So at home
It's around noon on a recent Sunday and Old Post bartender Pat Allgeier, an insouciant, animated 39-year-old with a thick frame, gray muttonchops and a long brown ponytail, is fixing drinks for the brunch crowd. He spurts a circle of whipped cream on a snifter of Irish coffee, spears an olive, pickle and pepperoncini to garnish a bloody mary and pours champagne for a mimosa.
The bar's abuzz. Allgeier glides around, handing out menus and taking orders for, among other things, French toast stuffed with sausage, bacon, eggs and cheese. He chats with bellied-up patrons. He tells one that it's awfully warm out to be going duck hunting. After six years at Missoula's Old Post, Allgeier appears so comfortable he might as well be wearing a robe and slippers.
This work suits him—its fast pace, the coworkers. And, he says, "I enjoy drinking. It's hard to get away with that in any other industry."
Not that he really knows.
Allgeier's family owns the Cumberland Brews brewery in Louisville, Kentucky, where he grew up. He stumbled on Missoula about 15 years ago, when he and a friend came to Montana to fish and their truck broke down in Missoula. While a mechanic fixed it, they walked around town and into the Old Post.
His friend's girlfriend's sister worked at the Old Post. His friend, Michael Owens, would eventually move to Missoula and get a job here, too. "And about six years ago," Allgeier says, "I was done doing what I needed to do in Kentucky and he offered me a job and a place to live out here, so I took it." Now he's the bar's manager.
Allgeier's still fishing. He's on the river all the time. He frequents the upper Blackfoot. He shows me a photo on the bar wall of a 38-inch bull trout his friend and Old Post kitchen manager Loren Yoshinaga caught near Clearwater Junction. They measured it on a cooler, which was 36 inches, and its head and tail flopped over the edges.
Allgeier looks like he might be a Deadhead. "Cumberland Brews" gave a clue. When I ask what his favorite band is, he defers to Roger, a regular who's just walked in the door. Roger mulls it over. "Gotta go with the Stones."
"Let's go Stones and Widespread Panic," Allgeier says. "'Cause I was thinking Stones." Then he laughs. "Naw, screw both those. Say the Grateful Dead."
A couple of years ago, during the Old Post's annual summer pig roast in the parking lot out back, Allgeier confronted an intoxicated transient who kept trying to join the party. When Allgeier told him he wasn't welcome, the guy smacked him across the face—"open-handed, just like your mom would." The cops took the guy away.
And then there was the time that a patron—twice as big as Allgeier, Allgeier says, and that's pretty big—passed out on the bathroom floor with his pants around his ankles. "I walked in there and opened the stall door and this guy starts swinging at me." Allgeier retreated. "I had never been punched by a guy who had his pants down around his ankles, and it wasn't going to be the first."
"No offense, but I wouldn't want to find myself on the Old Post bathroom floor," I say.
"No, I wouldn't either, especially with your pants down. No offense taken."
Still, Allgeier says he's never really had a bad day at the Old Post, partly because he gets along so well with Owens, who's been a friend for more than 20 years, and Yoshinaga, the kitchen manager. "It might go back to the fact that we all like to fish," he says. "We all sort of have the same outlook on things"—and then he excuses himself to pour another screwdriver.
The best thing about Janie
Thursday night starts slow at Missoula's Union Club, downtown on Main Street. A handful of drinkers slouch at the bar, nursing whiskey and beer. Several more loiter at tables or curse missed pool shots. One guy pumps bills into a keno machine. The clack of cues against balls is the only sound that reaches above a whisper—besides Janie's laugh.
The bar was hoping to book some live music tonight. But with the holidays still fresher than the milk in most refrigerators, one or two members from each of the Union's regular stable of bands are out of town. Instead, a ping-pong table occupies the tiled dance floor.
Janie Pollock is a born-and-bred Missoulian. The slowness of the evening does nothing to mute the smile she flashes across the bar. Conversation passes as easily as if she's known each of her customers from birth. She moves fast, bouncing from the taps to the cooler and back, but each drink and drinker gets her attention. She gives everyone a chuckle as a chaser.
