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Making it in Big Sky: The Corral Bar, Steakhouse & Motel

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Longtime local Dave House has been running the Corral, a popular locals watering hole, for over 30 years. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – Drinking, pool and swing dancing are all part of the Corral Bar, Steakhouse & Motel’s storied past. Since 1947, the Corral has been a gathering place for locals and tourists alike to take a load off and experience a taste of some Old West hospitality. 

Over the years, the Corral has grown and changed along with the town of Big Sky, carving out a niche for itself as a local’s watering hole. For the first half of its existence, the Corral didn’t offer food, instead serving as a dance hall, and later a bar. In 1974 the motel was added to the property and in 1988, Dave House and his now deceased business partner Devon White, took over the Corral and recognized the need for some grub. They built the large kitchen in 1994 and since then the Corral has been serving up hearty staples such as burgers and steaks to ravenous patrons. 

As a long-time fixture in the Big Sky community, the Corral has character, evident in the eclectic décor as well as the stories that are told about its lively past. 

Explore Big Sky spoke with the current owner, Dave House, who has been running the Corral for over 30 years, to learn more about the Corral and what the future holds for this Big Sky staple.

Explore Big Sky: When is your busiest time?

Dave House: “The summers are, July and August are our two busiest months. Because of Yellowstone National Park and the traffic that goes through, the Canyon is the happening place to be in the summertime for sure. This past year, September was close to being just as busy. This past summer we were down, mainly because we could only operate five days a week all summer long when we opened in June.”

EBS: How has it been adapting to CDC guidelines during COVID?

DH: “We are a bar as well and the rules that were put down, made it real hard for us to do business. There was no bar seating at all. We didn’t reopen until they allowed bar seating in the county, and that was the middle of June sometime. We’ve provided carry out but we’re a sit-down dining establishment with real feel to it. To try and retool it as carry out was impossible.

We cut down on the seating in here and we still offered carry out going into the summertime. Our decks were full in summer, we had people wanting to sit outside.”

EBS: How has your business changed and grown over the years?

DH: “All the competition started in the late 90s when things started slowly growing. It used to be the competition was hurting us, but we are more or less one of a kind. We are old Montana, we believe in old Montana hospitality, and service, meat and potatoes, comfort food, things like that. All the new businesses in food and beverage are geared toward a more popular type of audience so, it’s not hard for us to be ourselves. We are an old Montana Roadhouse, steakhouse, with a motel.”

EBS: Do you have any notable regulars?

DH: “We have a box full of regulars that come around. Of course, there’s fewer and fewer that stay around. You have to be determined and really love Big Sky to live here.” 

EBS: What is your favorite memory from the Corral?

DH: “I’ve made so many friends, I have so many people that love me. One would be hard to pick out. There are so many memories, there are a couple of books. If we’d have had cell phones from the 80s on, the pictures we would have, it would be incredible. There’s just so many that it is really hard to pinpoint one. It’s the whole experience, the people you meet and the things you do.” 

EBS: What is your plan for the corral moving forward?

DH: “The Corral is for sale; I’ve been at this for over 30 years. I’m hoping someone wants to continue on the same direction that we have brought it and take it over. I’m not here to sell it to just anybody, even though they’re nice to me or pay a good price for it. I don’t want someone to implode it or make it something that it is not, it still has a lot of life to it. I get people year-round that come in and say, ‘I remember that 20, 30 years ago,’ and just once a week I get a story like that. It’s pretty cool. It really is. It created a lot of characters, mostly good.”

EBS: What is the best piece of business advice you have received?

DH: “Whether it’s your personality or your business, don’t try and portray something you’re not. Always do what you think is right or what you believe is right and unless you’re proven wrong, stick to it, stick to your guns. Support the people that support you.”

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