Come September, the underground Ryman Street watering hole formerly known as AmVets will see new life, replete with DJs, dancing and live music. "We've got a lot of work to do yet," says Bob Manzer as he eyes buckets, garbage cans, and mortar bags that sit not far from a new stage atop a recently renovated cement floor.
The personable Manzer has for the past 21 years owned the Bodega bar, a roomy tavern that's especially popular among the sorority-fraternity set. They pack the place nightly to take advantage of the bar's indoor basketball hoop, talk about Griz football and flirt into the early morning hours.
Unlike the Bodega, its downstairs neighbor AmVets couldn't stay in business. The cavernous club operated under a charter granted by the national AmVets service organization, composed of war veterans. The club was ostensibly a hangout for military types, while most locals knew it as a gay bar. Prior to closing AmVets last fall, its manager, Mike Might, weathered a series of blows. The Missoula City-County Health Department shut the bar down in Sept. 2010 for multiple health-code violations. The next month, Might pleaded guilty to operating gaming machines without a license.
When it became clear AmVets would stay shuttered—the national organization pulled Might's charter after the guilty plea—Manzer jumped at the chance to expand his operation underground. Manzer's new club will be called Monk's. It will operate under the Bodega's liquor license. "I don't want to be a jock joint, I don't want to be a gay joint. I want to appeal to everybody," Manzer says. "Why the hell would you limit yourself?"
Manzer's son, Justin, says he is already networking with music makers and venue owners in neighboring cities, aiming to make Monk's a destination for acts from across the region. "Northwest tours would be sweet," says the younger Manzer, who appears equally excited about Monk's massive new dance floor. "We want a place for ladies to dance...Every girl that comes in says she wants a place to dance."