By SJ Otto
There are a lot of historians who wonder what it was like to live in the old west. That was a time of near anarchy. There were many people who didn’t feel bound by the rules of law. Cowboys could come in to town and enjoy sex with a prostitute, gamble their money away and get as drunk as they wanted on liquor and beer, in the local saloon. Sometimes gun fights rang out.
A lot of that freedom was the focus of some of the old cowboy bars. People gambled and drank in them. They were often close or connected to the houses of prostitution. We get a glimpse of those bars on such old TV shows as Gunsmoke. But in the 1970s there were also bars where there seemed to be very little law and order. People went to these bars and did what they wanted.
That brings me to a bar called Ramona’s. The bar was located in Perry, Kansas. It’s gone now, but in its heyday it was a wild bar, in the late 1970s. The bar was owned and run by a big time drug dealer called Robbie Shaw. He was in the bar, many of the times I came in. He had some nice looking female bar tenders who were always pleasant to do business with.
The floor was straight unpainted wood. The walls were unpainted wooden panels that gave the place that air of simplicity. On the wall opposite the door was a mural that took up the entire wall. It was a painting of a train being robbed by bandits on horseback. It was painted to look like the 1800s. One of the bandits was painted to look like the owner, with a cowboy hat and red bandana. Robby was a tall well-built man, with long dark hair. On most days he wore plaid shirts and blue jeans. He looked a little like Charlie Manson, only not as creepy looking.
The bar was a medium sized. It was a beer bar, which meant it was only licensed to sell beer of 3.2 percent or less of alcohol. At the time 18 year olds could drink that beer in Kansas legally and that is the only thing they could drink. That type of license was cheaper than a regular club license. Also for most of the 1900s Kansas did not have liquor by the drink. People had to join a club, if they wanted to drink liquor in a club. On one particular day some friends and I went to Ramona’s at about 1pm in the afternoon. I sat down at the bar and ordered a draw. Ann, the bar tender at the time, came over and handed me a gin and tonic.
“It’s Robbie’s birthday,” she said.
I just drank the drink and didn’t question it. Ann was one of my favorite bar tenders. She was a little over five feet tall, stocky but not fat, blond and she always wore overalls. I found out, one year, why she always wore the overalls. We both met up at a skinny dipping lake and it turns out she had boobs that went down to her waste. I figured out that she had a hard time finding clothes that fit her.
But, as with all the women there, she was laid back, friendly and dressed casual as everyone else did. She always remembered me by name. All the waitresses were like that.
The town of Perry was a small quiet town of less than 1,000 people tucked away in Eastern Kansas. Ramona’s was located on the town square. It had a small brick front face and class doors. A sign with the name of the bar was over the door with the drawing of a woman. There was little outside the bar to give away what was inside. Inside it was filled with grungy looking hippy types and bickers. All the men, and most of the women, had long hair, wore blue jeans and the dress was always casual. A lot of men wore beards. A few people wore leather or denim vests. At least half of the patrons were carrying concealed pistols. That was before it was legal to conceal and carry a gun. Most of the patrons had pot on them, as well as other drugs. If there is one thing that was really different about the old west bars and this one, it was that 70s gunslingers often smoked pot and took other drugs as well. At that time, cocaine was the main trendy drug people used besides pot. It was not unusual to see people snort cocaine on a table over by the back of the bar. Smoking pot nearby the bar was expected. Shaw oversaw his own pot fields, which is where he got the money to open the bar.
One night some young guy Robbie didn’t know, walked up to him and started talking to him. Robbie didn’t like strangers, so he took out a small 22 pistol and started shooting it into the air. The man immediately ran out the door.
Robbie was like a gangers and he was loud and outspoken. He once said loudly, “I don’t know why anyone would oppose nuclear power. The Russians have it and no one protests it over there. Maybe they are on to something.”
He was clearly a right-winger. One night I was talking about left-wing ideas and he pointed to a swastika tattoo and said: “You see this? What do you think it means?”
“Right-wing,” I answered.
My grungy street friends and I often walked through the doors of that place. There were plenty of tables to sit at and order a pitcher of beer. They didn’t have many craft beers back then so it was Budweiser. There was a pool table back along the back wall for those who wanted to play and the actual serving bar was on the north side of the bar. There was a big empty room attached to the north side of the bar. It had only chairs and tables so people could meet for a private affair or a meeting. I once attended a meeting for one of the Big Eat parties that local hippies had been putting on for the last ten years.
The Juke box had the usual mix of some country music and some common rock tunes.
It was not unusual for bickers and others to fight out in front of the bar. Sometimes there were gun fights. I used to get really drunk at this place and I’m sure I’m not the only one who did.
Maybe there was a danger to getting drunk around other people getting drunk who carried guns. No one ever knew what was going to happen at this place. It was a fun place to come to. Between the danger and the drugs and alcohol, it was like being at a carnival. There were not prostitutes, but it wasn’t that hard to pick up a woman for a night of fun, at least on the nights when many women were there.
The old west was like a carnival when the cattle drives came to them for the end of their trips. That is how Ramona’s was. It was a little like the old west, but also like a free-for-all for hippies.
After a few years they shut Ramona’s down. There were too many gun fights out in the street and it scared a lot of towns people. The city council refused to renew its license. The fun came to an end. But I won’t forget my many days and nights at Ramona’s.
More stories like this can be found in Memoirs of a Drugged-Up, Sex-Crazed Yippie.