The Lions Den: A history of good fun, beer slides and memories in Spring Grove

It was a one-night only event cherished by those in town who remember the Lions Den back in its heyday.

The throwback night at the Lions Den on Aug. 23 brought memories of after-midnight hours, beer slides and the signature jackets.

The Herald talked to Rick Landsom, a Spring Grove resident who used to bartend on Tuesday and Thursday nights at the Lions Den. Landsom still holds a lot of memories from the bar and its owner, Dennis Gaustad.

“It was kind of a unique deal, because the liquor store (The Corner Store) and the Legion had to close down at midnight,” Landsom recalled. “Dennis had a 3-2 license, so he could be open to 1 a.m. and it would be a mad rush to get there. We called it the ‘Late Happy Hour.’”

He added Gaustad most likely sold the most beer in that single hour and the place would have about 70 to 80 people on a good night.

The Lions Den opened in 1976 after Gaustad purchased it from his brother, Arnie. Beer would have been sold for about 50 cents a mug or $1.50 for a pitcher. In the 70s, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s along with similar beers would have been available.

The bar had a softball team, which in its day was a pretty good one, Landsom added. The team would often win the Syttende Mai tournament when it was scheduled.

The Lions Den also featured pool and foosball tournaments, for which many trophies were on display and auctioned off on the throwback night.

Passersby coming through Spring Grove would often stop at the establishment for a while. Landsom said he’s talked to a good number of people that upon hearing “Spring Grove,” they say, “We stopped at a really unique bar there once.”

The answer to that of course is “the Lions Den,” and the bar’s legacy lives on.

Perhaps the most memorable event to happen at the bar was beer slides. Gaustad would start giving out free beers and then people would keep buying them. Beer started splashing on the floor and the sliding started.

People sliding in beer in any which way they could manage, and that means on their feet, front side, backside, side or if they could do it without seriously injuring themselves. 

The beer slides were also resurrected on the throwback night, as shown by online video.

With all of these wild shenanigans, the bar owner had to be a pretty good “lion tamer,” which is what Gaustad called himself.

“He would wear frilly shirts, bell bottom pants, platform shoes and an engineer’s hat,” Landsom said. “I asked him why and he said, ‘I’m the lion tamer.’”

Commonly seen on throwback night and when the Lions Den was open were the jackets. They were black jackets with a wild-looking lion on the back and a name on the front.

Landsom says he’s not really sure how those jackets came to be. There was one waiting for him at the end of the bar one night near Christmas time. 

“There was a note on it that said, ‘Merry Christmas, Rick,’” Landsom said. “He was as nice as a guy as you could ever meet. He would have done anything for you.”

In the auction that night, Landsom was able to purchase the coat of arms centerpiece that was in the bar. He said he was pretty proud of it and happy to have it.

One more memory that Landsom has is that of Gaustad carrying in beer kegs by hand and with no extra help.

“Dennis didn’t have hoses going to the basement, so he kept the kegs under the bar,” he said. “I remember several times he would bring the kegs up the back steps with only his hands. I never forgot that.”

The Lions Den quietly closed in 1992, after Gaustad was tired of the frustration with the City of Spring Grove, who would not grant him a stronger liquor license for a full service bar.

He got a construction job in Sunny Valley, Oregon, and went to work out there. The Lions Den was left in the same state for 27 years, until it was sold to Robin Bartell, according to property records found on Beacon, a local government geographic information system (GIS) website.

Gaustad passed away in 2015, according to an obituary found in Herald records.

If anyone else has memories or more history of the Lions Den to share, please contact the Herald at 507-498-3868 or jgerard@bluffcountrynews.com.