Pollock has been here for 25 years, through three managers and countless shots of Patrón and Jameson. She remembers the bar before the college crowd descended, when it was mostly union folk—mill workers and railroad guys and telephone company men. She was hired straight from a job at a Chinese restaurant—"where Feruqi's is now"—and hasn't budged since.
"Twenty-five years and she still lives off tips," a patron says.
The hair's gained Pollock something of a reputation around here. Silky and blonde, it tumbles down her face in columns, à la Farrah Fawcett's in Fawcett's heyday. Pollock stows her glasses up there.
Egan Jankowski-Bradley walks in looking for somewhere to hang out that isn't his parents' place. He just moved back from Seattle for school but used to be a regular here, years ago. Pollock shoots him a smile and asks how he's been—she recognizes him, if not by name then at least by face.
"I probably have been in this bar four times in the last five or six years," he says. "She knew me the minute I walked in the door."
He scoffs when asked what he thinks of the bartenders here, specifically Pollock. It's a rhetorical question anyway. Bartenders deal "with the worst of you," he says. They give you slack when you're drunk and treat you like nothing happened the next time you stop by. "They always manage to handle being busy and being personable at the same time," he says. "What more can you ask of a bartender?...Walking in here is like coming home."
At no more than five-foot-four, Pollock has to lean across the counter to hand out drinks or collect booze-drenched tips. A guy orders a glass of Pendleton. It's near the top shelf. Pollock has to stand on tiptoes to reach it. She still smiles.
The bar starts to fill up. Most of the stools are taken and a raucous game of ping-pong generates shouts from the direction of the stage. The keno player has abandoned his station for a spot at the bar. Both pool tables are occupied, with one group playing cutthroat. Pollock hustles from one end of the bar to the next, a blur of blonde hair and bedazzled denim.
A slender, dark-haired drinker strolls in. Janie greets him warmly and asks what he's drinking. He points to a half-sized bottle of champagne on the counter. She laughs and without another word hands him a bottle of Pilsner Urquell.
The job has its darker moments, Pollock says. Customers can get angry, even belligerent. Alcohol mixes with stress and emotions in strange ways. There's a bad apple every now and again, she says.
"But all the good people make up for that, hon. You have to keep on the bright side—otherwise, I wouldn't be here."
She calls everyone "hon."
Writers and journalists tend to flock here, from the university and the community. Most know Pollock. On the rowdier end, the Union is also an established hangout for the rugby players from the annual Maggotfest. The bar's sponsored a team for the past 10 years and hosts a lavish dinner for the rough-and-tumble crowd. "They light farts in the corner, put maggots on the bar," she says. "When one makes a goal—especially a young one—he runs through the bar naked and they throw beer on him."
Janie's figured out how to deal with the mess the rugby players leave behind: "I give them a mop and tell them to clean it up."
My buddy Mike walks in. Pollock remembers him, too. More to the point, she remembers a few months back when the Union was slow and Mike and I were having a heated conversation at the bar, about politics or music or some such. To the casual observer we must have looked a word away from fisticuffs—so Pollock jumped in with a beer and a smile.
I ask her how she could possibly remember that, given the number of conversations she's had tonight alone.
"There's a lot of things I don't remember, hon," she says.
Maybe, but she remembers the important stuff: your name, your drink, your ups and downs. A guy named Matt put it best earlier in the night: "The best thing about Janie," he said, "is Janie."
Within seconds of my arrival at Double Front Cafe's basement bar, Thor Morton asks, "You want a shot?"
It's still light out, on a recent overcast afternoon, and I have errands to run. I decline. But Morton is persuasive. He seems to pride himself on getting his patrons tipsy. It takes him only minutes to convince me to try the house special, "Smurf Piss," made with Captain Morgan rum and the sweet blue energy drink Liquid Ice, which, be warned, can lead to a morning after with a throbbing head and sticky teeth.
Morton beams as I sip it.
There are no windows in the Double Front bar. Rick James's "Brick House" plays on the jukebox. Afternoon regulars file in. I slowly sink into my barstool, feeling at home.
