PHOTO: Byron Barrett
You skied all day, dodged a few trees, squinted through the fog, and now you might be asking yourself, "where do I even get a beer around here?" The 'fish is thirsty. Here's a list of our favorite places to get a cold one in Whitefish, Montana. It's organized pub crawl-style, so your respectable self can hit all the high and lowlights in one go.
A bar that prays as hard as you do for "more powder please" (as the glowing sign on the roof often begs), the Stube, located in the village at Big Mountain, is an icon. It has heart. It's one of the few establishments I'd tie my body to a bulldozer for, should the threat of development ever loom too near. Like any proper mountain institution, the Stube's walls are plastered with images of the running Rainier beer, Montana license plates, and decades of ski memorabilia. Cozy up in the warmth, swill some Kokanee, eat a greasy burger, then head out to rip night runs under the lights. And come back Wednesday evening for race and skimo beer leagues.
Montana Tap House
New last summer, the Tap House has already won over the hearts and bellies of Whitefish's finest. With a believable sheen of sophistication, a big space, and 50 craft beers priced between $3.5 and $5, this taproom lends itself to date nights and rowdier gatherings alike. It also shares a building with Tamarack Ski Shop, making it easy to grab a growler fill if you're already dropping by for a wax. A majority of beers are Montana-made, and the setup offers the opportunity to sip on regional brews you can't find in a can, like the elixirs from Cabinet Mountain Brewing Co. in Libby or Draught Works Brewery in Missoula.
Bonsai Brewing Project
This funky, unassuming community brewery is Whitefish-made beer bliss. Its sprawling lawn is killer in the summer, and, come winter, beer-drinkers gather inside, shoulder-to-shoulder, to imbibe together like good neighbors do. The Sheriff John Brown is creamy and malty, a year-round menu staple that'll warm your gut on any cold Montana eve. We'd also recommend a few sips of Bonsai's rotating seasonals. The flavor profiles can sound unconventional, but the dudes and dudettes here know what a solid, full-bodied beer tastes like. And if you're hungry, nosh on some refined eats.
The Great Northern Bar and Grill
This is the bar to rule them all. The Northern feels like home, probably because it's the Stube's downtown spiritual kindred. It's dark, the walls are covered with the skeleton signage of local businesses gone south, and if you're paying more than $1 for a beer on a weeknight (aside from $2 tallboy Tuesdays), you're doing it wrong. Come earlier in the night to play — lose to — Whitefish ping pong legend Kurt, an ancient man with a signature jacket who moves slow as molasses but will beat your cocky 'tude right back to California. It's the best place in town for live music, bluegrass in particular, and you'd do well to catch local 80's cover group the New Wave Time Trippers, a band as completely weird and raucous as you are. This bar can get swamped, though, when there's popular music or it's the heat of the tourist season. If you're not feeling that, you'll want to head down the street to our final favorite Whitefish watering hole.
Calling all degenerates and people who don't want to pay a cover to get into the Northern: The Palace is your rough-around-the-edges late-night answer. The bathrooms are straight-up unsavory, but that's how you know a bar has spirit, right? Shoot some pool, or play Keno if you're feeling lucky. For bonus points, hit the Remington across the street after, to get your daily dose of NPR like the engaged, civic-minded denizen you are. Once an old disco bar, the Remington has seen better days — but new ownership promises a forthcoming comeback.
Other noteworthy recommendations: Grab a clever cocktail from Spotted Bear Spirits, a year-old micro-distillery that's both trendy and an instant classic. And if you're up for a short drive, Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls has become a fast favorite for Whitefish locals.