For the first time in seven years, the kitchen in the back of the Union Club is open and slinging burgers. The first day of business? Friday, March 17, St. Patrick's Day. "Oh, it was busy," says manager Jon Peragine.
A succession of businesses have leased the club's small kitchen over the years, most recently Mandolin, which closed in 2010. Peragine says the Union Club board of trustees decided last year to try the endeavor in-house as a complement to the bar. Thus the Union Club Bar and Grill, which, conveniently enough, is the name that's been on the sign out front all along.
The revamped grill features an a la carte menu filled with bar-food staples like burgers, salads, nachos, onion rings and house-cut fries, as well as Philly cheesesteaks and a midwestern specialty called the "Horseshoe." (Think cheese fries plus toast points and ham.) Customers can order at the window at the back and get their drinks at the bar up front. Hours are currently 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Peragine says the Union Club board recruited him in late 2016 after admiring his work managing the Eagles Lodge on South Avenue. As the Union's new manager, Peragine's goal is to upgrade the venerated local bar—which consistently wins "Best Place to Dance" in the Indy's Best of Missoula poll—and make it a daytime destination, too. He is not unaware that the Union is surrounded by major downtown construction projects, including the new library, a student housing complex, condos and the Marriott that's replacing the Missoula Mercantile.
"There's all kinds of things going on in this neighborhood that should bring business," Peragine says.
To that end, expect more Union improvements on the way. Peragine has already updated the lighting throughout the space, and the mint-green paint in the women's bathroom is gone, replaced with a burgundy-and-gold color scheme and new Art Deco-style fixtures. Next up, Peragine is planning improvements to the men's room, a new wooden dance floor, and replacement of the decades-old tile throughout the venue. He's talking to structural engineers about whether it's possible to remove the giant load-bearing pillar that currently divides the dancefloor and blocks views of the stage.
Peragine says the improvements—and the new restaurant—are all meant to enhance what already makes the Union a draw, including monthly comedy nights and live local bands every weekend.
"My motto is, I don't want to lose anyone, I just want to add to what we have," Peragine says.
Starters is a new periodic column profiling new food businesses, trends and restaurants in and around Missoula. Send tips to email@example.com.