The Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis, South Dakota, known as the “World’s Largest Biker Bar,” might also be the most well-known biker bar. Having been a staple of the Sturgis rally for many years, and in more recent years being the subject of a reality TV show, proprietors Michael and Angie Ballard and partner Jesse James Dupree (also of the band Jackyl) are well-known faces in Sturgis and around the world.
Sadly, the saloon burned to the ground in an overnight fire in September of 2015 and the future of the FTS brand was uncertain. However, many breathed a sigh of relief when Ballard announced that he would rebuild. The ground has been broken at the new location, which is five miles down the road from the original location and Michael Ballard and Jesse James Dupree were excited to talk about the new facility as well as the history of the Full Throttle.
Briefly, Ballard told the history of how the bar began, nearly twenty years ago. “The Full Throttle started in 2000. That was the first year we opened,” he said, “I started construction in 1999, but I’m from Tennessee and I grew up riding motorcycles all my life, and have always been in the industry. I used to be a bike builder back in the mid ‘90s, so I’ve always been in that world, if you will. I had another company and I was able to sell that company in 1999, which freed me up to do what I wanted to do. I always had a passion for motorcycles and I was always intrigued by a bar and restaurant. I came to Sturgis in May of 1999 and I found some property here and then I came back to the rally in 1999, in August, and I monitored all the properties and I found the one I wanted and I stayed after rally and purchased that property and then went back to Tennessee and packed up and moved to South Dakota and started construction.”
While it took many years to the build the Full Throttle up, it took only a few hours for it all to come crashing down. Dupree discussed how he found out about the fire: “I was about 550 miles away, about 1:30 in the morning when Michael called me and said, ‘Man, the Full Throttle’s on fire!’ And I was so out of it, I didn’t even know what he was saying. And then a couple of hours later my phone was just blowing up and I called him back and said, ‘Man, the Full Throttle’s on fire!’ and he said ‘I called and told you!’ But he’d been up with it all night long. Michael had just gotten back to Tennessee after the rally… Michael had just gotten that place shut down at the end of August… he’d just gotten back to Trimble, Tennessee, about 1700 miles away and trying to get settled back in when he got the phone call and it’s just absolutely devastating.” As far as the cause of the fire, Ballard explained, “It was an electrical fire. It was actually an extension cord that got coiled up behind a keg cooler, underneath the main bar. When you take an extension cord, if you coil it up and it doesn’t get air, it get’s really hot. It doesn’t necessarily arc and throw a breaker on the panel. It just gets hot. And it got hot and melted down and caught a cardboard box on fire underneath the bar…A two dollar cord took out a multi-million dollar facility.” According to Ballard, the only thing on the property that was not lost was the cabin area. All of the memorabilia, bikes, bartender stations, and decor are completely gone.
Initially Ballard was unsure if he would rebuild. As he shared, “You know, it’s such a kick in the nuts. It totally was such a major setback. It was my complete livelihood…It just took a while to digest losing something of that magnitude. It was like losing a family member to me. I just refused to really make much of a comment about it for a while and just set back and figure out what the next steps would possibly be. What really picked me up more than anything was the outcry from the public. Of course all the fans and the family, but total strangers reaching out through Facebook and the emails, and ‘I’ll come work for free. You have to build it back. It doesn’t belong to you anymore, just to you, it belongs to all of us.’ I could get it jump-started, but after that monster got going, it was something to see. So it’s the outpour and the outcry from everybody, is what made me make the decision to build back.”
The new 600-acre facility will be named the Pappy Hoel Campground and Ballard explained the significance behind the name. “Pappy Hoel is the man who actually founded the Sturgis Rally 76 years ago,” he said. “He actually owned an Indian motorcycle dealership here in Sturgis and he started flat track racing back in 1938. And he started a ride once a year through the Black Hills to Mount Rushmore. So in honor of the guy that started the event, we decided to name the campground the Pappy Hoel Campground. The Full Throttle Saloon is located on the main property, so “The Full Throttle Presents the Pappy Hoel Campground.” We’re under construction right now and it’s gonna be a bigger footprint than we had before. We’re gonna get open and going this year, but hope people bear with us, because it took me 17 years to get the other Full Throttle to where it was.” Dupree jumped in to say, “The first year of the Full Throttle, when people came to the very first year they were sitting there having a great time, bands playing, a lot of activities happening that happen at the Full Throttle- but they were literally watching the construction work that was still going on and that construction work never really stopped! Every year there was just an expansion that continued on and on, and different areas of the bar being built, different attractions in the bar being built. And the new facility is going to be no different. For everybody that is out there this year, they will be able to say that they witnessed the grand opening year of what will turn into an even bigger,badder machine. Party central, ‘Beyond Thunderdome’ for adults who love bad-ass motorcycles, beautiful women and a cold drink.”
Dupree went on to describe the amenities that will already be in place for the 2016 Rally. “We’ve got an existing campground that we’ve taken over, so all of the infrastructure for that campground is in place. And it’s a beautiful facility that’s right at the base of Bear Butte. Bear Butte is a sacred Native American mountain that has got live buffalo, and I mean, we’re literally right up against the base of it, and it’s just an incredible backdrop. We’ve got RV camping, we’ve got tent camping. We’ve got cabins for days. There were already 70 cabins on the property when we moved in… and Michael’s got almost 200 cabins that are coming over with it. An Olympic size swimming pool that’s already in the ground and ready to rock. So anybody out there that wants to know where the party is in the Sturgis area for the rally, they just need to go to www.fullthrottlesaloon.com, click on the camping tab and then make your reservations because we’re gonna be there for the whole event. It’s gonna be off the charts. It’s gonna be home-base for everyone that truly wants to celebrate the rally first class.”
The original FTS, with its multiple bars, stages, burn-pit, tattoo parlor, zip lines, stores, and more was situated on only 30 acres of land, so with 600-acres, it is clear that the there is limitless potential for growth.
(Via: Screamer magazine)