Hotel Baxter, opened in 1929 on Bozeman, Montana’s now avant-garde Main Street, and is one of the most unmistakable buildings in Bozeman and, until the summer of 2020 the tallest building in Bozeman, replaced by some grisly, hard-featured postmodern structure less than a block away. Hotel Baxter’s Bacchus Pub, one of two restaurants located on the buildings ground floor (the other being media mogul Ted Turner’s, Ted’s Montana Grill) was the first restaurant I ate at in Bozeman and remains the only one (at least for lunch and dinner) that I have returned to on a regular basis. Bacchus has one of my favorite menus, beer and wine lists, and patios right on Main Street, in the city. The interior is a unique (for the area) Medieval European which does a lot for the experience. Aside from the décor, It’s one of those restaurants that I know I can find something to eat or drink regardless of what I might be in the mood for and not be disappointed. I have ordered something different off the menu each time that I’ve been, the Fish&Chips, however, are unquestionably my favorite.
Bacchus is one of the only breadths of the Baxter that hasn’t been renovated, it looks very much like it did in 1929, or so I have read, when the space was the hotel’s coffeehouse. The most unique and bizarre aspects of the Medieval European décor are the shamelessly creepy hand carved and painted heads of monks awestruck with an almost quizzical scrutiny as they stare at you while you’re dining.
I’ve always wondered, is the team that actually builds the building responsible for carving those pieces, or does some artisan strut in, their tools wrapped loosely in a leather satchel under their arm, “I’ll take it from here, boys,” and leave their mark?
The monks are obscured enough that you may not notice them right away, and perhaps, if you’re lucky, you may not notice them at all but once you do you cannot unnoticed them; on the other, if you do notice and are unable to unnoticed then you’ll avoid that uncomfortable, dirty feeling of catching yourself staring at one of the handful of televisions that haunt just about every aspect of our daily lives, with the exception of a good game which you will likely catch at Bacchus, if inclined. The monks will take a hold of your soul, and squeeze, but at least that may remind you to ask for ketchup, because they don’t always bring it, even if you order fries.
I was sitting on the patio of Bacchus not too long ago; the sun was just low enough for me to be facing the dark side of the shade, and the temperature decreased significantly enough to justify a jacket, I decided to eat at the pub earlier in the day, and made the premeditated decision to get there in time enough for the sun to still animate that side of the street, unfortunately that time had come and gone before I could find a seat. Nevertheless, I sat there nursing a Pumpkin Ale and peeling into the crispy Fish&Chips with my fingers, the fish was cooked perfectly, yet battered and crisped maybe, only seconds too long. Crowds of people were walking past to and from either direction, I’m always having to remind myself that Bozeman’s workforce is largely remote these days, and when coupled with the high volume of tourism here, there are always people everywhere, I maintain a running, heated joke with myself that every time I try to turn at an intersection anywhere in town there is always at least one car leaving me waiting, and it’s always true.
As I sat there ‘people watching,’ I nursed my imagination, as well the Pumpkin Ale, previewing a life of travel and dining, and then writing about it. I often think back on the jobs I’ve held in the past and the places I’ve lived, as many of my posts account, and I can’t shake the feeling that it’s all been leading somewhere, like it’s all been leading here. Not necessarily to Bacchus or to Bozeman, but the experience of being here. I imagine myself driving haplessly in some direction and fortuitously happening upon a town and then wandering until I find a unique place to get a bite to eat known almost exclusively to the town residents. I wouldn’t be in search of anything in particular, an experience that I would never be able to replicate, but one that I could at least write about it. When traveling, and dining out, it’s too easy to get caught up in what’s familiar and never open us up to new experiences that may be unique only to a particular place. I can get Fish&Chips just about anywhere, but how many places can I anxiously eat Fish&Chips while a curious monk hovers and stares, inquisitorial of my every move?