The Billy Goat Saloon logo is the other unofficial Bayfield uniform, second to purple and gold Wolverines gear.
“Its punk rock meets backwoods,” said Laura Boyher, who has been a Bayfield resident and patron of the Billy Goat for 12 years.
Owner Ashleigh Tarkington purchased the Gem Village bar 16 years ago and kept the Billy Goat Saloon name. A patron at the time, Erik Skjolsvik, who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, created the bold black and white image in exchange for a $500 bar tab. (He also designed AJ’s Pizza logo.)
Considering the thousands and thousands of purchased Billy Goat T-shirts, Skjolsvik said he wished he would have asked for $1 or .25 cents per shirt instead of spirits.
“I’m just really glad people enjoy it and wear it proud wherever they go,” Skjolsvik said. “I’m glad it’s an iconic symbol for that area. It’s an honor.”
Tarkington wanted to create a new identity for the rough bar that has since become a community hub for live music, Chamber of Commerce meetings and even pre-school fundraisers. She wanted an image reminiscent of Jack Daniels, but a sharp observer will notice the long eyelashes and feminine features of the goat, which represents that the bar is owned by a woman.
“Now when I think of the Billy Goat sign, I think of the lovely Ashleigh because it looks like her,” said Tracy J. Tulley, who worked at the Billy Goat before Tarkington purchased the saloon.
Whether or not other patrons are aware of the feminine details, it could be what makes the image so striking. Michael Mills is a former University of Northern Colorado professor. For more than 25 years, he taught cultural studies and examined semiotics, the study of signs and symbols and their interpretation.
“The appeal to me is the subversion to the male dominate with the feminine imagery,” Mills said. He points out that the Western font, the word saloon and representation of a billy goat are all hyper-masculine symbols, but the downturned horns and eyes make the goat more female.
“It’s a statement of women empowerment,” Mills said, and that the sign is unusual in context, along with its location on the side of the highway. “I’m sure that’s part of the appeal of the product,” he said.
Tarkington said it’s funny to see tough bikers wearing a girlie goat. Another tough guy helped boost the image’s fame. American gambler and internet personality Dan Bilzerian, known for his over-the-top playboy lifestyle, used to wear the Dive Bar Shirt Club Billy Goat Saloon T-shirt that is a slightly altered version of the original for legal reasons. The shirt club is a monthly subscription where members receive a one-off T-shirt from various dive bars across the country.
The shirt club version includes highlighted yellow and red letters that spell out “beer loco.” Bilzerian wore the shirt in TV interviews and on the MTV show “Ridiculousness”.
Goats have varied symbolism in mythology and history. In folklore, a goat has represented human determination and stubbornness. Goats pulled the chariot of Norwegian god Thor. The Ibex is an Arabic symbol of beauty. Some Christians have connected the goat to the devil, while Jesus has also been represented as the ultimate scapegoat. In Greek mythology, Pan, who has goat hindquarters and horns, is the god of the wild.
Bilzerian owns pet goats and uses a horned silhouette as the logo for his high-end cannabis brand, Ignite. The male goat is also the epitome of masculine virility; Bilzerian uses the image on his media channels with him surrounded by guns and naked women. It’s unlikely he noticed the feminine features on his Billy Goat Saloon shirt.
“The macho guy wearing it is ironic,” Mills said.
Tarkington said some people find the sign intimidating. This could be because Skjolsvik used to create stage backdrops for metal legends like Pantera, Slayer, Megadeth and for Ozzfest music festivals. Skjolsvik said he painted the weathered Pantera font so often, he incorporated the same style to the Billy Goat font.
He said he was in a darker place during the decade he lived in Colorado and struggled with depression and alcoholism. While he said he is in a different place now, he likes his sexy logo with its dark and evil flair.
“Heavy metal is about rebellion, fighting against cultural norms and shock value, so incorporating (sinister) imagery with heavy metal is not surprising for that reason,” Mills said.
The reality is, the Billy Goat sign is simply really cool. (It even drew in the infamous punk band, The Misfits, to stop at the bar.) But Mills said signs and symbols are always open to interpretation. People can take an image for what it’s worth or apply their own free associations based on their personal experiences and beliefs.
“Ultimately, we make meaning of the world around us all the time and interpret things how we want to,” he said.
Mills added the Western feel of the sign adds to its allure. The West represents lawlessness but also freedom.
And because so many locals own a Billy Goat Saloon shirt, it attaches a sense of community and pride.
“Colorado is really a place of independence– it’s about being different and proud of it,” he said.