By Robert Lucke
He is the owner of the Palace Bar in downtown Havre, been doing that for years, but still few know his real name. Thats the way he wants it.
Jupe Compton, thats my name. Why, thats even the way I sign my checks, said the genial bar owner with a smile, but note there was not a real name forthcoming.
But if a real bar is what you are looking for, the one that Compton presides over every day of the week is as real as they get. With a smell of beer meeting you at the front door, the Palace is what bars in Havre used to be like. Even though many have turned into casinos these days, still the Palace and Compton sail through life in the old-fashioned way.
The bar became known as the Palace years ago when it was opened next door to where it is now. The location housed a bank before the Palace moved in and had a facade so ornate with columns that it looked like a palace. When moving next door, the bar lost its outward ornate appearance, but one look at the back bar, reputed to be one of the oldest in Montana, the place still looks like a palace. High above the space regulated to back bar, old and gigantic photographs of the area remind old-timers of when they were the main decor of the lobby of the Hotel Havre.
Comptons dad, Ward, bought the bar in 1959 and Jupe Compton purchased it from him in 1974. In these times of drastic change in downtown Havre, the Palace remains constant from an outward glance anyway. Things that have not changed through the years are things like the back bar of the watering hole.
I hear tourists say, If only that back bar could talk, Compton said. I think if it could talk, I would have to burn it down, just because of the things it has seen me do in here.
Even though the bar is above the popular tourist attraction, Havre Beneath the Streets, Comptons customers have not changed all that much.
I do get quite a bit of tourists in here, but my business depends on my regulars, Compton confided. I get 10 regulars to one stranger and that one is usually not a stranger for very long.
The bar has been a good business for the Compton family.
You know it put all my siblings through college, who wanted to go, and all my children through college who wanted to go, too, Compton added. One is not finished yet. He is in the second year of medical school.
There are four Compton children Kami, Kimberly, Chris, and Nick. Compton said it is helpful because three of them live in Seattle and one here in Havre easy to visit that way.
Compton has six grandchildren to brag about these days.
You know those grandchildren are the absolute loves of my life. The best thing that ever happened to me were my grandkids, Compton said.
Even if the Palace doesnt look like it, it is a different business then a few years ago.
The biggest change I am aware of are the machines, poker and keno. They changed the whole business, Compton said. We used to think the only way to make a living was by selling alcohol and we were careful with our proportions. Now in this particular place, the living is in machines and most of the drinks we give away.
Change or not, marketing is still marketing in any Havre business.
The way you treat the public doesnt change, Compton added. You treat them the way they want to be treated or they will be playing somewhere else. Now, I dont want to sound noble or anything, but in this business we really support the community and do you know what you give away you get back? It is hard to explain, but thats the way it is.
Maybe MSU-Northern tailgate parties are an example.
I am president of the Tavern Association. Someone has to do it and I think the only way I would get out of it would be to die or to sell out. Anyway, we wanted to support the football team at the college and it is a lot of fun, Compton said.
A couple of hours before each game, Tavern Association members have a tailgate party and sell bratwurst, beer, and pop, donating the proceeds to the team.
That is just our way of giving back, Compton said. Admittedly, we could not begin to do it without the support of the three beer distributors in Havre as well as Coke and Pepsi. They donate all the beer and pop.
Meanwhile, back at the Palace, the crowd this morning is mostly drinking coffee at the bar.
That is part of the business that has really changed. People are more health aware and dont drink as much. This place is more of a social atmosphere with a college crowd in the evenings. When I am traveling, I seek out a place like this. Everyone knows everyone and half the time it is drinking coffee and visiting, Compton said.
Eleven members of Comptons family competed a couple of weeks ago in the Mount Hood to the Coast Run in Oregon. The 195-mile event completely wore out Compton, and he didnt even run.
Ive almost recovered, Compton said, grimacing. Still I have a few sore muscles, but that will pass.
In parting, Compton sounded his Havre drum loud and clear.
I am terrific for Havre. I am a Havre High graduate and I buy everything in Havre that I possibly can and I have no doubt that when it comes time to plant me, itll be here in Havre. I cant imagine living anywhere else.
Planting time looks to be a long way off, providing Compton does not overdue his watching of 195-mile runs.