Motorcycle enthusiasts are not often treated well in the theaters of America. There have been some good motorcycle films, sure, but usually movie people get bikes so wrong it’s painful.
Not so with The Best Bar in America, written, shot and directed by brothers Damon and Eric Ristau, whose previous experience was on documentaries and commercials. Despite being an ultra-low-budget independent film, or maybe because of it, Best Bar is a very engaging road flick with an epically bearded lead character named Sanders (played by Andrew Rizzo), a writer who is touring the great spaces of the American West riding a 1960 BMW R60/2 with a Velorex sidecar. His assignment? Writing a guide to the bars of the West.
Sanders is a troubled veteran who suffers a host of personal losses, but in these, he finds a freedom, which is exemplified by an early scene in which his wife, traveling in the sidecar, decides to leave him on the spot and walk back to the nearest town.
That is the distinct moment when all Sanders’ worldly obligations have been shed. From there, he sets out on his spiritual journey and rediscovers the elemental joys of riding, writing and, yes, drinking. Northway, played by Hollywood veteran David Ackroyd, becomes his guide and traveling partner after they meet in a tavern.
The Best Bar in America- Official Movie Trailer
“Northway was based on a guy actually named Northway we met in a Missoula bar who was living in a camper van,” says Eric Ristau. “Northway was a wise, incredible guy with a long, white beard and missing a few teeth. We spent the whole night in the bar hanging out with him.”
They ran into Northway a week later. His van had been stolen, so the brothers invited this sage barfly to live with them. After a month, he got his things back and hit the road. They never saw him again. “He had emphysema and passed away,” says Ristau.
“A lot of stuff we learned from him ended up in the script. He was a guy who was really in the moment. He knew he was on his last legs and was having a great time where he was, enjoying everything. He gravitated toward people who were marginalized, and it helped us feel more open to the folks we’d associate with, people who had a story, wisdom and things we can learn from. Northway was just an enlightened guy.”
Shot in 93 days with a budget “less than a nice, new Harley,” the film never had a crew larger than seven, when a few film-industry friends helped out for a couple of weeks.
“We didn’t pay anybody,” says Ristau. “Most of the budget went into fuel, food and lodging. And the bar bills were just obscene. We had to buy everybody a drink while we were shooting, and we shot at 64 bars. We spent more money on booze than gasoline, and we went almost 10,000 miles.”
The film truly was a community effort with some real serendipity. Like, for example, when they were wondering where they’d find the lead actor. “When I moved to a house in Missoula,” relates Ristau, “a neighbor told me there was an actor from New York living across the street. So, I knock on his door, and there’s the beard. Rizzo’s a really magnetic guy, and he’s in. It was that kind of weird stuff all along, like, ‘Oh, by the way, a guy I know has an R60 he’ll rent to you for six months for a dollar.’”
The Best Bar in America has some rough patches, like life. But in its roughness lies its charm and authenticity. And it beautifully captures the essence, purity and simplicity of traveling on a motorcycle, particularly in some of the gorgeous shots on the road.
“Even if it failed as a movie, we were going to have a hell of a good time making it,” says Ristau with a laugh. The good times show in the finished product.
Visit bestbarinamerica.com to buy a copy.