THE BUNNY BAR
By Farley Wuth, Curator, & Gord Tolton, Education Coordinator
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
With post-war prosperity and the baby-boom came more reliable cars, better roads, and a desire for North Americans to explore the continent in their own way.
With more leisure time, and growing families, a motoring culture emerged across North America in the 1950s. That mobile tourism appeal transferred to a new form of food industry that adapted to customers that didn’t require table service. Youthful new drivers were on the go, just as a new form of music called ‘rock and roll’ came to the car radios.
In big cities and small towns alike, quick and fast mouth-watering hamburgers, shakes, ice cream treats and so many more items were affordable to all ages could be had in independently-owned drive-ins and diners that popped up along the highways.
With hot days, long summer nights and the highway to Waterton Lakes National Park beckoning, Pincher Creek was no exception. In 1960, Archie and Annette Petrone opened The Bunny Bar drive in restaurant at the corner of Main Street and Highway 6, at the east end of town.
The Bunny Bar’s marketing took advantage of its community and tourism location. With disposable income earned from their part time jobs, high school students often patronized the Drive-In after school or on weekends. For those with vehicles, the Bunny Bar served as the east end of their “Mainies.”
The Mainies was a popular Pincher Creek tradition that saw the younger crowd cruise up and down Main Street. When it was time to meet up, it was the Bunny Bar where they met up to socialize, and plan whatever drag race, dance or rendezvous that they would be up to that evening. It was all to the roar of their engines and the beat of Rock n’ Roll–from the rockabilly of Elvis to the Beatles and Stones, and on up to New Wave and Heavy Metal of the ‘80s.
Tourists headed to Waterton Lakes remembered the giant bunny ears signage adjacent to the highway. Patrons appreciated the mouth-watering Bunny Bar treats. The steer burgers were favourites. Youngsters liked the fries and chocolate milk shakes. Returning home, the last day of school in June, buses filled with hungry and study-weary students stopped at the Bunny Bar for chocolate covered ice cream cones.
The Bunny Bar served the Pincher Creek fast food trade for more than a glorious quarter century, and closed in 1986. After the loss of the Bunny Bar, corporate fast food chains such A&W and Tim Horton’s came to dominate the drive-thru market in Pincher Creek and elsewhere. But more than a generation later, this coveted place of business continues to bring back fond memories from locals and visitors alike.
As the repository to preserve Pincher Creek’s history and culture, Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village has been graced with a few artifacts of the era of independent fast food dining, including menus boards, a couple of bright orange chairs and tables, and a T-shirt worn by one of the many teenagers who benefited from part-time employment at the Bunny Bar.
The fluorescent sign above this concession shack, and the menu board inside (complete with the obviously dated pricing!) are among the few remaining artifacts of the earliest Fast Food restaurant drive-in of Pincher Creek. The board and sign are artifacts of the time that don’t reflect inflation and the value of the modern dollar. So don’t ask us to match their fantastic prices or legendary menu!
Today, this shack and the near-by Garden Café serve to preserve that nostalgic signage, along with an occasional concession for on-site special events and catered affairs.
This shack itself has its history as well, when it was used as a warming and changing shack for skaters on Pincher Creek’s outdoor skating rink, and a summertime concession for the baseball fields. So from recreational origins, the recovered shack brings back the long gone legacy of the world-famous Bunny Bar.