Morton, 40, is a tall man with a little paunch, dark hair and a thick, graying five o'clock shadow. His large pink cheeks make him appear strangely cherubic, like an overgrown child. He's quick to tell a joke and his booming laugh is contagious. He's a prince of barstool banter.
Highballs and tall tales are in Morton's blood. For years, his father and stepmother owned Swede's Bar in Drummond (which is now called "The Rough Stock Saloon"—which sounds like a gay bar, he says, joking). When he was growing up, Swede's was the place where neighbors commiserated about long winters and domestic dustups and planned for spring planting and summer rodeos. Morton learned the ins and outs of drinking there and began cultivating his own lifelong love of booze. "It's second nature," he says.
His downstairs domain at the Double Front is connected to the establishment's street-level restaurant by a staircase. The basement level smells like fried chicken but similarities end there. The Double Front's cavernous tavern feels like it belongs to an entirely different universe from the dining room upstairs, where families eat two-piece chicken dinners under bright lights.
Morton's worked at Double Front for seven years. Before that, he was a commercial crab fisherman in Alaska. He says he still dreams sometimes about hauling heavy nets from icy water, and wakes feeling like he hasn't slept.
Morton says it's the chicken that draws people to his clubhouse, but patrons like Garrett Smith, eating a ham sandwich at the basement bar, say Morton's the main attraction. "He remembers your name and makes you feel like you're at home," Smith says. "You get people who walk down the steps and see that Thor's not working and turn around and go back up."
Another regular, Gabriel, agrees. Gabriel's a vegetarian anyway. The draw here, he says, is more about the company, the feeling of being among a group of friends, even though many times you just met them moments ago. When Gabriel traveled to Ireland not long ago, Morton was the only non-family member to get a postcard. "It was a drinking-related postcard," Gabriel explains.
Morton is so in synch with his regulars that he might as well set a clock by their schedules. There's Gene. She's 94. "I'm her boyfriend," Morton quips. "She wants me to visit her at Grizzly Peak," the retirement home. And then there are the Hardin brothers, who will be here tomorrow night at 6:15. The Hardins call and check in with Morton if they can't make it on any given Thursday.
The analog jukebox, featuring classics from Roy Orbison, Elton John, Neil Young, Patsy Cline and Garth Brooks, plays four songs for $1. It's an old-school amenity, as is the silver dumbwaiter that delivers food from the upstairs kitchen to the bar below.
The dumbwaiter testifies to the history of the building on West Alder Street. Between 1909 and 1920, it was a pool hall. Rumor has it that during Prohibition, it was a bootlegging joint. It was dubbed "Double Front" because of its two entrances, one on Alder and another on Railroad Street. The Herndon family took it over in 1961 and is still going strong.
Morton has several qualities that endear him to the Herndon family, says Double Front manager Jason Herndon, among them the fact that he's a hell of a cribbage player. What's more, not only does Morton remember patrons' names, he has the uncanny ability to recall what they drink and eat. "He's just off the hook," Herndon says. "He's got food out there, he's cleaning tables and he's pouring drinks...Thor is our one-man show downstairs."
Morton says he's happy presiding over bar-side banter Sunday through Thursday from 3 and 11 p.m. In fact, he looks shocked when I ask him if he ever tires of bar life.
"What kind of question is that?" he asks.
— Jessica Mayrer
Claude will fix it
Like most good bartenders, the Golden Rose's Claude Alick is a babysitter, a psychologist and a friendly ear. Most customers are on a first-name basis with him and speak his name as they slide onto cracked faux-leather stools like it's part of their drink order. Alick doesn't need to know your name. He most likely remembers what you drink; and if he doesn't, his smile and booming laugh are enough welcome, even for the most browbeaten sad sacks.
It's easy to see that Alick, in his 60s, has been doing this for a very long time. So long, in fact, that he can't say for sure without a long pause. "Officially, I've been a bona fide bartender for 25 years," he says. "That might be disputed by some." It could be more like 30 years.
