Most folks give me a puzzled look when I mention the P.I., but that is all I've ever called it. It really stands for the Parshall Inn, but no one ever says Parshall Inn except the owners when they answer the phone. They say "T.J's Parshall Inn." The "T" and the "J" are the initials of the owners - Toby and Jerry. I guess you could describe it as a local bar. It happens to be the only bar within 10 miles, and its not local to very much. The town where it's located, Parshall, has a population of 48, although folks argue about that.
When you enter the P.I. the first thing you notice is the sound of a bell ringing. It sounds like a goat bell if you've ever heard one. This bell is on the screen door and announces your arrival and exit. When it rings, everyone in the bar who is not too drunk (and some who are) looks around to see who is coming or leaving. Like most bars the patrons have their backs to the door, so when you enter, the first thing you see is lots of folks turning around to look at you. This can be unnerving if you are a stranger or if they are people who don't like you. Depending on the time of day the five tables in front of the bar may or may not be occupied, and likewise for the bar. It's not a bar that you can slip into unnoticed.
If you had no idea what decade it was and you walked into the PI, you would find few clues. There is nothing new at the P.I. Even the things that are new don't look it. This is especially true of the patrons. The latest addition is a sign over the door to the men's room that says "Good Cowgirls Keep their Calves Together." I would have put it over the door to the ladies room, but that space is occupied by part of an old plow horse harness. There isn't much empty wall space anywhere, and a complete inventory of all that is hanging or displayed on shelves would require volumes. My favorite is a sign at the bar that says: "This is not Burger King. You don't get it your way. You get it our way or you don't get the son of a bitch." They make great hamburgers. If you want much else to eat, you're better off not stopping there.
The clientele are local. Tourists only stop there if they are lost and need directions. Most patrons are ranchers and other folks living within a 10-mile radius. When the PI is busy, the parking lot is cluttered with pickup trucks and a few horse trailers. When it's not busy the dominant feature is a Dumpster near the front door. I always note the license plates of any vehicles to see if anyone from out of state might be there to provide some variety to the conversations and atmosphere. Usually all the license plates are Colorado.
The hours for the P.I. are from 11 AM until 2 AM every day but Sunday when they close at 8 PM. The kitchen closes at 9 PM (7 PM on Sunday). They are closing on Father's Day this year, but I don't know why. Jerry isn't a father - at least as far as Toby knows. Lunch and dinner are their busiest times, but they have a steady business in the evenings from lots of unsteady drinkers.
Basically the P.I. is a place to drink and socialize. I go there to socialize and play pool. There is a backroom where the pool table and the dart machine are located, and a back yard containing two horseshoe pits. Periodically they have horseshoe tournaments. A shuffle board table is located in the bar near the juke box, which has all country and western music except for the two obligatory Glenn Miller songs, Tuxedo Junction and String of Pearls. I've never played the jute box. When I'm not playing pool or socializing, I tend to watch one of the televisions at either end of the bar and consider it my link to civilization. The volume is usually down so I can't hear anything, but I watch it anyway. When I'm really bored, I'll look for the Canadian penny that is alleged to be among the 3599 pennies that are spread out over the entire bar surface and covered with a clear resin. I found it once, but now I don't remember where.
The restrooms are about the size of small closets. If you don't lock the door to the men's room and someone tries to enter while you are standing in there, the door hits you and lets you know how all the yellow stains got on the wall. The sink has two faucets but only cold water comes out. The sink is stained with rust and a sign says the water is not potable, making me wonder how many of the patrons know what "potable" means. Above the toilet near the ceiling is a vent fan with a sign that says: "This fan is dedicated to Al Leonard". I don't know Al and I don't want to.
I'm most fascinated with the popcorn machine next to the bar. It consists of a small electric hot plate with its concentric heating coils exposed. Above it is a horizontal hoop that holds a sealed packet of popcorn. It rapidly shakes the bag of popcorn back and forth over the heating coils for a predetermined amount of time, and sounds like an active bed in a cheap motel. I believe some of the older folks order popcorn just to reminisce.
Toby and Jerry put the P.I. up for sale last month because they've been getting burned out from running a business seven days a week, 360 days a year. I'm dreading the day that it sells and the new owners take over, because they will start making changes and fixing up the place. It will be like giving your favorite old cow a face-lift. She might look better, but she won't look familiar - and it won't improve the hamburgers.
It took about five years for someone to buy the Parshall Inn. I don’t know why it took so long. Perhaps prospective buyers were scared away by the patrons. Toby and Jerry have moved back to Arnold, Nebraska where they have gotten back to their roots. Now Jerry is spending most of his time pulling them up – or clearing pastures, as they like to say.
I stopped in Arnold recently to see how they were enjoying their new life. Jerry told me to meet him at Suzi’s Bar. It was a bar very much like the P.I. and everyone in it seemed to know Jerry, so he must still be putting in a lot of bar time. I guess he really does miss the environment of the P.I., if not the work.
The new owners, Jim and Jeannie, are from Southern California, so I was fearful that the P.I. would never be the same. But after five months, the only changes I saw were for the better. Yes, it had been spiffed up a bit with new paneling and tablecloths. But the major changes were in the menu and accepting credit cards. Now it has a full-fledged menu with specials each night and dessert. Jerry always use to ask me if I wanted anything else after I finished my burger and diet coke. I always asked for apple pie and ice cream, and he usually told me where I could stick my apple pie and ice cream. Recently I had sole with crabmeat for dinner and apple pie and ice cream. I’ve waited 17 years for apple pie and ice cream at the P.I. and now I have it after every meal.
There is still a lot of the previous ambiance – in addition to the familiar patrons. The sign that reads “Good Cowgirls Keep Their Calves Together” has been moved to over the door to the women’s restroom, which is where it should have been. The popcorn machine that I loved so much is now in storage, but I’m sure if it were put up for auction, it would get some high bidders. There are a few new signs, lots of familiar things, and there are still 3599 pennies on the bar top. The jukebox is new – sans Glenn Miller. The horseshoe pits and the table shuffleboard are still there and active. The pool table in the back room is new and now costs $1 per game, but it costs that much everywhere now. At the end of the bar is a computer video machine with a variety of games, and is the only indication that it is no longer 1970.
Between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week, you will see a full parking lot of vehicles – mostly families having dinner. As the evening progresses, you see the family sedans in the lot being replaced by trucks, as the atmosphere in the P.I. becomes one of friends having a good time at the end of a long hard day. It is Grand County’s own Cheers Bar where the beer is cold, the food is fresh, and a new friend is only a conversation away.
I think the P.I. has changed Jim and Jeannie more than they have changed the P.I., which is good. But both have been improved as a result. Now if they could just get the cowboys to wipe their feet before entering…