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'Last Call' at the original Montana Club

Posted at 10:54 AM, Apr 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-02 12:55:58-04

HELENA — On Friday, the historic Montana Club shut its doors for the foreseeable future after hosting one last blowout party.

Even if another Montana Club takes its place, it won't be the same organization that opened more than 130 years ago.

Attendees for the last soiree packed the third floor. Music played while drinks were generously poured.

“You knew everybody, and you welcomed. And they would watch out for you if you needed to get home or whatever. They would help you. And it was just so charming, and The Montana Club was a place to feel comfortable, to feel a little bit more like home,” says Pat Seiler, the second woman ever to be brought on to the board of the Montana Club in the 1980s.

Montana Club last night

The Montana Club has been facing financial difficulty for a while. They filed for bankruptcy in November and are currently being sued by co-owners of the building for unpaid maintenance assessments. The co-owners of the building and other creditors have made claims for $1.3 million in the bankruptcy case.

As a result, the club is closing, and the building space and liquor license are up for sale.

People bought bottles of alcohol that had stickers signifying the event, and prints of the artwork depicting the club were also for sale. The goal was to raise enough money to cover insurance costs while the bankruptcy case continues.

Montana Club Building

The club was founded in 1885, intended as a private space for attorneys, bankers, politicians, livestock and timber magnates, and more to come together to discuss business, eat, drink, court potential spouses, get engaged, married, and generally gather. It was a space that encouraged conversation between similar and unlikely parties alike says Patty Dean, Former President of the board of The Montana Club.

“And I saw some very interesting, I don't say couplings, but interesting people coming and going from the rooms. And like, well I wonder what they were talking about. And then, the next day in the paper is, oh, that's what they were discussing and negotiating,” says Dean.

The Montana Club annual dinner in Banquet Hall, Dec 30, 1911

Until its reorganization as a co-op open to the public in 2018, The Montana Club was the longest – continuously open private club between Minneapolis and Seattle.

As to how the club met its current demise of bankruptcy and closure. Well, that seems to be anyone’s guess.

Some believe it’s because they opened it to the public after folks generally became disinterested in private clubs. Others think keeping it open to the public was a boon, but it didn't come soon enough. Some say Covid was the final straw. Whatever the reason or reasons, Charles Robison, President of the board of The Montana Club, says that someone with vast experience in the hospitality industry has the potential to bring back this once-booming establishment.

Montana Club stained glass

“I think it's time for professional ownership, people with strong bar and restaurant experience along with a talented staff, which we've had, but some of that ownership experience, really understanding the industry better. And I think that there is an opportunity for the right owner there to really bring this place back to some of the glory it’s seen in the past,” says Robison.

Attendees of the final night were also hopeful, or at least wishful, that a new organization would inhabit and continue the legacy of the Montana Club.

Montana Club final musical performance

“It's gonna take a lot of money. It's gonna take somebody who has a heart for this. And I don't know what will happen, but all I can say is this: There's a lot of people wishing in Helena that The Montana Club could find someone who would bring something back to life here, and that’s our big wish,” says Seiler.