On a Friday night last September, Don and I left our hotel in Uptown Butte in search of food.
We passed an upscale restaurant on Broadway, then headed past a noisy group of bikers holding beers. Then on a quieter corner, we spotted a welcoming neon sign with the words, Chop Suey!
Brick, Neon and Mountains
Actually, this is the neon image that first lured us to the corner.
We were headed literally down Main Street, just after the sun had set. There was a glow behind the mountains and a glow on the red brick building from the neon.
"What a sign!" was my first reaction.
It wasn't until we crossed the street that we could see the words "Noodle Parlors" glowing above the door. What does that even mean... parlors, as in more than one parlor? We peered in and saw a staircase heading upward. It seemed lit up and open, but it still felt a bit daring. Then a young couple suddenly appeared. They headed in and confidently walked up. We waited a few minutes and then followed.
Up We Go
My camera flash made the stairway look a little brighter than it was. We headed up, kind of chuckling about our bravery. We turned left into the doorway and found a decorated cashier's cage, with no one attending. Towards the front was an empty room, with community tables. Towards the rear, there was a long and curious hall.
We could hear diners behind the curtains and voices coming from the kitchen at the end of the hall. We had a few moments by ourselves, to absorb this mysterious sight.
There were Chinese lanterns and salmon-pink, bead board walls. There were curtains, that made me think of dressing rooms... and one, lone metal cart.
Our Cozy Booth
A woman with blond hair and glasses emerged from the end of the hall. She rolled the metal cart back into the kitchen, then ushered us to booth #8. We sat at our cozy table in two wobbly soda fountain chairs, while she left us to fetch menus and tea. We sat there grinning, with raised eyebrows. "She didn't close our curtain. Are we supposed to?" It was like being in a foreign country, unsure of ourselves.
Retro Chinese Menu
... and every now and then the sound of a cart, rattling at great speeds down the hall... fluttering our curtain each time.
As for the flavors and textures and seasoning? It wasn't packed with any of that, but that's okay. It took me back to my earliest memory of Chinese food. I was 6 in 1963 when I remember eating food just like this in NYC's Chinatown. Ahhh. Simple is nice.
I nervously snapped a blurry photo, hoping no one would notice. I wish I had been brave enough to photograph the bathroom. There were two little saloon style doors (same salmon color) and another tiny door to the toilet. I grinned as I took a look. Then I washed my hands at a shared sink in the hallway .
Then she disappeared and returned with some samples of sweet and sour chicken and some kind of stuffed wontons. We nibbled the "just sweet enough" specialties, and learned more about Arlene and her work at Pekin. She was hired in 1979, back when the waitresses carried huge heavy trays in and out of those tiny rooms. After many years, they were finally allowed to use the rolling carts. "Oh Butte was different then." Arlene smiled. "It was pretty rough and tumble. Back then, we stayed open till 3 am. The bars closed at 2, so everyone headed here. It got pretty wild."
History of the Building
of rumors about those little curtained rooms where diners eat noodles, today. Arlene didn't say anything about the restaurant being a brothel, but she did say Chinese miners rented those tiny booths as sleeping quarters at one time. I'm sure Arlene could tell a lot of stories from her 36 years of work at The Pekin. I asked her if she'd noticed a lot of changes during that time. Arlene didn't really need to ponder that. "No. Not really.
Julie in the Lounge
After dinner, Don and I wandered towards the front of the building where we could see the neon, glowing through the window. We noticed a lounge off to the left.
We peeked in and ended up chatting with bartender, Julie. She had her own stories about the Noodle House. She talked about growing up in Butte (which she never fully respected until she moved away for a short while.) She had nothing but rave reviews of her boss, Mr. Wong. "He cooks 6 days a week!" Julie gushed. She said he was 80 years old and had enough money to retire and live comfortably anywhere, but he was so dedicated to the place.
Mr. Wong Himself
Good-Byes and Thanks
stories and lots of odd food reviews. I may never know the full story of Pekin Noodle House and how it fit into this Montana world. But, I'm glad I experienced a piece of it!
It wasn't time for a meal when we drove into Butte last fall. But we'd read about this curious place. As a kid, Evel Knievel ate at Matt's frequently, when he lived nearby. If it was good enough for him, it was worth a visit!
