End of a Sturgis Icon – Full Throttle Saloon R.I.P.

You know, it’s been a tough year to ride a bike. Ten million degrees this summer, one percenters shooting each other in Waco this spring, and when we all relaxed at Sturgis 75, little did we know that the Full Throttle was getting ready to check out.

Yep. Maybe you heard, maybe you didn’t, but after a million-strong turnout in Sturgis, the Full Throttle Saloon –the world’s largest biker bar – burned to the ground the night of September 7-8.

Rest in peace.

The Full Throttle Saloon wasn’t just a joint like Scatterbrains in North Carolina – or some shady looking joint on the side of the road that had seen better days. Started in 1999 by Michael Ballard, it was more like a compound that could count on 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 a wine bar for reasons I’ve never understood – although with all the old guys hauling custom bikes around and not riding them I guess I get it – and zip lines and a donkey mascot that begs the question “What?”

“The Full Throttle is the number one blue collar biker bar in the United States,” owner Michael 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.”

All of us as riders probably suffered through watching at least one episode of the reality show that was spawned to detail the Throttle, but it was always a freak show, no matter when you tuned in or dropped in… boobs, midgets, crazy tattoos, weird hats, awesome concerts and a little bit of everything else mixed in along with the personal drama that goes with reality television

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 local newspapers. “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.”

While it is a shame that the Throttle went up, it’ll be interesting to see what caused it and how Ballard either rebuilds or walks away. My money says the next version will be even more over the top than the one I remember from my last trip there in 2009.

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