Granny’s Gourmet Donuts, Bozeman
You have to get to Granny’s extra early to snag one of the gooey concoctions dreamed up daily by owner and self-taught doughnut chef Robert McWilliams. Daily specials at his cash-only, hole-in-the-wall shop near Montana State University have included Love Grenade (a raspberry cream-filled doughnut iced with fresh lemon buttercream) and the Heisenberg (named for Breaking Bad character Walter White’s alter ego): frosted vanilla buttercream topped with crunchy blue rock candy and Pop Rocks. One of McWilliams’ personal favorites is Swine Fever, a maple long john with hickory smoked pulled pork. “I like naming my donuts after diseases,” says McWilliams. “I'm trying to imagine a bubonic plague one.”
Norm’s News Soda Fountain & Candy Shop, Kalispell
Original soda fountains are a rare find in the age of fast food and convenience stores. Norm’s News Soda Fountain & Candy Shop opened in its Opera House Square location in 1938 and has been open there ever since. Sit at the counter and order a hand-pat burger and fries. Wash it down with a brown cow (chocolate syrup, milk, and root beer) or old-timey Green River soda. Look closely at the wall mural painted (by local artist Clark Heyler) above the candy counter and you might notice some of the same people working or eating in the shop. Every face in the mural holds a special place in Norm’s history. Previous owners Norm and Eleanor Schappaker and Bill and Pat Shiells are up there, along with family, friends, and a few beloved customers of the current owners, the Pirrie family, who also run the adjacent Western Outdoor store.
Battle of the Breakfasts in Bozeman
East Main Street in downtown Bozeman is the scene of a friendly (and filling) battle of the breakfasts. Two iconic eateries located only a couple of blocks apart represent the Old West and the New West versions of the most important meal of the day. In one corner is the classic: Western Cafe. The retro (no Wi-Fi) diner serves up hearty, homemade fare such as biscuits and gravy, chicken-fried steak, and calorie-laden cinnamon roll French toast. In the other corner is a relative newcomer: Nova Cafe. The artsy breakfast bistro specializes in locally sourced items like Locavore Benedict—co-op sourdough, Yellowstone Grassfed Beef summer sausage, and poached local eggs, topped with Field Day Farms micro-greens.
Sip 'n Dip Lounge, Great Falls
“It’s mermaids swimming behind a big glass window—all in the middle of landlocked Montana,” says Sandra Johnson-Thares, general manager of O’Haire Motor Inn, the upstairs of which houses the eclectic Sip ’n Dip Lounge. While young women in mermaid costumes swim Tuesdays-Saturdays in a pool for tips, Piano Pat, a 79-year-old lounge singer (she's been playing the Sip 'n Dip for half a century), belts out “Sweet Caroline” as the packed crowd joins in. Keeping watch are five tiki statues, the biggest of which was named George by locals. A favorite of cowboys, college students, and bachelorettes, the lounge is always humming.
“Expect the unexpected,” says Johnson-Thares. “The crowd is never the same. Some nights it's locals; some nights it's all out-of-towners. Some nights it's mixed. But no matter who is in the Sip 'n Dip on any given night, you can always find someone to talk to about just being here.”
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Moose’s Saloon, Kalispell
Moose’s hasn’t changed much since 1957 when Moose Miller and his wife, Shirley, opened their Old West saloon with its swinging doors and sawdust floors. The Millers' daughter Wallis runs the place now and the mainstay pizza is available with a gluten-free crust, but, other than that, Moose’s is the same. And that’s just the way the locals like it. No credit cards are accepted, order at the bar, and, if you can find any room, carve your initials into a well-worn wood booth, or table, or wall.
“You can’t get more Montana than Moose’s,” says Jeffrey von Kiper, a Columbia Falls resident who stops by the watering hole at least twice a month for a Moose’s original: Canadian bacon, sauerkraut, and pineapple pizza. “Anytime someone comes out to visit me, I take them to Moose’s. It’s the quintessential local experience.”