Lights Down. Volume Up.
Jesse from San Diego was busy explaining what brought him to northwest Montana when a dancing woman caught his eye. He stopped short and stared as the gray-haired woman gingerly lifted one foot and clicked her toes then heel against the floor in rhythm with the lively jig swirling through the barroom at Brannigan’s Pub. A young man in a fisherman’s shirt and well-worn shorts lurched to his feet, took the elderly woman’s hands, and joined in the toe-tapping dance. Jesse smiled.
“I mean, where else am I going to see a hipster dude and a woman who could be his grandmother, dancing to Celtic music?” he mused.
Oh, such scenes might appear here and there in other parts of the country. But around Kalispell, uncommon communion seems more the rule than the exception wherever folks belly up to a bar or step onto the dance floor.
Don’t come here looking for places to ‘see and be seen.’ Walk into any local watering hole and you’re more likely to meet your next best friend, with whom you will soon be crooning “American Pie” while some random guy in the corner strums the guitar he happened to bring along. By tomorrow, you’ll probably be zip-lining on Whitefish Mountain together.
Such is the vibe that binds the otherwise diverse Flathead Valley nightlife scene. Here’s a quick roundup of what you’ll find at a few of the area’s popular evening hangouts; you can also visit FlatheadEvents.net for a calendar of upcoming performances and events.
To out-of-towners, Moose’s might not look like the most inviting place from the outside. For one thing, the name of the tavern is nowhere to be seen on the building’s flat, weathered wood façade; there are only criss-crossing “Saloon” signs. You can’t really see through the windows to know what kind of folks might be inside. But trust me, you want to open that door and take a chance. Within the dimly lit, low-ceilinged barroom, you’ll wade through ankle-deep sawdust and peanut shells to a picnic-style table where names of regular patrons dating back decades are carved into the surface and on the rafters overhead. It might look rough on the surface, but Moose’s is one of the friendliest places you’ll find anywhere. This is the place you’ll tell your friends about, when they ask what Montana is really like.
406 Bar and Grill
If you find yourself wondering why you bothered to pack that silky evening dress or your new Armani jeans, you just haven’t found your way to the 406 Bar and Grill yet. With its cozy, shaded outdoor deck and classy wood interior, this is a place that exudes attention to detail and cool contemporary culture. That said, it’s also a place where patrons don’t think twice about showing up for happy hour in whatever they wore out on the river this morning. An extensive tapas menu makes this a great place to catch up with old friends while exploring new flavors.
With its full complement of Old World whiskies and beers, Brannigan’s has fast become a popular hotspot since it opened on East Center Street in late 2012. Every Monday, the pub hosts live music played by a pick-up group of local Celtic musicians. But even when that’s not happening, there’s a good chance someone will break out in song. And there’s a good chance that you, basking in the glow of Guinness-fueled, pasty-fed camaraderie, will start singing along. Also remember that if you’re around on the 17th of any month, it’s either St. Patrick’s Day (if it’s March) … or it’s St. Patrick’s Training Day. Either way, this is the place to be.
I’m not sure what’s up with the gigantic pole and crow’s nest out front; but one thing’s sure: It makes finding Scotty’s easy. With plenty of TVs, solid bar food and an unpretentious vibe, this is a great place to catch a game, catch up with friends — or make some new ones. Depending on the night, you might catch a local band or open mic night at Scotty’s. Last time I visited, I got swept up in an impromptu dance party, inspired by nothing but the spirit of the moment. That’ll happen. And if you’re looking for a step up from the bar menu, then step next door to the adjacent Winchester Steakhouse, which serves some of the best food in northwest Montana.
The Kalispell Brewing Company
Northwest Montana is a hotbed of the state’s craft beer boom, and few breweries have made a bigger or faster splash on the scene than the Kalispell Brewing Company. Opened in 2014 by a couple of professional skiers, the brewery on Main Street has become a popular afterwork watering hole and hub of Kalispell’s active adventure set. It’s also a great place to catch live musical acts, which take the stage every Saturday evening this summer (and on other occasions year-round). Check out the upcoming lineup — and the tantalizing list of current brews — at the brewery’s website.
Blue Moon (Columbia Falls)
If, instead, you packed your cowboy boots and are looking for a place to dance with your honey, you’ve gotta take a drive up to the Blue Moon Nightclub. Located on Highway 2 west of Columbia Falls, the Blue Moon is a classic Montana honkytonk. Yes, that’s a real (stuffed) polar bear hanging out with real (stuffed) bighorn sheep behind the glass in the corner. And yes, they really do have a rodeo right out back, every summer. After you’re done gawking, you’ll find here good live music, plenty of willing dance partners and a quintessential slice of Montana culture.
BONUS: ROCK OUT(SIDE)
During the summer months, the lawn in front of the Museum at Central School is the place to be on Thursday evenings for the weekly Thursday!Fest. Part carnival, part concert and part food fair, Thursday!Fest is a great way to experience Kalispell’s friendly local culture while hearing the best of the region’s musical acts. The 2015 series starts June 25. Find details about the weekly musical lineup at this link.