Longtime locals sell famed bar, restaurant to Montana family
By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – With a drink in hand and his wife and three sons by his side, Dave House reflects on a legacy as a crowd of “Corral family,” as its loyalists have come to be known, hang on his words, raising glasses at every chance. After decades, House, 33-year owner of the famous Corral Bar, Steakhouse and Motel along U.S. Highway 191 south of Big Sky, is turning it over to new owners. But not without one last party.
In the same joint where Dave and his wife Kathy changed their triplets’ diapers on the pool table, where his deceased business partner and friend Devon White is memorialized in photographs on the wall, where so many stories and people found a home at this cozy roadhouse, the 65-year-old legendary owner considers a question he’s been asked throughout his tenure at the Corral: What’s made you so successful?
“First of all,” he says into the mic, “you start off playing pool in this place in the ‘70s with a guy that … drinks more than I did.” The crowd laughs. “Or you end up partnering with him, and he works harder than any person you ever meet in your life… then you meet a girl that’s as pretty on the inside as she is on the outside,” he smiles at Kathy, and people whistle, the drummer in the band behind him thrashes the cymbal. “Then you have three shmucks like this,” he gestures to his triplet sons, now 24, standing beside him. “And the rest is easy.” The crowd erupts.
Built in 1947, the Corral has been under the care of numerous owners over the years and has grown into one of Big Sky’s most beloved and long-lived treasures. Most recently, the Houses and Devon elevated the roadside log building and its name into a legacy.
Dave House arrived in Big Sky in the mid-1970s after seeing an ad in the Detroit Free Press for a job that came with a ski pass. The ad was for Big Sky Resort, where he worked shoveling snow and handling general maintenance. He’d bring his weekly $88.13 paycheck to his landlord and ask if there was any cash left after rent. The landlord would laugh.
Dave and his friends spent most of their time at Buck’s T-4 Lodge or at the old Karst Camp bar in the Gallatin Canyon, which served Oly on tap for a quarter a pour. But when Buck’s would get old, the crew, including Devon, would hit the Corral to play pool and drink “cold canned beer.”
Dave spent six years tending bar as a customer when the Corral’s former owners, brothers Dave and Vinny Williams, had one too many from their own stock, before he and Devon started thinking about buying the spot in 1986. Karst eventually burned down, and Dave, Devon and their friends felt its absence.
“It was a homey place,” Dave says in interview at his Beaver Creek South home, 33 years after buying the Corral, pictures adorning the living room as proof. “So, we tried to emulate that: what was missing when Karst burned.”
On April Fool’s Day, 1988, Dave and Devon took ownership of the Corral and brought in Montana Rose, a local country band that remains a fixture in many of those good-old-days stories, to celebrate the occasion.
Under their ownership, the bar evolved into a place many would later call a second home—in an old EBS article from 2017, writer and longtime local Hannah Johansen said the Corral was among the old watering holes she used to call “her living rooms.”
The duo transformed the kitchen from a place you might avoid to one of the best eats in town, the kind that greets you with a pig roast for Easter dinner. Quinn House, 24, one of Dave’s three sons, remembers Devon teaching him how to cook when he was a teenager. Devon was king on the smoker.
“He never ever used any kind of gauges,” Quinn says. “Only feel.”
To pair with the revitalized menu, Dave and Devon turned the Corral into a lively music venue to fill the live entertainment void in Big Sky.
“We’d have bands come in from Billings, [from] all over, just about every weekend for the first two years,” Dave says. “It was a lot of work but you know, we didn’t care. We were single.”
The days of bachelorhood wouldn’t last long.
One day in 1988, Kathy, then a teacher in Three Forks but formerly a seasonal employee in Yellowstone National Park, dragged her friend down to the park to see the infamous wildfires, a spectacle that summer.
“We stopped at the Corral because we saw this cute little bar on the side of the road and we thought it would be fun to have a burger and a beer,” Kathy remembers. The women accepted an invitation from Dave and his friend to play pool.
“Meanwhile, I was just looking around going ‘God, I just love this bar,’ and Dave said, ‘I own it. “That’s what they all say,” Kathy recalls telling him, her famous laugh filling the dining room at the House residence.
Dave and Kathy were married three years later and had their reception at the Rainbow Ranch, catered by the restaurant and bar across the road: the Corral.
“The story goes, she fell in love with the bar and I came with it,” Dave says, giving Kathy a sly smile in the home they’ve shared for decades.
Aside from the good food and gatherings, the Corral came to be known by everyone for one outstanding thing.
“The Corral is a place that’s about the people,” Dave says to the packed bar on May 30. “It’s about everybody that’s come here for one reason or another, time after time.”
Brad “Mister” Tidwell is one of those people. Mister arrived at the doorstep of the Corral in 2008 after moving to Big Sky to escape a growing meth scene in Billings. He’d been behind bars for 17 months and needed a fresh start. Dave and Devon gave him a job. Since then, Mister has worked nearly every position at the Corral, he says with pride, his new dentures gleaming. Most recently, he’s been tending bar.
“Truly, the Corral has been my life for the last 13 years. I eat it, breathe it, sleep it,” Mister says, his voice cracking with emotion. “To me, it saved my life.”
On the customer side of the taps, Terry Thomas and his twin brother Lance sit on the far right end of the bar, the same seats they’ve occupied since 1980 when they first walked in the front door. Terry stops by after work before heading home, five to six days a week, he says, to sip on a Coors; occasionally a Pendleton.
“It’s a landmark around here,” says Terry. To him, the Corral is about the camaraderie, and the “100 million stories about that place.”
These stories are kept alive by the people, but also by the place. Scrawl covers the bathroom walls with declarations of love, dirty comments and presumably inside jokes. Behind the Keno machines are signed jerseys and bear pelts hanging in classic Corral identity. And best among the hodge-podge interior design and nailed deep into the log walls: photos of Corral family members; on hunting trips, at parties, even inside the Corral, a reflection of the relationships and community seated at the well-worn bar.
On July 1, fifth-generation Montanan Ashley Langlas, her father Mike Monforton, and her brother-in-law Jeff Flanagan, took ownership of the Corral and started their own journey in the log bar that’s assumed the title “home” for so many owners and patrons before them.
“Dave led such a huge legacy there,” Langlas says days after taking over. “We want to keep that going. We want to keep the real Montana theme and feeling.”
Along Highway 191, where resort town front gives way to ranches and the untamable meandering of the Gallatin River, people clink glasses of whiskey and cans of cheap beer and drink to the old days. Those days when you knew everyone that walked in the room, when you could ride your horse right through the Corral doors.
Stories are passed from one end of the bar to the other, each punchline punctuated by another toast. Outside that timeworn front door, the world moves, everchanging and with a short memory. Inside the Corral, the old days are alive and well.