Vestiges of the frontier and the wild west persist in Montana. Hungry Horse (pop 826) 15 miles east of Whitefish is one. In the severe winter of 1900 two draft horses, Tex and Jerry, got lost. They were found a month later in chest high snow and survived; hence, the town’s name. John Steinbeck stayed there while writing his highly acclaimed book: Travels with Charley: In search of America. Steinbeck wrote, “For other states I have admiration and even some affection; but with Montana it is love.“
Packer’s Roost is an outre biker bar in Hungry Horse, rumored to be named after convicted cannibal Alfred Packer. It is notable mainly for its former patron Ted Kaczynski a/k/a/ the Unibomber. This was his haunt while evading the FBI. It is unchanged from Kaczynski’s days and remains intimidating given the swarm of bikers milling around. It is no place for snowflakes, cupcakes or mollycoddles.
Just a few miles east of Whitefish is the Blue Moon Nite Club, a local fixture since 1940. We drove past it for years but were too apprehensive to venture inside. Finally, one Saturday night we took the plunge. I found a safe, well lit parking place and asked my wife to remain locked in the car while I made a foray inside. What I found was hard to imagine outside of Montana. We now are Blue Moon habitues and make it a point to take all our house guests there for an authentic Montana experience.
Saturday night at the Blue Moon is well outside most peoples’ experiential grasp. It has a live country and western band and spacious dance floor. People of all ages and backgrounds dance and enjoy the music. Nearly everyone is local and most are decked out in full western regalia. There are many accomplished dancers; however, everyone is comfortable participating – even a few old folks visiting from Florida.
Adjoining the dance floor is a long bar populated by working cowboys straight from the ranch quaffing Kokanee, the local brew. Although some appear wasted, they are unerringly polite. There is a casino with numerous jangling slot machines, the de rigueur live poker game and, of course, pool tables. The rest rooms contain avant-garde art, if you follow my drift. Prices are ridiculously low; beer is $1.50 and good scotch $7.00. The gestalt of all this unfolding simultaneously is something to behold.
On Central Avenue, Whitefish’s main street, sits the Bulldog Saloon. Bulldog’s is a bar cum restaurant cum poker room. It is packed with locals and also with visiting Canadians because it accepts Canadian dollars at par for alcohol. In the back is a poker area straight out of a western movie set – and a place I frequent. Montana has no-limit Texas hold’em poker, with the games usually in saloons. Families patronize Bulldog’s despite restrooms plastered with “art” that would make a porn star blush. Only last year did they post warnings for kids. Bulldog’s website is www.fart-slobber.com.
Something inenarrable unfolds on summer weekends precisely at 2:00 AM when bars and poker games close. Hundreds of well lubricated young people flood unto Central Avenue and the ensuing 15 minutes is a truly unforgettable Montana moment!