New lounge hits downtown Helena

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Posted at 8:30 AM, Oct 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-07 10:31:28-04

HELENA — Dorothy’s, a new lounge dedicated to craft cocktails, gaming, and the famous madam of a once-thriving brothel, has opened in downtown Helena.

“She managed to evade being shut down a number of different times. And I think people appreciated her for that . . . She was a woman of the people. That's exactly right, she was,” says Montana historian Ellen Baumler.

Dorothea Putnam, also known as Dorothy Josephine Baker, aka Big Dorothy ran a brothel above what is now the Windbag, Dorothy’s Lounge, and Lasso the Moon. She took over the brothel in 1954 and ran it for nearly 20 years until in 1973 a final raid on the establishment shut it down. A case of the flu resulted in her death shortly thereafter.

“Helena had a very famous red-light district, and it was very active. And she was the last of her kind. And not only was she the last, she was a very, you know, I hesitate to say well respected, but, I mean, for someone who was in that business, she was very well-liked by everyone, except for politicians and law enforcement folks,” says Baumler.

Baumler tells me that Dorothy would buy magazine subscriptions from kids who came to the back door, contribute to fundraisers, tip off law enforcement to drug deals, and buy books for children's organizations.

Matt Schmechel, owner of the Windbag Saloon & Grill and Dorothy’s Lounge & Gaming Parlor, was hoping to create a space that would not only provide a different sort of drinking and gaming establishment in Helena but would also honor the legacy of Dorothy.

“Almost 50 years since her operation went out of business, and she still seems like Helena's most famous resident. We have people coming past, you know, from out of town every summer asking about her continuously. And she just was kind of larger than life then, and it seems like her legacy has only grown,” says Schmechel.

Complete with all sorts of different games and even Street Fighter 2, Dorothy’s Lounge is currently open Wednesdays through Saturdays 4:00 PM to close.

While the lounge is open for business, Dorothy’s plans to host a grand opening in the near future.