Montana’s bar scene is as vibrant as its natural scenery. If you’re looking for a speakeasy vibe with expensive scotch, we’ve got it. How about a casual bar with some of the best beer around? Got that too. From its upscale craft-brew spots to its no-nonsense dives, the Big Sky State has everything you’re seeking for a great night out. Here are the 9 best bars in the state.
Perfection is perpetually sought, never achieved. But who wants perfect? The “Rhino,” as it’s affectionately known, is an ideal median between polished and divey. It’s got scruffs without having scars. A patina of age, more so than dilapidation. And aside from its charming speakeasy vibe, the bar must be a scotch-lover’s stopover. The impressive draught beer selection, centered around local and craft brewers, is overshadowed only by its scotches, ranging from $5-$100/serving.
Since 1952 Top Hat has remained a Missoula staple. A local mecca for live entertainment, the bar has concomitantly upped its beer and food game to accommodate a modernizing downtown and increasingly-informed dining public. The beers on tap are numerous, the bartenders are knowledgeable about good and trending cocktails, and there’s a decent bar menu to soak up the alcohol.
This undiscovered treasure isn’t just the locus of activity in the area, it is the activity. Arguably, it’s the only activity. Pony is a former mining camp, long since abandoned, embodying quite literally the diminutive stature of its namesake: Tecumseh “Pony” Smith. If it weren’t for the electricity and running water, and the too-clean veneer on some of the patrons’ hat brims, this bar would be indistinguishable from centuries past. It’s nostalgic almost to a fault. Almost.
Though assuming the name Casey’s in 1967, for over a century, the building has always been a place for pool, beer, and lately, live music. The Central Avenue establishment has long drawn locals and tourists, but a 2012 renovation has increased the traffic. This influx is largely due to a multi-level, multi-experience design, including a rooftop Sky Bar, VIP balcony, lounge and larger street-level dining and dance floor that transforms when the sun goes down. The venue is great for drinks and grub, and the recent renovation has modernized the space, attracting a promising hodgepodge of artists and diners.
On a rather lonely stretch of two-lane along the Idaho-Montana border, the ‘Knob has been a necessary stop for those going skiing at nearby Lost Trail, shopping in Missoula, or hunting and fishing along the Salmon River. The red-and-white wooden building is unassuming and home to those two crucial indulgences of the rural traveler: Beer and comfort food. The Western-centric menu has the mandatory King of Beers on tap, as well as a handful of local brews and the approachable menu staples of steak, wedge salad and pasta. Yeah, it’s divey and proudly unadorned. But so is Montana.
The casino and poker tables aside, the Railyard is a great live gathering place for libations, laughter and live music. It has an impressive selection of beer, especially local Montana brews, that’s best enjoyed during happy hour (4-6 p.m., drafts $2-3). For the most part, the Railyard toes the line between dive bar and brew-pub, to which the time-tested rule can be applied: The more divey the bar, the better the music—or the very least, the tunes are grittier, less pretentious and raw.
This is a great live entertainment venue—for music especially. The historic brick building and low light/dark wood aesthetic exudes an excitingly-volatile combo of laid back and lively. The stage, DJ booth, decent sound system and large dance space guarantee raucous good times. And every St. Patty’s Day, a live band rocks the house, a soundtrack to drink specials and special drinks.
At a major intersection slightly north of downtown, the Iron Horse is hard to miss. If any bar embodies a modernizing West, it’s this college-town hub. The architecture is Western in style, but polished with clean lines and modern flourishes. It’s got microbrew draughts from craft brewers and Bud Light in bottles. It’s got nachos and calamari, as well as avocado hummus and gluten-free black bean burgers. If one can’t chose between divey or cosmopolitan, or between whisky or wine, the ‘Horse happily splits the difference.
The retro-chic, historic Bozeman Hotel houses the best Irish bar in town. Soft lighting and even softer couches and seating make for a relaxed session for sipping whiskey, scotch or imported beer. This welcoming, unpretentious vibe attracts a horde of friendly, hungry and pleasantly-inebriated fun-seekers. This pub provides that jovial and modern bar experience with a good food menu to soak up all that Guinness.