As we are reminded everyday by the massive historic Labor Temple, just off Higgins Street in the heart of downtown, Missoula was a working town–not just a college town–for most of its existence. Laborers, whether for the railroads, the sawmills, and numerous factories, daily passed through the downtown on the way to work and then to home. And they had their choice of downtown watering holes to grab a drink and a bit of relaxation if they were so inclined.
I understand that it is more than a stereotype to wax eloquent about a western town’s bars, but frankly I cannot help myself. Whenever I came to Missoula while a Montana resident, and when I go there today, my plans center around simple propositions–do I go to the Northern Pacific Railroad passenger station and turn left to stop at the Double Front for a brew and some of the best fried chicken in America (and remember I’m a southerner), or do I stroll down Higgins Street and grab a burger and beer at the Oxford?
It sorta depends on the mood–the Double Front is more of a family place–it even has been gussied up a bit since my time there in the 1980s. The Oxford has a well earned reputation for being a bit rough-edged, but I love it, warts and all.
I have good friends who still wish to argue the virtues of a quick bite at the Missoula Club, a great place just off Higgins Street. In fact, I can say the same for the Stockmans Cafe and Bar, as well as Red’s Place, which has gone the sports bar route.
And when I really want to go old school, I return to the Northern Pacific passenger station, find Railroad Street and then venture in–and I mean venture–the Silver Dollar Bar, one of the city’s first to reopen after the end of Prohibition and still serve customers today.
The Silver Dollar, like the Double Front, were meccas not just for railroad workers but also travelers weary of life on the rails and looking for a bit of liquid refreshment. It remains a drinkers’ bar today.
I realize that Missoula now has a wide range of downtown establishments–even a wine bar for a good measure–and I wish them well. But give me the Ox, the Double Front, or the Club any day, any time.