BY ROBERT SWEENEY PHOTOS BY ROBERT & MONIKA SWEENEY
Back in ’98 it was, and Miss Kathy was lookin’ for a place to celebrate her 50th birthday. A suitable establishment could not be found among the neon and glitz of her Las Vegas hometown, so the search expanded west to the frontier town of Pahrump, but still no facility could be found that was adequate for an occasion as auspicious as this.
Then one day, as her son-in-law was roamin’ the desert wastelands amid the whorehouses, mines and nuclear test site, he stumbled upon a wide spot on the side of the road that had the audacity of calling itself by name: Crystal, Nevada.
Now, you won’t likely find Crystal on any map that wasn’t drawn up by some lonesome prospector — half dead from thirst and crazy from the heat – but it does exist and Sonny Boy found it. And looming up like a mirage from a spot just about an acre east of The Middle of Nowhere stood The Short Branch Saloon.
Sonny Boy took one step inside the door of The Short Branch and knew right away that he’d found his Holy Grail. He rushed home to tell his missus that he’d found the perfect place for her ma’s celebration.
Miss Kathy’s 50th was her most favored birthday ever, and she loved The Short Branch so much that she soon started seein’ the proprietor on a real personal-like basis. And when the saloonkeeper decided to throw in the bar towel and call ‘er quits, Miss Kathy bought the place for herself, despite her family and friends all tellin’ her she’d go broke.
But Miss Kathy’s a fighter and tellin’ her she can’t do somethin’ is the best way to get her to do it. She turned that ol’ saloon around right quick and made it what it is today; the best dadgummed biker bar in the whole USA! I hope y’all can forgive that last little rhyme, and the hyperbole, but a visit to The Short Branch may just have you singin’ the same tune.
Those who say that Disneyland is “The happiest place on earth” haven’t been to The Short Branch Saloon. Miss Kathy’s road to success was paved with a few potholes. When she acquired the bar in 1999 it was only a hangout for the locals, many of whom spent their days cooking meth and tweeking; not Miss Kathy’s kind of people. She quickly 86’ed the riff-raff, but then found herself in the midst of a dilemma; if the locals aren’t welcome, who do you serve drinks to?
One day a group of bikers was passing through the area and they spotted the sign alongside Hwy 160 that tells those motorists who happen to not blink that something called “Crystal, Nevada” is just down the road. They sent a scout to reconnoiter the area and he found The Short Branch. Walking in to the place, he asked the lady behind the bar if she’d welcome a group of 17 bikers?
Miss Kathy – all alone in the place – looked over this man clad in black leather and thought it over. She ultimately decided that she needed to sell some drinks and make some money, so what the hell? That group of bikers became her best customers and opened up the whole, wide world of bikers to Kathy and The Short Branch Saloon.
Taking these bikers’ advice, Kathy began marketing The Short Branch as a “destination” bar, with tremendous results; she has hosted visitors from all over the US and even overseas. Tourists from Europe and the UK routinely come to Las Vegas, rent bikes and tour Red Rock, Valley of Fire, Grand Canyon and Death Valley. The Short Branch has become another “must see” for these visitors on two wheels. Word of Miss Kathy’s hospitality — as well as her fabulous meatloaf – has literally made The Short Branch Saloon world famous.
The Short Branch is also big with Vegas riders because it lies upon the “Pahrump Loop”; a popular day run form Vegas that takes Hwy 160 (the “Blue Diamond Hwy”) over the mountain into Pahrump and on to Hwy 95 back into Vegas. About 175 miles round trip, which means you can ride there in the morning, hang out at The Short Branch all afternoon, and still be home before dark; a perfect “destination ride”.
Visitors to The Short Branch can expect to be welcomed warmly by a feisty and funny lady who loves to tell stories and shoot the breeze with “her kids”, as she calls her biker patrons. A good time can be had whether in the midst of several hundred other bikers during one of the numerous poker runs Kathy hosts, or just relaxing alone on a slow day in the middle of the week; it’s always good to be at The Short Branch.
Kathy loves “her kids” and trusts them implicitly. One time, a group of campers celebrating an all-day birthday party were still going strong at 11 PM, so Kathy locked the front door, told the revelers there was a notepad on the bar and to write down anything they drank, and then she promptly went to bed! The next morning the partiers settled up, thanking Kathy for the best birthday party they ever had.
Such hospitality is not rare at The Short Branch; it’s the norm. But don’t be a wise guy, or you’ll end up on Kathy’s “S*it For Brains List”, which hangs on the wall behind the bar. As Kathy likes to say: “I don’t need to do this, I’m retired. I do this for fun. When you come in here you’d better amuse me or I’ll tell you not to let the doorknob hit you on the a** on the way out!” Have fun or else! That’s a rule I think most of us can live with.
As mentioned previously, Kathy hosts a number of motorcycle runs, and she is always willing to arrange for special group parties. Call ahead and she can arrange a steak cookout or prime rib dinner. Her famous meatloaf is always available, and she’ll also do breakfast on a Saturday or Sunday morning, if arrangements are made ahead of time. Just call and tell her how many are coming.
While bikers are always welcome to pitch a tent for the night, The Short Branch also offers six small, but comfortable rooms out back. The doors are always open so weary travelers can just go in and sack out. Just leave a twenty under the pillow in the morning and Kathy will call it square. The rooms also serve as a biker B&B for those who want to make weekend reservations.
The Short Branch is mainly a day-time bar, since few bikers want to make the trip to Crystal after dark, but Kathy does do night runs every Friday the 13th and “Howl At The Moon” runs the Friday night closest to the full moon. The first Sunday of every month is “Hobo Chili Cookout,” where riders each bring a can of chili and add it to the pot.
Kathy runs the place all on her lonesome. During big runs she calls upon her close friends who tend bar on a volunteer basis, collecting only tips and no wages for their service. It takes a pretty special person to command that kind of friendship and loyalty, and it speaks well of the lady who retired from Sears after 32 years of selling tires so she could have the time of her life serving drinks and swapping stories in a biker bar in Crystal, Nevada.
Make plans to visit Miss Kathy at The Short Branch Saloon. Keep her in mind for parties, reunions and weddings, too. And be sure to try the Chili Verde Meatloaf, it’s my favorite. Tell her Robert sent you.