Bartender Ben Martello can often be found at the Silver Dollar, slinging cans of Bud Light and PBR to a boisterous group of regulars. But soon he'll be spending most of his time at the Frenchtown Club, which has been closed for the past two years. Martello bought the small-town tavern in September with plans to do a "minor facelift" and rename it Benny's Frenchtown Club.
"A poor choice," Martello cracks when asked why he bought the property. He goes on to explain that he's most comfortable behind a bar, since his family has owned the Silver Dollar since 1935 and he's worked there for 20 years.
"Someone once told me, 'You've gotta do what you know,'" Martello says. He also holds down a day job as an insurance agent for PayneWest, and in his experience, "People would much rather buy a beer than an auto policy."
Frenchtown Club closed in 2013 after the Montana Department of Revenue cited then-owner Mykell Erving with three license violations, including serving to a minor and failure to make lease payments. A July sales listing posted on Craigslist priced the property at $325,000.
Martello says he sees an opportunity to make Benny's Frenchtown Club a gathering place for the community where he grew up.
"Just a place where you can go in after a football game or basketball game or whatever event and have a pitcher of beer," he says. "Nothing special, but it's going to be clean and the service is going to be friendly." He's seeking a full liquor license, and once things are up and running, hopes to serve food as well.
Mary Ann Dunwell, public information officer for the Montana Department of Revenue, says the state Liquor Control Board has received Martello's request for a liquor license and has 90 days to issue a decision.
Martello says he hopes to open Benny's Frenchtown Club in December, pending approval of his liquor license.