No matter, he makes each customer his personal charge, whether it's early in the evening on a slow Thursday with older gents yelling at "Wheel of Fortune" contestants' stupidity on the TV or jabronis and Jennys packed nut-to-butt clouding the red neon lit room with abundant sex hormones and a not-so-ironic taste for the band Poison. ("You know, Bret Michaels's band, the guy from 'Rock of Love?'" These kids make me sick.)
On this night, a woman in her mid-20s arrives with her boyfriend and a lady friend. She's been laid off and is visibly upset. She's looking to get good and drunked up. Later in the evening, she'll cry a little. Right now, she needs one thing: inspiration. She asks her bartender for it. "Clyde, I know you don't know me well, but I've had a bad day," she says, "and I need to hear something inspirational."
Alick feigns shyness and is demure in his response, never giving a sign of whether he knows this woman or not. He simply smiles and laughs and says, "Inspirational, huh," while mixing their cocktails.
They ask for shots and he gets downright inspired with his personalized take on the Tootsie Roll: coffee liqueur, vodka and perhaps some orange liqueur. The drinkers revel in how it tastes exactly like the fake chocolate candy. The laid-off lady is happy and looks momentarily relieved.
A regular who has been nursing a pitcher of PBR at the opposite end of the bar begins to talk Salman Rushdie with a new arrival. Alick laughs at me when I give him my best "What-in-the-wide-wide-world-of-sports-is-going-on-around-here?" face. To be fair, the look came due to the gentleman's poor showing during the aforementioned episode of "Wheel of Fortune." The gentleman hears Alick and me laughing and says, "You are sitting in a fairly literary bar, you know."
Seriously, though, what bar isn't "literary"?
The man continues, "He's the only bartender in town I can talk about books with—and he knows what he's talking about."
"Unlike other bars, you can walk out of here with literature in your hand," Alick adds.
Alick recently finished a play about the history of Haiti, featuring historical luminaries such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Frederick Douglass and Jean-Bertrand Aristide. With customers, he has an easy in for pimping his wares. He's from the Caribbean island country of Grenada, so his accent sounds exactly as one might expect.
"People ask me where I'm from and I say, 'Oh, there's a bio on the back of my book'—then they're hooked."
It works: Alick has sold more than 4,000 copies of his self-published works. It also reminds you that he really is at work to make money, not to be your besty. He'll even take your quarters, dimes and nickels. He puts the tip change in a large container and it comes out to $1,200 to $1,500 per year—plenty for a season pass to Larchmont Golf Course, where he's an avid player. "If that's the last of a customer's cash and he gives it to you," Alick says, "he is one generous bastard."
Alick is the generous bastard. He allows a regular who has forgotten his wallet to have a few drinks before the girlfriend arrives with wallet in hand. He allows people to whoop, holler and swear. "I figure you got the bastard drunk, if he wants to make an ass of himself, let him. We should tolerate him a little bit."
Around 11 p.m., the room begins to fill and the bastards get younger, the jukebox less ironic and louder. The laid-off woman is drunked up now and smiling. Alick's laugh can be heard over the din now and then. He moves from one end of the bar to the other, no specific pattern. If he recognizes your face, you'll be served first, like it or not.
There's a brief lull. Alick returns to the laid-off girl and asks if she's ready for the inspirational quote.
She most definitely is. She claps in excitement.
Alick leans in. She and her pals lean in, too.
"Never buy a bartender a drink when he's behind the bar," he says—"because it's like buying a whore a piece of ass."
Can you be too nice?
If Super Mario Bros. took place in a bar, it would probably look exactly like Donny Morey bartending at Flippers Casino. For one thing, Morey sports the Mario moustache and a perma-grin. He's short and seems to clip around the room with the kind of energy suited for cheerfully battling piranha plants, goombas and dragons. In his case, it's about cheerfully serving food and drink to barflies, overzealous Griz fans and herds of college students. Morey never sees it as a battle.
"I get along with the old ones, the young ones, the university students—everybody," he says. "I get a few gamblers who only come when I'm working because they say they have fun and I make them laugh."
