It’s Halloween today, so you should probably know there’s a playful ghost said to hang out at Bronco Billy’s Ranch Grill & Saloon in Sisters.
That may not come as a complete surprise to those who believe that spirits walk among us. After all, Bronco Billy’s occupies the historic Hotel Sisters, which operated as a lodging house from 1912 to 1978. The building changed hands in a poker game in the World War I years and is rumored to have been a brothel in the 1920s.
“There’s a lot of things that have happened in that building over the years,” affirmed co-owner John Keenan. “There are quite a few legends of ghosts in the building. I have not had an experience with any … but members of my staff have told me, absolutely, they do exist.”
No one can say for certain whether it’s Bronco Billy himself who is said to haunt the upstairs hallways and the restaurant floor after hours. The 19th-century Camp Polk army scout was reputed to have been quite the rabble rouser in these parts.
But odd things happen here at odd hours. Vacuum cleaner cords unplug by themselves. Radio volume fluctuates dramatically. Disruptive sounds erupt from the bar … although there’s no one there. A longtime graveyard-shift custodian “doesn’t go upstairs to do any cleaning at night anymore,” Keenan said. “‘Diablo’ has scared him a couple of times.”
Old West flavor
As everywhere in the town of Sisters, with its false 1880s storefronts and its year-round rodeo flavor, the Old West is alive and well in Bronco Billy’s. Servers are dressed like they’re on their way to a country-and-western affair, with boots and finery they might have purchased down the block at Leavitt’s Western Wear. Western movie posters and ranch antiques adorn the main restaurant, while the adjacent bar offers big-game heads and a full-wall mural of high-kicking saloon girls.
The old hotel had been an antique store, bookstore and art gallery prior to 1984, when its owner, the late Bill Reed, formed a partnership with restaurateurs Keenan and John Tehan, who remain co-owners. The trio of childhood friends renovated the building from bottom to top and reopened it as a restaurant in 1985.
As you might expect in a cowboy-themed saloon, most diners who come to Bronco Billy’s are meat lovers. The menu features steaks, prime rib, barbecued ribs and oversized hamburgers, as well as some chicken, seafood and Mexican dishes.
A friend and her teenaged son recently joined me for dinner at Billy’s. Service was friendly and attentive, with dishes arriving promptly. Our server checked back regularly to make certain we were satisfied with our orders, although we once had to flag down a busboy to ask for more water.
Dinner at Billy’s
The first course to arrive at our table was warm bread from The Village Baker in Bend. Then my friend and I had salads.
Mine was a house salad with fresh romaine lettuce and red cabbage, baked croutons and an Italian-style, honey-walnut vinaigrette. Hers was a crisp-romaine Caesar with roasted garlic, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, croutons and grated Parmesan cheese, tossed in a house-made Caesar dressing. Neither was particularly memorable, but both were fresh and green.
My friend’s son thoroughly enjoyed his Roper burger, made with lean ground sirloin and served with a generous helping of fries. But neither my friend nor I was thoroughly satisfied with our beef entrees.
She ordered a whiskey rib-eye steak, marinated in Jack Daniels whiskey, soy sauce, brown sugar and Dijon mustard. It tasted, she complained, more like a teriyaki steak then a normal rib-eye, and it wasn’t prepared as rare as she likes. What’s more, the meat was fatty. And the accompanying potatoes, mashed with garlic and cheese and returned to a baked potato skin, were only so-so.
My friend said she preferred my prime rib, even though a full quarter of the 16-ounce portion was fat that I was forced to remove. The slow-roasted beef was prepared medium-rare, as I like, and served au jus with a tart horseradish sauce. My baked potato was fine, and I enjoyed the evening vegetable, a julienned medley of carrots and jicama.
Shown the amount of fat that we had removed from both cuts of meat, our server apologized and told us that our after-dinner cups of coffee would be on the house.
