Drink Like a Local
hatever your taste in drinking establishment, Missoula has you covered. Just don’t ask for bottle service. There is a saloon for every ilk, from the deepest dive to Montana’s version of swank. Clubs? Not really. But you can dance at just about any of the following and no one will care. Maybe stay off the tables.
Read on for the best places to grab an ice-cold beer (domestic or local), discover a mouth-watering cocktail (again, made with domestic or local spirits), and devour Missoula’s best bites, all while staying in the heart of downtown.
CATEGORY: Dive Bars
We’ll start at the bottom. We have everything here.
What is your definition of dive bar? Maybe you call it a Hole-in-the-wall? Backwater tavern? The office? Whatever reference you use we all have the same scene in our heads: dark, dirty, smells like stale beer (and maybe old fry grease), and has that special something. There’s no shortage of these places in Missoula and here is the top of the bottom.
“A pensioner’s bar,” says one patron when asked about Chalie B’s. On the walls hang evidence to support his claim. A row of ancient portraits encircles the place. Black and white. Old. Perfect. Behind the oxbow bar young bartenders stand their ground against pickled veterans, and sling “vitamin R” at hipster regulars.
At the back, like a bayou glistening in the twilight, The Dino Café offers creole favorites served by the light of fluorescent tubes. Get the gumbolaya, a perfect mashup of hot gumbo and spicy jambalaya, accompanied by a hunk of French bread and cold pats of butter. Wash it down with a local microbrew or a tallboy of Rainier, both options take you to a version of gastronomical nirvana only a food coma can bring. Charlie’s is the place you go when you want and offer no opinion. You exist “at the corner of space and time” which happens to be 428 N. Higgins.
With over 50 beers from local to exotic on tap, The Rhinoceros never fails to deliver a stampede of good times. Go “around the world in 50 beers” and you earn a pair of Rhino scrubs. It’s both physically and legally impossible to do this in one sitting. Come back another day, Kevin and crew will welcome you like a local.
Shuffleboard, billiards, and peanuts accompany your international journey. You will meet interesting people and you will see some things that make you question your fashion sense. All while admiring the best selection of scotch whisky in western Montana. A fact you would not expect from a place that looks like a beer comes with a shot of penicillin. It’s all part of the charm of this eccentric watering hole. Find it just south on Ryman St. from either ATG office.
The official bar of ATG and unofficial co-host of Quote 2 Cast. There is no force in the universe that can persuade an ATGer to give up Red’s as their bar. “Conference Room R” as it’s affectionately known, Red’s is the default beer-meeting place. Not the fanciest place, certainly not the best selection of beers or booze, and you’ll probably leave with sticky shoes, but Vaughn and the folks at Red’s are an extension of the ATG family and it shows.
Get a red beer, release some pretension (and regular tension), and enjoy the simple pleasures of an old-school Montana bar. Located conveniently between the two ATG offices.
We love craft beer in Missoula. So much so that at least two new breweries will open in the time it takes to read this sentence. Almost.
Breweries in the Garden City don’t conform to one standard. They don’t have a mold. If you like beer at all, you will find your happy place amongst the following selection whittled down from the much longer list.
The Myrtle Street Taproom, the new name and once the sole location of Kettlehouse Brewing, and affectionately known as The K-Hole has been at the center of Missoula beer culture since its founding as a U-brew in 1995. Apologetically hodgepodge, like a college student’s first apartment, K-Hole welcomes all walks to come sit with beer-in-hand inside its corrugated metal walls. This is the home of Cold Smoke, a legendary Scotch Style ale named for the famed high-mountain Montana snow that is so light you’d believe you were skiing on vapor. Trust that there is no better powder day than an encounter with cold smoke.
Kettlehouse Southside is a self-proclaimed beer laboratory with an ever-rotating selection of fermented ports of call. Try the Shady Brady New England style IPA or the now-legally named Fresh Bong Water Pale Ale. Lighter and darker options, more hoppy and less, are available so don’t be afraid to experiment up and down the menu.
Open later than most breweries and without a limit due to a special license, you can catch a beer from noon to 9:30 pm. Just head a few blocks south of the ATG office, across Higgins Street Bridge, and hang a quick right to 602 Myrtle Street.
If the nuances of the English language are not your hobby then you may have pronounced this one like draw-t works or drow-t works. The latter made you feel thirsty and in need of a beer. Mission circuitously accomplished. Properly pronounced draft werks these guys have been serving Missoula’s northside crowd since 2011. With beer names like Scepter Head IPA and That’s What She Said Cream Ale, the Draught Works crew is as creative with their names as their interpretation of traditional styles.
If it’s a hot day cool off on DW’s deck, under a water mist system, with a pint of Blood Orange Gose. This tart and salty fruit-forward style is a nice break from the hop-craze and takes the sweat level down about 10 degrees. Find this chill zone a little off the beaten path but still walkable at 915 Toole Avenue.
TAMARACK BREWING COMPANY
TMC answers the two questions you have after imbibing a pint or three: Do they have more beer? Can I have delicious pub food? Maybe those come out as one question depending on how you handled the Cold Smoke…
At TMC Missoula – their home brewery is a hundred or so miles north in the Flathead. Same great beer and food there, too – you’ll want to start with a Beermosa – TMC’s apricot-infused Sip N’Go Naked wheat ale, orange juice, and a splash of something extra. You may say you’re not a fruit-beer person, you don’t do the froo-froo, but oh yes my friend, you do, you do. Walk your fruity new friend out to the back patio and get acquainted while looking out on the river surfers at Brennan’s Wave.