On a recent Friday night, Foreigner's "Head Games" is playing on the jukebox as Morey weaves through the tables of chattering patrons to deliver burgers and pitchers of Kokanee. It seems like every 20 minutes he's giving someone a hug or a handshake. One young woman shows him her engagement ring, and he beams with pride. He gives her a hug, too. Does anyone not know Donny Morey? At least on this night, it seems like he's the host of his own party.
When I first noticed Morey, in 2003, I had hung out in Flippers Casino only a handful of times. I knew him better as a patron of the coffee box I worked at in the Food Farm parking lot. When you work in a drive-thru coffee box, you learn that the least flashy people are often the most generous tippers, and that was true of Morey, too. He'd buy a coffee worth a couple bucks and tip me five. It's not something you forget, especially when people in fancy SUVs are tipping 50 cents. Morey tips McDonald's and Burger King employees, too.
"At McDonald's or Burger King, they say, 'I can't take a tip,'" he says. "But I tell them, 'I'm not going to take it, either,' and I drive off, so they have to take it." He laughs. "They're doing a service like anyone else. Some nights I get pretty good tips and I don't mind sharing. What comes around goes around."
Bob Collins, a trucker and Flippers patron, says Morey's a unique friend. "I go out and party with him and he's genuine," he says. "You see him how he is."
Collins sits at the bar plenty of nights, but on this occasion he's proudly showing off two wood sculptures—a howling wolf and a bear on its hind legs—that he bought from a local chainsaw artist. He's decided to leave the wolf at Flippers as a present for the bar. This is exciting to Morey.
"That's the kind of thing people do for each other here," he tells me.
But Morey's the king of generosity. On New Year's Eve, he gambled in the casino for the first time in five years and turned $30 into $110. He tipped out the waitress, bought two pitchers of beer and two pizzas from Papa Johns and shared them with everybody he could. Then he went down to the Golden Rose and got drunk and staggered home. "That was a good night," he says.
Morey grew up in Monterey, Calif. and moved to Ashland, Mont. in 1977, where he worked the insert machine in the mailroom of a Catholic Mission. He finally moved to Missoula in 1991, got a job at the Holiday gas station and then, in 1998, started his stint at Flippers.
His father, who died when Morey was 8, was a mystery to him. One day, he found his father's birth certificate, which said that he'd been born in Homestead, Mont. "People always asked me, 'Why do you like Montana?' And I never really knew the reason why, but maybe that's why. In the blood."
One dark winter morning at 4 a.m., a man came into Flippers. No one else was around. The man was wrapped up, his face obscured by what looked like a ski mask that made Morey's hair stand on end.
"I didn't hear him come in but I seen him come up," he says. At the time, he had a gun behind the bar for protection.
"I started reaching for it and he screams at me, 'Donny, it's me, Wes!'
"He'll come in and joke about it now: 'Remember when you almost shot me?'" He chuckles. He feels lucky, he says, that nothing worse has happened to him.
Once I started coming into Flippers more, even if it was just once a month, Morey figured out my name and never forgot it. He'd start pouring a pitcher of PBR as soon as he saw my group of friends walk through the door.
"He has a Rolodex of everyone's names in his head," says Alex Bittner, son of Flipper's owner Ross Bittner. "Some people won't have been in for five years and so when they come in, I say, 'Donny, who is that?' so I can recall their name."
Bartender Aaron Roos concurs. "He remembers what people like to drink. He remembers when they got a raise. He remembers everything. And he's the nicest guy in the world."
It's easy to see how a bartender's patience with people could wear thin over the years. For Morey, it's the opposite. He's even been known to drive a few patrons home when they were too sloshed to make it.
"I have more patience for people now than I did when I started," he says. "I think people just want to get along and they want to fit in. I can tell when somebody walks in and something bad has happened, or if they're lonely. I hear their problems. Last Friday, someone said he got dumped on New Year's. I said, 'What! I'm so sorry. Let me buy you a beer.' I told him, 'Hey, that's okay. Something better's gonna come along.'"