The only thing better than a roadside diner is a roadside house with dining options. This diner was just a home on the highway, before Matt Korn began serving food in 1930. Customers used to drive up along the tall fat bumper curb and order through the windows. I hear they still will bring food out to your car, but we wanted to sit at the old counter! We said hello the the man in the white apron leaning against the stucco and headed on inside.
My eyes were drawn behind the counter where I spotted shiny milkshake and malt equipment, plus an old cash register. All that chrome seemed to be surrounded by words. Coca-Cola, Sandwiches, Gift Certificates, Yes! We're Open, Sugar Cones, and SORRY... with a list of this and that and a THX at the end.
Don and I sat down on two of the brown, swivel stools at the 1930's era, U-shaped counter. We pulled out a menu, showing a tray full of icy cold treats. A very smiley server wearing a snappy little cap, peered over the sweet assortment.
There were no caps worn here, but the two servers who were in the midst of a shift change, did seem to have matching hairdos... which weren't from the 1930's, but not exactly 2015 either.
Coke or Ice Cream?
It wasn't quite 5 pm and Don and I hadn't even checked into our hotel yet. We thought about just having a Coke, especially if it meant choosing our own frosty bottles from the big red case and popping off the lids... instead of unscrewing!
But the menu was calling me. What I really wanted was the Peanut Burger, served with a mayo sauce made with crushed peanuts. I love getting the local, quirky favorite and maybe I should have. But we were holding off for dinner later. Instead, I had my peanuts served on top of a chocolate sundae, which was probably just as filling as a burger. It was mighty good, though.
Distracted by a Photo
Don shared a few bites, but he spent most of our visit, chatting with Shawn, a young man sitting at the end of the counter. Shawn noticed Don pointing at a framed photo that was mounted on the knotty pine wall.
Don was pretty sure that was a 1957 Chevy Nomad Station Wagon, just like the one his family owned when he was a kid. Shawn heard that bit of news and lit up. "You had one of those!".
Shawn had a few cars stories himself, since his dad and grandfather were race car drivers. He showed us a photo of the trashed Mustang he and his dad found in an old barn.
He laughed about his first ride in a souped up '57 Chevy, shortly after he was born. His mom had been furious that his dad arrived and drove them home from the hospital in the noisy car that made everyone stare at stoplights.
Chatting with Brandi
Brandi continued to busy herself behind the counter. She chatted with me a bit about her favorite customers... the families that seemed to "grow up" on the diner's food.
She also teased Shawn a few times, especially when he told us he'd just discovered Matt's Place a few weeks earlier, when he started college. "And he's pretty much been here, every day since then!" Brandi laughed. "Don't forget your coat!" She reminded him like a mother when he got up to head out.
Off to Butte
I was sorry we couldn't have experienced a meal or a bigger crowd. But mostly I'm just glad we made the stop. This is one of those places that might not be there "next time". Matt sold his biz to the Louis & Mae Lawrence in the 1940's. I believe Mae passed away a couple years ago at age 100. As far as I know their daughter is still running things. You never know.
Service Station Dining
Don and I arrived in Butte just in time for lunch. How could we resist a dining place with Mobil Oil's pegasus images and green service station doors.
We walked towards the side door from the parking lot. I liked the old brick building itself. The green and red neon sign and old Texaco lamps were an added treat.
We were very hungry and excited to have found a place that looked inviting.
A Truck Inside
On the way to being seated, I couldn't help but notice the green truck and a number of old gas pumps. Brought me back to playing "Gas Station" with my brother. "Filler up with regular!" I loved to announce from my pretend driver's seat.
The Truck Bed Table
I didn't notice until later that there was a table in the back of the 1949 Chevy pickup. If I'd known, I would have requested that table.
Dining in the bed of a truck is something I've never done.
By the Window
We ended up with a cozy wooden booth and a view of a dining deck, which overlooked lower Butte and distant mountains. But I didn't look out the window much. There was too much inside.
Lots of Metal
Old metal decor with signs, bicycles and and pedal cars is really nothing new. They've been cluttering up restaurants with old memorabilia for decades now. But there was something extra fun about the fact it was in a warehouse like building that really housed a service station at one time.
