Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Upscale wine bar on deck for Missoula

Posted By on Tue, Aug 14, 2012 at 3:33 PM

Nick Checota has big plans for Missoula’s old Army Navy building downtown. He sees the 100-year-old red-brick structure at 322 North Higgins Ave. fully renovated to its historic glory, with well-dressed locals sipping merlot and pinot noir atop a sunny rooftop deck. “The project is a vast improvement over what was there previously,” Checota told the Missoula City Council August 13.

After decades in business, the Army Navy Economy Store moved out of the space earlier this year. Checota purchased the historic building in February. On Monday night, he asked council for what the city calls a “tavern/nightclub conditional use permit.” That would enable Checota to operate an upscale restaurant and wine bar there.

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Checota plans on leasing the structure to a group of partners that include Brett Evje, who owns a stake in Missoula’s Ciao Mambo, and in Plonk Wine, in Bozeman. “My guess is he gets open in early January,” Checota told the Independent in an interview after the council meeting.

Though there are still some hoops for the developer and restaurateurs to jump through, including acquiring a liquor license, they aim to pattern the North Higgins gathering place after Plonk, known for fancy cocktails and savory appetizers. According to application materials submitted to the city, the establishment will “attract an affluent clientele that is currently under-served.” After Checota’s Monday night pitch, Mayor John Engen quipped, “Sounds like a place I wouldn’t be allowed to frequent.”

Despite Engen’s humor, council was sold, approving the permit unanimously.

During the Monday night public hearing, however, one local cautioned that the new bar might make late-night traffic on the strip next to Feruqi’s even more of a party hotspot.

“I’d just like the city council to take into consideration that the building adjacent is a bar-tavern already,” the man said. “It’s high-end food, high-end wine. [That] doesn’t mean that there won’t be traffic until 2 in the morning.”

Another local voiced support for the project. And despite his humor, Engen seemed to agree with the council majority. “A whole bunch of people are going to be very happy because they can go to Plonk in Missoula,” he said.

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