Bar Owner Don Frye

Don Frye, right, bar owner of the Haufbrau and The Filling Station in Bozeman, is seen here with friends at the Haufbrau recently.

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1969 through last Sunday.

That’s how long Don Frye Sr. — family man, music supporter and friend to many — spent in the Bozeman bar business.

For decades, Frye, who died last weekend at 77, managed two of the city’s iconic dive bars — the Haufbrau, which he bought in 1969, and the Filling Station, which he opened with his wife Cyn in 1976.

Talk to his family, his friends, his patrons — categories that don’t always have clear boundaries — and the stories tend to accumulate like the initials carved into the Hauf’s tables.

How Frye, a lifelong asthma sufferer, was given six months to live by doctors — in 1983... How he’d run tabs through the winter for laid-off construction workers... How he’d give someone down on their luck a second or third or fourth chance by handing them a broom... The time he marched up to a police officer parked outside one of his bars and asked the cop to leave so he’d stop making the customers nervous.

For Frye, after all, his regulars were pretty much family. And for his family, the bars were pretty much a home.

Cyn Frye and the two sons taking over the business, Don Jr. and Bill, clustered around the Filler kitchen this week, prepping lunch orders and dishing out memories. A box of family mementos, including the Fryes’ 1962 wedding photo, sat on a counter a few feet away.

Growing up, they said, the children learned not to complain that they were bored.

“He thought that busy hands were happy hands,” said Bill.

“So we were happy,” said Cyn.

“There was always plenty to do, and he had no problem doing it,” Don Jr. said. “He was always happy to come to work, because he knew his family was going to be here and his friends were going to be here.”

They used to argue, the younger generation of Fryes recalled, over whether to install TVs in the bars.

Frye Sr.’s perspective? That the establishments were places for conversation, spaces to find company, to celebrate the good times and mourn the sad ones.

As for the decor?

“He enjoyed the junk, so he kept collecting,” Bill said.

Things were much the same as ever at the Hauf this week, musty wood tables and walls plastered with their array of off-color posters and stickers.

Sales of Olympia — the beer of choice for “Papa Frye” — were up as patrons marked his passing, said longtime bartender Tom Cook.

“Just a really good soul,” said Cook, who started with a music gig at the Filler, picked up bartending shifts and eventually ended up marrying his wife in the establishment.

“He treated all his employees like family,” Cook said. “He was a true Christian.”

“He was the non-judgmental uncle I never had,” said one Haufbrau regular, Jim Shorten. “He walked the walk and talked the talk.”

“He’d treat you good until you needed to go,” Cook said.

“He’d treat a homeless guy as good as he’d treat the mayor.”

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Eric Dietrich can be reached at 406-582-2628 or edietrich@dailychronicle.com. He is on Twitter at @

eidietrich.

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Eric Dietrich covers city government and health for the Chronicle.

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