Trego on Tap

Community hub provides gathering place for eclectic patrons in the Tobacco Valley

By Tristan Scott
Trego Pub and General Store on August 10, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A strong sense of community has always run deep in Trego, the tiny outpost situated in the forested Tobacco Valley south of Eureka. It’s far removed from the hustle and bustle of Whitefish and Kalispell, but kinship is stoked at the local post office and general store, where folks are eager to greet their neighbors and share a cool beverage.

When the old general store closed more than a decade ago, however, the town lost some of its cohesion, and the 600 or so residents were left without a venue for their fellowship.

“I worked at the general store in ’88 and ’89. It was where everyone congregated,” Trego local Lani Swan said. “After the store closed down, there wasn’t really a way for community members to see one another.”

Swan bought property in Trego before moving to Kalispell to work as a nurse while her husband, Todd, kept busy as a contractor and finish worker. After the economic downturn, the couple began talking in earnest about building a new general store on Lani’s property.

“Then we thought, ‘Heck, why not build a pub, too?’” she recalls. “We figured what’s the worst that could happen? At least we’ll have a house on the hill.”

So it was that the Trego Pub and General Store was born.

Co-owner of Trego Pub and General Store, Leilani Robinson Swan, tends bar on Aug. 10. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Todd employed his building skills to construct a beautiful farmhouse-style building with both front- and rear-facing decks that afford customers sweeping views of the verdant Tobacco Valley, with the bar and restaurant attached to the general store, which caters to a range of needs, from camping supplies to pipe tobacco, and of course beer and wine.

Sidle up to the bar on almost any given day of the week — it’s closed Mondays — and you’ll be greeted with a smile, a menu brimming with scratch-made sandwiches and salads and a beer and wine list featuring a rotating assortment of craft beer and distinct wine varietals.

Linger for a little while, and a member of the area’s cast of local artists is likely to strike up a performance for an audience that swells as the evening rolls on.

“We didn’t know what to expect at first,” Lani said. “We thought maybe a few locals might come in for a beer now and again and we would sell some groceries.”

Turns out, the pub is the main attractor, and the Swans have had to expand the kitchen’s offerings as locals depend on Trego Pub fare for sustenance for the body and soul, be it the food or the fellowship.

“We knew going into this that there would be a certain market, but had no idea the extent,” Lani said.

After successfully applying for a beer and wine license and persuading a dubious banker to lend them money, the Swans began talking to beverage representatives about what to serve.

Trego Pub and General Store on Aug. 10. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“Everyone said that all the bars carry yellow beers,” Lani said, referring to domestic lights. “That’s not what we wanted. In short order Todd started doing the beer orders and realized there’s an appetite for craft beer. Then we started carrying a few wines and started doing some wine tastings and realized that there was a need for a good wine outlet up here. That has grown as we grow. It’s all evolving as we grow and respond to the community. Neither of us have any kind of restaurant background or bar background, so we’re inventing it along the way.”

You won’t find gambling machines, flat-screen televisions or deep-fried food at the Trego Pub, either, but two strangers can break out a board game, clink glasses and share a plate of fresh pita and jalapeno or beet hummus made in-house by Lani.

A freshly poured pint from Trego Pub and General Store on Aug. 10. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

If the Trego Pub and General Store hasn’t bucked the stereotype of a tiny rural community by this point, readers will be interested in learning that in addition to sophisticated beer and wine tastings, the Trego Pub and General Store also offers yoga from certified instructors twice a week, has a massage therapist visit once a month for a “rub in the pub” and doubles (quintuples) as an art gallery by displaying the works of a changing cast of local artists.

Members of the Trego Pub’s wine club will find screaming deals and informative presentations from a representative from George’s Distributing, while a diverse demographic commingles in a relaxed environment.

“There’s people in their 20s and people in their 80s,” Lani said. “The community is extremely diverse. You have people that are living off the grid on food stamps next to multi-millionaires that have seasonal homes here. But it’s a community and everyone pulls together. We held a fundraiser for a local with colon cancer and raised $28,000. People know one another here and political differences aside, you don’t have that division because it is such a strong community.”

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