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Buster’s saloon to reopen in Sun City

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, at 9:45 p.m.

Buster’s will reopen.

Again.

On Friday – Pearl Harbor Day.

This is somehow fitting that the iconic Western saloon in Sun City, named for Buster Hathaway, a World War II veteran who often regaled his customers with colorful stories about the war and local lore, is opening on an anniversary day that will live in infamy.

The new owner is Harry Dawson, a native of Medicine Lodge, who has some ranch, oil and restaurant interests in Barber County. He owns the Medicine River Truck Stop and the Indian Grill Restaurant in Medicine Lodge.

“We open Friday, which is an important day in U.S. history,” Dawson, 51, said earlier this week. “I just hated to see Buster’s not working. We are going to return it to what it used to be – a community place.”

Buster’s has been in flux for the past three and half years, since Bill St. James bought the idyllic slice of Americana at a sheriff’s auction. He paid $90,000 for the aging restaurant and several lots and houses in the small Barber County town.

Then, he said, he sank $400,000 in renovations to bring the restaurant and bar back to life. He paid for state-of-the-art restaurant equipment, put in restrooms and tried to keep the Old West feel in what made Buster’s such a great place to sit awhile, drink a beer and have a bite or two.

One of the obstacles St. James encountered was finding people who would stay on and keep the restaurant running. Sun City is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles of rugged Red Hills and prairie – the very thing that often has caused people to seek it out.

Buster’s closed in August.

Dawson, who bought Buster’s in late November but won’t say for how much, said he wants to return some of the ambience that made Buster’s iconic. Although he’s keeping the public restrooms in the restaurant, he plans on putting some outhouses in back – so visitors who’ve never had that experience of answering the call of nature outdoors can.

“I was probably a little bit underage the first time I went to Buster’s,” Dawson said Tuesday afternoon. “Back then, they were still using the outhouses. And, there’s two generation of folks who don’t know what outhouses are. It is just somebody who has never had the experience can now have the opportunity.”

Buster’s has always been a draw for local oilmen, ranchers, cowboys, bikers, birders and just about anybody else looking for a slice of Kansas life.

Dawson said he’s hiring local people.

His chef is Jim Underwood, who specializes in barbecue.

“We’ll offer steaks and hamburgers,” Dawson said. “This is beef country. We will have barbecue products coming out of the barbecue. It will be what you would expect in this part of the country. If you are looking for seafood, we won’t have it unless we get a heck of a deal.”

Buster and his wife, Alma, lived and worked in Sun City for more than half a century.

Their plain white building faced south and allowed sunlight to stream through giant windows as the locals gathered for stories and beer.

During World War II, Buster was a member of Darby’s Rangers, America’s first commando unit, and among the first to see combat in the European theater. Buster came home from the war with a wooden leg.

He and Alma were married on Independence Day in 1941. As patrons would open the squeaky front door, Alma would welcome them from the rocking chair she kept near the front of the bar.

Buster would pull a frosty 24-ounce schooner of beer from behind the bar and stories would begin

According to Dawson, beer and stories will still flow at Buster’s.

He’s also hoping in the future to add some of Kansas’ microbrewery beer.

“If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” Dawson said. “I’m not going to worry about a new business model. It is good food, good service and cold beer, and then you let nature take its course.”

And there will be music once again in Buster’s. He’s already approached local and state bands to come in and play.

“This will continue to be a place that has cold refreshments and a place where you can contemplate what we will do to beat the drought. Earlier this year, there was the presidential race. My horse didn’t win. With that, we will need more cold refreshment and if we aren’t at the bottom, we can’t be far from it.”

Sounds like Buster’s is back.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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