found one. Just don’t expect her to let you use the bathroom if you don’t intend on buying anything, Betsy has a gun hanging above the bar and I have a feeling she’s not afraid to use it.
Moonshine Gulch Saloon is located at; 22635 N Rochford Rd, Hill City, SD 57745. Telephone; +1 (605) 584-2743. Website; I doubt there will ever be one.