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  17 August 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Spotlight
 
Après for Snow... and Good Food
 

The 2012-2013 winter season is off to a bomber start in southwestern Montana, and you should know by now that I usually carve far-and-wide of the bro-brah clichés. But the snowpack is heavy-duty; Big Sky insiders report that at the end of the calendar year it was 130% of normal, while just over the border the J-Hole illuminati have been gargling in powder so much they’re calling the month “DEEPcember.” We’re talking 60 inches in a week, and some Wyoming claims have boasted 100 inches per week. “Bomber” is the only fair way to describe the conditions, given all the avalanche safety mountain locals have been hearing in the mornings.

Guess it’s time for me to make a few turns, then find a prime seat at one of the area’s premier après-ski bars.

That’s just what we did on the recent holiday weekend, luckily staking out two stools at the very western end of the Whiskey Jack’s bar in Big Sky. The vantage point felt like a powder-infused version of dipping your feet in the water around the Florida Keys with all of the Caribbean below you. On the busy Sunday in question, there was—implementing the Montana standards of personal space—a sea of people ebbing back and forth.

As far as local bars go, Whiskey Jack’s is itself ocean-sized. Again, it was surprisingly busy the day we visited—wait times for tables were on the blustery side of an hour. But this venue could comfortably house a Snow-cat family of four with enough room overhead for a Heather McPhie backflip.

Yep, it’s big—big enough for two performance stages, and those elevated platforms get some bootie-scooting traffic, too. Wrapping up today (January 1st) is Big Sky’s Way Alt West music festival, with the primary performances on the main stage at Whiskey Jack’s. Not to worry if you missed it, the resort’s 7th annual Big Grass music festival is on the docket for February 8th-10th.  So, if you’re looking for a combination of six-strings and powder-eights, put that weekend down where you'll remember it.

Like many of you, I want to get 2013 off to a positive start, so I’ll start with the good stuff. The bar itself at Whiskey Jack’s might be the most inviting construction of lacquered, smokey hardwoods and mirrors that this area has seen since the real Story Mansion got torn down. It’s artisan quality, and any article about après-ski in Montana needs to pay the grande dame her due.

When our busy-bee bartender Norm—no, really, that’s his name—placed a steamy toddie of “hot apple pie” just beyond my fingertips, forget powder heaven, I was in seventh heaven. Say yes to the whipped cream—yummy, more yummy, and critical medicine for warming up after facing the full Montana on Lone Peak (it’s COLD up there where “we can see your Tetons”). If you need a little more spark, I’ve dabbled with the house special, vanilla-Stoli-infused “Challenger coffee.” It’ll keep you buzzing for another late-afternoon run around Andesite’s groomers, when the sun starts heading toward all the richies Bogner-ing up Pioneer Mountain.

Barring that little jab at the end, have I played nice long enough to keep my karma in fresh tracks?

Okay, good, because just across the carpet from that heavenly bar is the Whiskey Jack’s kitchen. While I didn’t see a “help wanted” sign hanging above it—there should be. I’ve got no bones with the menu—Whiskey Jack’s has much of what you’d expect from a ski-in, errr, walk-up bar, a handsome selection of appetizers, two brews of chili, sandwiches, burgers and salads, a mariachi band of tex-mex items, plus an original item or two. I couldn’t help noticing the only “wet” burrito I’ve seen on a menu in southwestern Montana, and the chipotle pepper puree on the Bandito burger is further proof of their high-country savvy. Good scores in several restaurant-biz categories, same goes for the hustling service—that nice manager lady is there every time I go—and serving sizes provide plenty of fuel for hiking the A-Z chutes.

The costs? In fairness, Big Sky is a destination ski town, and in high-season, even a petite girl ain’t gonna get outta any such place lightly. That’s expected, but what’s not expected—or acceptable—is Whiskey Jack’s marginal food quality. The “Trevinos tacos” order was a soggy, cool rainstorm on my powder day, and the deep layer of cheddar cheese wasn’t deep enough to hide that honey-bunny’s burger was straight off a Cisco truck, then overcooked.

Looking for the right choice of words, here… I’d say the food quality is like the room quality of the Huntley. You ever been in there? Those rooms are hard on the eyes and the nose, the furnishings, the walls, they’re beat—we’re talking that kind of food quality, with a “destination” price. Next time I find myself near Whiskey Jack’s with an appetite, I’ll pay better attention when my boyfriend recommends splitting the mountain of nachos (which are hard to screw up, especially because WJ gets the layering thing right).

Montana skiers and snowboarders are a rootsy, DIY bunch, used to burying their noses down under the collar until the harshness of December and January blows over (while I stay inside quaffing toddies and reading by the fire). The go-getters need powerful fuel for all those powder turns between the top of the Tram and the bottom of Dude Park; just don’t ask ‘em to pay top dollar for second-rate, okay? Otherwise, they’ll grab tallboys and pizza at the convenience store and loiter around your Mountain Mall. Oh, wait....

-TBM

Beverly Ridge is southwest Montana's only true critic of the food service industry.  For another of her recent, seasonally-relevant, restaurant reviews, check out:  "Fall Smiles on the Emerson."
 
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