The java went well with a layered “chocolate seduction” cake that the three of us shared for dessert. It reminded me of a moist birthday cake, with ice cream and whipped cream, almond slivers and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
Lunch in the lounge
I returned a few days later for lunch in the saloon portion of the restaurant. Football was on the televisions beside a board where locals pick their winners. Vintage Western movie posters hung on the walls between heads of moose and buffalo, and country-western music played in the background.
I ordered a barbecued chicken breast, served boneless and skinless with a healthy coating of tangy barbecue sauce. I found the chicken perfectly cooked, tender and tasty. French fries and cole slaw — not too dry, not too soupy — accompanied my meal.
As I ate, I studied the impressive back bar. Built in the Civil War era in Philadelphia, it was shipped around Cape Horn to San Francisco, where it stood in a bar until the first part of the 20th century, according to Keenan. By the 1920s it had found its way to Bend’s old Palace Tavern on Bond Street. The Palace closed around 1970, but the back bar remained in the building until 1984, when it was rescued for Bronco Billy’s. “We reconditioned it, and there it sits in our bar today,” Keenan said.
The back bar ties in with the whole Sisters theme. “That’s our niche, really,” Keenan said. “We want to utilize the old building and try to give people a feel of what it was like back in the day.”
Perhaps that’s what Diablo and the other ghosts are trying to do, as well.
Mongolian BBQ (C-): A pattern of ignoring messy tables, even as new diners search for a place to sit, sets a negative tone for this buffet-style restaurant in south Bend’s Fred Meyer Shopping Center. Vegetables are fresh, meat straight from the freezer, but the rice tasted stale and everything is stir-fried on the same grill. Service is brusque and no-nonsense. Open 10:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. 61535 S. U.S. Highway 97, Suite 10, Bend; 541-318-8500.
Volo (A-): A new bistro-style menu, with prices topping out at $19, has been introduced by chef Kevin Dietrich, who joined Volo in late August. A range of savory tastes can be enjoyed in the flashy bar as well as in either of two dining rooms. Service is professional, ambience at once contemporary and industrial. Open 11:30 a.m. to close Monday through Saturday. 919 N.W. Bond St., Bend; 541-749-2460, www.volobend.com.
The Breakfast Club (B+): If Cheers were a breakfast-and-lunch joint, this would be it. Good solid eggs and meat-and-potatoes cuisine is served in a no-frills atmosphere by a friendly and efficient staff of servers who will remind you of Alice at Mel’s Diner. Open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. 378 N.E. Greenwood Ave., Bend; 541-312-8393.
The Village Bar and Grill (B+): A classy sports bar in downtown Bend has not been profitable for its owners, who have put the restaurant up for sale. But the original Village, a mainstay of Sunriver Mall, will persist. Both restaurants have the same menu of excellent sandwiches, salads and pizzas; in Sunriver, rib-eye steaks and seared ahi entrees add flair. Open 11 a.m. to close Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to close Saturday and Sunday. Building 6, Sunriver Mall (541-593-1100); 1033 N.W. Bond St., Bend (541-318-8578).
Bronco Billy's Ranch Grill & Saloon
Location: 190 E. Cascade Ave. (at Fir Street), Sisters
Hours: Open 11:30 a.m. to close every day (lunch until 4 p.m.)
Cuisine: Ranch-style American
Price range: Lunches $4.95 to $11.95, dinner appetizers $5.95 to $11.95, entrees $12.95 to $28.95
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
Children’s menu: Yes
Vegetarian menu: No; salads and sautes only
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Outdoor seating: Yes; covered deck open April through October
Group-friendly: Yes; private group dining in former hotel rooms upstairs
Reservations: Recommended for large groups
Contact: 541-549-7427, www.broncobillysranchgrill.com
Food: B. Generally good, although prime rib and steak entrees were both very fatty.
Service: A-. Prompt, friendly and attentive; servers go the extra mile for customers.
Atmosphere: A-. Decor is fully in keeping with Sisters’ Old West theme.
Value: B+. Prices are competitive in a tough marketplace.