After nine people were killed in a shootout between rival biker gangs in Waco, Tex., earlier this year, authorities braced for violence last month at the 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D. — the Woodstock, if you will, of biker rallies.
Though a record 1 million people came to the rally, violence largely didn’t.
“With everything that’s going on in Waco and just all the stuff with the clubs, for their own preservation, they’re going to want to try to keep this mellowed out and not have a problem,” Pat Matter — president of the Minneapolis chapter of the Hells Angels until he went to prison in 2003 — told the Associated Press in August. Sturgis “wasn’t the typical place we was going to solve our problems at.”
Yet though the rally came and went without a major incident, one of its centerpieces — the Full Throttle Saloon, billed as “the world’s largest biker bar” — is now gone. The bar, which inspired an eponymous reality TV show, burned early Tuesday. The cause of the fire is not known. No injuries were reported, but the main building was reportedly totally destroyed.
“Eleven years of my life burned up right here,” saloon employee Dean Mauldin told the Rapid City Journal.
The Full Throttle Saloon wasn’t just a shack by the side of the road where crimes were planned and scores were settled. Founded in 1999 by Michael Ballard, it was more like a compound that claimed 15,000 visitors per night during the Sturgis rally. It had a distillery — where 500 gallons of grain alcohol, unfortunately, fueled the flames. It had Angieland — another bar run by Ballard’s wife, who is known for her, ahem, “sculptured behind.” It had a wine bar and zip lines and a donkey mascot. And it had cabins.
“The Full Throttle is the number one blue collar biker bar in the United States,” Ballard wrote on the bar’s Web site. “Everyone is welcome, but it’s well known that factory workers, construction workers and any kind of guy who busts his ass and saves his money all year is gonna be welcome at the Throttle.”
The Full Throttle Saloon also was the subject of a reality show by the same name, filmed during the rally each year, that aired on TruTv from 2009 to 2013. Shenanigans were the order of the day.
“They have boobs, midgets, crazy tattoos, weird hats, awesome concerts and a little bit of everything else mixed in here,” one viewer told the Rapid City Journal in 2013. “Anything goes, and that’s what TruTV watchers like to see.”
Forty-five firefighters, however, couldn’t prevent flames from destroying the landmark. A lack of fire hydrants also complicated efforts — water had to be hauled in.
“We tried making access through the west side walk-in doors, but they were locked,” Shawn Barrows, Sturgis’s assistant fire chief, told the Rapid City Journal. “We came around to the front-side garage doors on the north side of the building and cut a hole in it to make entry to the building.”
Early Wednesday, Ballard, reportedly out of town in Tennessee, had yet to comment on the fire.
“I’m waiting on him to call,” Ballard’s older brother Raymond “Cass” Ballard told the Daily Beast. “The moment Michael heard he was up all night long, but he couldn’t get a flight out last night.”