Order a keg-top of Missoula’s best nachos (served quite literally on the top of keg) and switch to one of Tamarack’s more traditional beer options. We recommend the Hat Trick Hop IPA. Repeat as necessary until you and the crowd of college bros you’ve attracted with your nachos finish the keg-top.
CATEGORY: A Bit More Upscale
Now we move to the slightly more formal category of eateries that also have one hell of a drink selection. Up to this point you non-beer drinkers have felt a bit left out. That’s understandable. Here’s where we make up ground.
The I-Ho has gone through its fair share of makeovers. From the early iterations as part micro-brewery/part restaurant to a stint as a corner bar, to its current status as Missoula’s most “extra” bar. We’re not sure what that means either but I’m sure the Abercrombie bro with the popped collar standing guard over the pool table will fill you in. That is if you can tear his eyes off the bouncy blonde in the crop top trying for free drinks from the bartender.
You guessed it – The Iron Horse is a college bar. Thursday nights see droves of newly christened drinkers slurping down bottom shelf vodka sodas by the pair for the now-infamous Two for One Night. You’ll be double-fisting Nikolai for just $4 a round.
Don’t let that status fool you. The I-Ho’s kitchen is great, maybe extra great. Get the tender 501 with sweet potato fries and a blue-green drink called the Irish trash can. If you bring a group you can have a nacho-eating competition from either side of a plate big enough to rival the keg nacho experience at Tamarack.
There are four more pages of delicious food and drink you need to discover for yourself on their menu. Find them at 501 N. Higgins Avenue.
THE OLD POST
Just across the street from the Iron Horse is the American Legion Post 101 and Old Post Pub. Clad in red brick and wood paneling, this hipster paradise serves oversized portions of eclectic Americana. Get a PBR tallboy and settle in for a Thanksgiving dinner-worthy stuffing of self. Try the yard bird, an open-faced turkey sandwich with cranberry dressing and brown gravy. Something lighter, if that’s the mood, is the drunken goat salad which comes complete with two deep-fried herbed goat cheese balls.
The bar is stocked well enough that wine drinkers, beer connoisseurs, and whiskey snobs can all find a reason to belly up side by side. Strap on your overalls and Buddy Holly glasses and head to 103 Spruce Street.
Just up the road from The Old Post, and even the Iron Horse, is an oddity in downtown Missoula. Plonk is urban and even urbane. Sophistication is apparently now a successful business model for bars on the north side of the river, it certainly works at Plonk. Sandwiched between a dive bar (not the good kind) and an investment firm, the design and atmosphere, and price, feels big city. However, this higher price leads to drinks that are creative and food that is scrumptious.
Plonk promotes itself as a wine bar, and enthusiasts finally get the pampering they’ve been waiting for in Plonk’s extensive, varietal-spanning, all-region-encompassing cellar list. Cocktail fans also enjoy the spotlight with a full page dedicated to exclusive mixes like the Maker’s ginger – Maker’s Mark bourbon, ginger simple, fresh orange juice, fresh ginger, and garnished with candied ginger.
Grab a sport coat or shawl and head to 322 N. Higgins Avenue.
THE RED BIRD
Rounding out our categorized dissection of Missoula’s liquor license holders is an establishment that has the distinction of being both very good, and a little mysterious. The Red Bird occupies most of the first floor of the historic Florence Hotel. Don’t let the Art Deco facade fool you, the interior is just as outdated and grandiose. However, this stops once you cross the threshold of The Red Bird.
From the lobby entrance you travel directly to the lounge and bar that is the primary drop-in spot for those wanting to spend a bit more for an ever-rotating beer list of imports and hard-to-find labels. The same can be said for the wine. You will discover something new and memorable among The Red Bird’s selection.
Feeling peckish? Charcuterie plates, champagne fondue, and poblano chicken sausage kick off the appetizer menu. The main course could include prime cuts of Montana beef or fresh market price fish. Dessert is beneigts, no question about it.
Behind a curtain, just off the lounge area, is the restaurant dining room that is by-reservation only. Discover the mystery behind the curtain at 111 N. Higgins Avenue but be prepared for what you might find.
We can’t end on four dollar signs. That just wouldn’t befit where we began this sudsy journey. So instead let’s get comfortable in our own skin. Come as you are to the Top Hat. Renovated a bit ago from a very rundown, but wonderfully classic, music venue, the Top Hat is now a wonderfully classic, very nicely updated music venue.
They kept the back bar from the original Top Hat, which is the first thing you notice, and the thing you can’t look away from upon entering. It is simply grand and beautiful. They don’t make em like they used to. And it’s stacked with the finest bottles of booze from Montana and beyond.
The front bar has a brand new tap system housed in an old-school-looking brass contraption. The coldest froth you ever did taste pours from this time-hopping beer dispenser and makes its way around the massive open dining room/concert hall. Sit anywhere and order anything to drink, then crack the menu.
Ryan Corwin a Missoula native, is a bit of a dabbler.
By day, he is primarily the Marketing Director for Montana sporting goods stalwart Bob Ward's, but Ryan also dabbles as a writer, a radio disc jockey, a journalism teacher, a barely-exotic dancer, father to the world's cutest baby, and husband to our very own do-it-all Kymberly Corwin.