A well-known roadside restaurant near East Glacier Park has closed its doors after 43 years.
Firebrand Food and Ale closed on Dec. 31, according to Kathryn Rink, who owned the restaurant with her husband, Ramsey.
“It’s been fun,” Rink said last week, a few days before the restaurant was set to close. “We’ve been here for 43 years and it’s been great.”
In the mid-1970s, Ramsey’s father purchased a campground on the north side of U.S. Highway 2 west of East Glacier Park. Ramsey’s father ran the campground and gave the camp store building to his son to open up a bar and restaurant. In the early years, it was more of a bar than a restaurant, mostly offering up hot dogs and pizza for campers and other barflies. A few years later, Kathryn Rink spiced up the dinner and lunch menu with steak, burgers, seafood and sandwiches.
The campground closed in the 1990s, but the Firebrand — named for the nearby pass in Glacier National Park — continued on.
Kathryn and Ramsey’s son, Nicholas, said he “spent my entire childhood in that restaurant” and that he’s sad to see it close. Nicholas is a teacher at Browning’s alternative school and has helped his parents at the restaurant over the years. He said his father often let local artists hang their work in the restaurant or come down to play music. Ramsey was also a talented singer and composer, Nicholas said.
“It really was a hub for the local art community,” he said.
Kathryn said while she is personally sad to leave the restaurant, she feels worse about what the closure will mean for the East Glacier Park community. The restaurant employed eight people year-round and more than a dozen during the summer, providing good-paying jobs for the community. It was also an important gathering place.
“We’ve had so many celebrations here over the years,” she said. “From baby showers, to wedding anniversaries to wakes.”
Bob Folsom has lived in East Glacier Park since 1978 and said the Firebrand has long been his favorite bar, noting that it was always a great place to grab a beer and have a good conversation.
“It’s been my favorite hangout for more than 40 years,” he said. “I’m really going to miss it but, as they say, nothing lasts forever.”
Kathryn said she’s unsure if she’ll retire completely or if she’ll try to open up a new seasonal eatery. Only time will tell. What is clear is that if she does choose to open up a new restaurant, the community will respond.
“This was an important gathering place,” Nicholas said. “It was really important to the community.”