Old, But Clean
Time to Eat
Our eating utensils were cleverly wrapped in a red shop cloth. It looked like what a filling station attendant might have used to wipe his hands after checking your oil.
The food was reasonably priced and hit the spot. Don got the lunch special of half price buffalo wings. I had a piping hot onion soup and a crispy salad. The crumbly corn bread and sloppy cheese, made me need about 10 of those red rags!
No Time for Casinos
There was no time to hang out in the large bar or the casino towards the front of the building. I did peek into the dimly lit casino and stopped myself from taking a photo.
There was just one customer and she must have been 90 years old. She hunched over a slot machine with her braided white hair pinned up on her head. Her walker was neatly folded beside her. If only I'd spotted her earlier, I might have asked her to join us for lunch. That would have made for a very interesting dining adventure, I'm sure.
Not a Roadside Diner
On our 4-week road trip out west, Don and I had many a meal at cafes and diners, with vinyl booths and tile floors. I do love small town eating, but I was ready for a new look... like Medieval, maybe!
The Big City!
We spent almost a week in Montana last September and this was our first stop in a city. The Main Street was classic and classy, with retro buildings, cute shops, nice cars and interesting looking people. But my eyes went straight to the Hotel Baxter sign!
We were sad to learn it is no longer a hotel, but they did have two dining options! Ted's Montana Grill had a great buffalo sign, but an expensive menu, so we went for the Bacchus Pub. They had a nice sidewalk cafe, but I was eager to get a look at the inside.
I was drooling over the ornate lobby with grand chandeliers, painted beams and dramatic mezzanine.
Clearly this historic hotel has been brought back to good use in recent years. Ted Turner owns the upscale restaurant and hotel rooms have been renovated into lovely condos. But to a person who adores staying in historic hotels... I was in pain knowing I could never spend a night here.
The whole style was more European than Western ranch, so it made me laugh to see the sweet buffalo staring down. I felt for a moment like I was back in Texas.
The casual pub was bustling on Labor Day at lunch. I loved the sort of Gothic feel of the place right away. We rushed to grab the only table that seemed to be left.
The Best Spot
Of course the coziest spot was already taken. Two young sisters were hovering over their coloring books at the table right in front of the fireplace. Actually our seats were more comfortable than the pews that went with their table.
I kept wondering who the girls belonged to. There must have been parents at another table. And then I became intrigued with how well behaved they were. And I loved the fact they were amused with coloring and not their own I-pads.
Other Little Faces
It was a Mexican themed cafe/bar at one time. It's lucky they didn't get remove the little monks. Maybe they just covered their caps with tiny sombreros.
Faces and Glass
I'm not totally sure if this British style pub was a part of the hotel when it opened in 1929. But I know the carved monks and the lovely stained glass have been here for a very long time. I kept wishing there was a little history write up on the back of the menu. The staff looked too young to have much knowledge or interest in the bar history.
Beams and Faces
I obviously liked these characters. Each was different and I wondered if the staff had their favorites or even names for these guys.
I would have asked, but our cheery server was so energetic, she never stopped long enough to ask silly questions like, "Which monk do you like best." Instead, we just named her. Hummer seemed like an appropriate name. She flitted quickly from table to table, as effortlessly as a tiny hummingbird. And her expression almost gave the impression that she was humming as she worked.
On top of all the fun decor, the food was excellent. I could have ordered some real pub fare, but I was hungry for salad. My spinach salad was more hearty than any Shepherd's Pie! Don's Neptune Sandwich with tuna and shrimp salad (and fries) was hefty and yummy as well.
If we hadn't been on the road, we could have indulged more. A glass of wine would have made for an ideal lunch. After all, Bacchus is the God of Wine!
The sign for Windsor Bar is an intriguing one. The 1935 silver dollar lights up at night and so do the words, "packaged goods" and "KENO"!
We spotted the sign last fall, as we rolled into the small town of Boulder.
We arrived at about 3 pm. The town has a population of about 1,000, so there wasn't too much to see.
We were headed to the historic Boulder Hot Springs Hotel, a couple miles outside of town, past a big rodeo arena and a Youth Detention Center. We knew the hotel offered no dinner options, but we'd heard the Windsor Bar did.
