Missoula's beer-soaked prayers were answered Feb. 17 when Southgate Mall announced that natural foods grocer Lucky's will be the mall's next major tenant, setting up shop in the old Sears by 2018. The Denver-based chain offers a gimmick that will undoubtedly appeal to local boozehounds: "sip 'n stroll," whereby customers can buy $2-$3 glasses of beer or wine to "enhance their shopping experience" while they peruse the artisanal toilet paper and free-range sweet potatoes. Lucky's will be preceded at the mall by the new Ovation 9 theater, which plans to offer craft booze accompaniments to the latest blockbusters.
The booze business is bustling elsewhere in town as well. Western Cider plans to open this spring on California Street, and the owners of Bridge Pizza are drafting preliminary plans to remodel the former Crystal Theater into Gild Brewing, which would become Missoula's 11th taproom.
Oprah may have once given everybody in her audience a car, but here in Missoula, the city motto might as well be: You get a craft beer! You get a craft beer! Everybody gets a craft beer!
We can only hope that the "business+craft beer" model continues to spread like wildfire. Craft beer at the laundromat! Craft beer at the record store! Craft beer at the dentist! Craft beer at the methadone clinic! Hell, stop by the Indy office and we'll pour you a pint, too! (Just kidding. As if we'd share.)
For real, though, Missoula has some catching up to do. A quick internet search shows used-book stores, barber shops, clothing exchanges and high-end boutiques around the country trying to sell the perfect shopping-under-the-influence experience pioneered by tipsy Amazon browsers and uptown Butte.
Soon, perhaps, the only places we won't be drinking craft beer are AA meetings. We think that the Founding Fathers, who were legendary boozehounds, would highly approve of this new phase in late-stage capitalism. No more will any of our banal human activities need to take place without the benefit of a slight buzz, a rousing discussion of hops varietals and an incipient headache.
So far, the gleaming promise of the 21st century has not yet delivered unto us jet packs, citywide wireless internet or, god forbid, affordable health care. But at least we're moving closer to the utopia we've always dreamed of: universal craft beer coverage.