When Butch and Janet Clark bought the Kalispell Bar in 1992, it was one of seven bars within a block on Main Street. Today, there is no bar on Main Street until Moose’s Saloon, several blocks from the heart of downtown. The Clarks think this is a shame, so they’re bringing the Kalispell Bar back.
From the 1950s until 2000, the Kalispell Bar was one of downtown’s most recognizable hotspots for nightlife – a “local watering hole,” Janet Clark called it. At one time, it was one of more than 10 bars that dotted Main Street and its adjacent streets, she said.
In 2000, the Clarks decided to shift to a fine dining atmosphere and converted the bar into the Painted Horse Grille. After seven years, the restaurant closed down but the Clarks remained the owners. They also own the Kalispell Grand Hotel and the Kalispell Casino, which flank the bar on either side.
But by the middle of the month, the Kalispell Bar will reopen with a decidedly more laid-back atmosphere than in its rowdier heyday. Jeff Epperly, the general manager and a business partner with the Clarks, said it will be a family-friendly sports bar with a full lunch and dinner menu.
“The KB has a rich history,” Epperly said. “Close to 45 years of history.”
Preparation for reopening has required little renovation. The bar infrastructure is already in place and the building is still in good shape after a two-year period of dormancy. The Clarks have done considerable redecorating, though, bringing in soft-cushioned bar stools, tables and 13 big-screen televisions.
The TVs have separate receivers, allowing for 13 different channels to be played at once. Any sports fan knows the importance of this game-time versatility. With NFL Sunday Ticket, Epperly said no football games will be ignored. Throughout the year, everything from Carroll College football to professional basketball will be featured.
Epperly plans to emphasize the sports theme, using his own love and thorough knowledge of athletics. Epperly starred in basketball and Flathead High School in the 1980s and then played at Montana State University. His father, Bill Epperly, is a former basketball coach and a long-time assistant track coach at Flathead High School. His sister, Julie Epperly, played basketball for the University of Montana.
“We’ll be able to talk sports and create that kind of atmosphere,” Epperly said.
At first, the bar will be open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., but eventually the goal is to open at 11 a.m., Epperly said. There will be eight beers on draft, including local beers from Missoula and the Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside. Espresso and cappuccino will also be served. The menu, Epperly said, will feature many of the hearty appetizers that are cherished at sports bars, as well as burgers and steaks.
“Now days, you have to have something for everybody,” Epperly said.
Foot traffic is expected to come from both the casino and hotel next door, as well as off the main drag. For now, there won’t be any pool tables or other games, leaving room for more tables and seating. There are also booths for dining. In the back of the building is a room that can be closed off and used for conferences, parties and other events.
Over time, Epperly wants to add sports memorabilia to the walls, focusing on local heroes. He wants to get a jersey from Lex Hilliard, who starred as a running back at Flathead High and UM before getting drafted by the Miami Dolphins. He hopes to do the same for other Flathead High alum and well-known Montana athletes.
With the September opening of Reds Roost in the KM Building, Clark said she is pleased to see a reinvigorated liveliness downtown. And Epperly said he expects former regulars of the Kalispell Bar to begin trickling in again. They’ve even brought back bartender Richard Roe, who worked there in 1980s.
“They’re older now, but they’re looking forward to the KB coming back,” Epperly said.
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