Checking it Out
I had Don pull over. It certainly didn't look like a place that would serve anything besides liquor. It also didn't look like a place I would normally go to for a glass of wine. But earlier, I had been surprised to read decent food reviews, on TripAdvisor!
It was too early for dinner, but I decided to go in for a peek. I was confused about which door to enter. How about the one with the faded barber pole painted beside it? I decided to go for the door near the corner, where I felt welcomed by the neon "OPEN" sign, which glowed from the glass block window.
There was no one in the room with the long wooden bar and knotty pine walls. However, I heard voices through the window opening in the center of the bar. I walked around and found the bartender, James in the second room. He was serving a man with a white ponytail, enjoying a beer and a basket of popcorn.
James and the Birthday Boy
The man at the bar was having a beer in celebration of his birthday. I wished him a happy one and then asked a few questions. I told them both that I had heard about the great steaks at Windsor Bar. The birthday boy raved about James and his rib eye cooking skills.
I had to laugh when I noticed the built in grill, sharing space with liquor bottles, beer mugs and cooking utensils. James warned me that I might want to reserve some meat, if we were coming back. He studied his list of call-in-orders and announced, "We're limited tonight. I only have one rib eye left. We have all fresh meat, hand cut daily."
Back at Six
Don and I checked into the hotel then returned at 6:00. The popcorn smell I had noticed earlier was replaced by the smells of sizzling steaks. James was rushing around finishing up some ribeye orders for 3 couples at a nearby table.
His shift was ending, but Soja, (who is the daughter of owner, Rusty) was starting up for the evening. She was full of fresh energy as she teased James who had been working since early morning. She laughed with locals and slammed the dice cup down on the bar, alerting anyone who might be interested in playing Once a Day Rolls. Don and I were the only non-regulars, so I felt a little guilty when we were the only winners of a free drink. But we made up for the freebie by ordering a ribeye dinner for $32.00.
Watching the Food
It was pretty wild, sitting on the old swivel stools watching Soja toss on the 24 ounce slabs of meat, then twirl around with giant mugs of beer, then toss potatoes into the microwave, then laugh with a customers over the dice game. She was young and energetic, but tended to the food, drink and customers like an old pro.
Dinner is Served
We sat right there at the bar sharing a big platter which held our massive rib eye and steamy baked potato. Another plate held stacked up slices of garlic toast. The meat was as juicy and mouthwatering as the reviews had claimed. Soja made sure we were pleased and then left us to our feasting.
This is Jim, who came in after a bit and sat down near Don. At one point, he noticed me snapping photos in the other half of the bar, so he followed along and shared some stories. I pointed above the bar and wanted to know what that boat-shaped, polka-dotted thing was. He said it was half of the original top of the old "Silver Dollar Bar". Drinkers could have their silver dollar placed into one of the circular holes and then their name would be etched beside it.
Why Are Coins Missing?
The Art of Connie Smith
Next, Jim pointed out some large pieces of Western artwork, mounted to the knotty pine walls. I was told that CJ Smith did basically two things, paint and drink. "Connie pretty much paid for his liquor with his art. He lived a block from my house when I was a kid.
He was old and cranky and most of the kids were scared of him. But I didn't mind him. Sometimes he wouldn't make it all the way home after a big night drinking at the bar and I'd see him asleep under our willow tree in the morning. My dad would go out and help him get home. "
The owner Rusty appeared when we were finishing up our meal. I guess Soja must have mentioned to her dad that there were some out-of-towners at the bar. (As if he couldn't tell) Pretty soon she came down our way, saying her father would like to buy us drinks.
I'm holding the chip in the photo. I decided it could be my tangible reminder, so I wouldn't forget to add another good TripAdvisor & Yelp review.
"Surprisingly yummy food in a surprisingly friendly atmosphere!"
We just missed a lovely sunset as we headed for the hotel. And we didn't have time the next day to check out the Free Enterprise Health Mine, as advertised on the side of the building. (Evidently, you can relax and heal in the old mine tunnels with a little radon) But our time had not been at all wasted at the Windsor Bar. Good memories!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.