Nowhere does Missoula’s unique mix of population become more apparent than in its many bustling watering holes. Some bars are of interest because of their historic character; others because of the characters they attract.
Remember that bar life in Montana is primarily social in nature. Bars are where people meet up. There is no stigma attached to not drinking alcohol. Even if you don’t care for a drink, go along for the friendly welcome. Be prepared, however, for lots of unrepentant gambling and a certain loss of ambience to the chattering of electronic gaming devices.
The downtown area is chockablock with curious old bars. The Missoula Club (139 W. Main, 406/728-3740) is a peanut-shells-on-the-floor, grill-in-the-back sports bar with fixtures unchanged since the 1940s. Don’t attempt to resist their grilled hamburgers. They are, in their simplicity, the stuff of legend.
Also legendary, but for different reasons, is the Oxford Club at Pine and North Higgins. Although not always edifying, it has character by the bottleful and a certain attraction for writers. Watch the creative writing students who eye the bar’s sullen denizens, waiting for epiphanies.
More standard youthful hangouts are the Rhino (158 Ryman, 406/721-6061) and the Top Hat (134 W. Front, 406/728-9865). The latter offers live music (blues and swing, mostly) in an atmosphere heavy with Missoula’s peculiar indolent funkiness.
Missoula’s music club scene is found at Sean Kelly’s (130 W. Pine, 406/542-1471), where there’s jazz, Celtic, and a bit of everything, including a good selection of Irish whiskeys.
The Union Club (208 E. Main, 406/728-7980) is another popular downtown spot for live music.
If you’re searching for the gay bar in town, descend the steps at 225 Ryman Avenue (406/543-9174) to the AmVets Bar (yes, the AmVets).
Red’s White Sox Bar (217 Ryman, 406/728-9881) is a safe haven for Chisox fans and others willing to stand up for a favorite team.
Another old-time bar that’s a comfortable place to play pool and mingle in a mixed locals-and-students atmosphere is the Silver Dollar (307 W. Railroad St., 406/728-9826).
If you want to go out and sample Missoula nightlife but aren’t into the bar scene, go to Break Espresso (432 N. Higgins, 406/728-7300), a coffee shop that stays open late and is a magnet for caffeine-propelled studying and hanging out.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition