Bigfork’s Underground Speakeasy

1908 Speakeasy opened at the end of June in downtown Bigfork, replicating a Prohibition-era establishment

By Maggie Dresser
Aaron Killian, owner of 1908 Speakeasy located below his restaurant Showthyme Act II, on July 14, 2021. JP Edge | Flathead Beacon

In the fourth building ever constructed in downtown Bigfork, a new basement bar, 1908 Speakeasy, named after the year the structure was built and the establishment it represents, is now open beneath the Showthyme Act II restaurant.

The location was originally a bank, and a former bank vault now acts as a wine cellar in the cozy, dark bar surrounded by stone and illuminated with Edison light bulbs. The building was also a Laundromat in the 1950s, an art gallery, liquor store and the Sea Star Restaurant in the 1970s.

“It just screams underground bar,” owner Aaron Killian said. “There’s even a secret passage through the alley’s back door.”

At the six-stool bar, Killian’s bartender will mostly serve up specialty gin drinks, which was one of the most popular liquors during the Prohibition era because it was one of the cheapest to make.

The bar’s most popular drinks include the 1908, which uses Empress 1908 gin with lavender simple syrup and grapefruit juice. Killian’s personal favorite is the Painkiller, a rum cocktail that originates from the Virgin Islands, where he lived for two years. The Bootlegger cocktail has Wild Turkey, lemon juice, egg whites and red wine in it.

Killian also carries unique liquors like the Lolo Creek huckleberry vodka, a bison grass vodka and Crystal Head Vodka, Dan Aykroyd’s brand that comes in a skull shaped bottle.

Another favorite is Jenny’s Martini, named after Killian’s late wife, Jenny Crough, who died unexpectedly this past March.

Killian and Crough met while working together at a steakhouse in North Dakota and moved to Bigfork together in 2017, where Crough was from. They soon started a food truck together where they made Philly Cheese Steaks, mac and cheese and more. Then, in December of 2018, they opened Showthyme Act II.

Gin and other adult beverages located in the 1908 Speakeasy in Bigfork on July 12, 2021. JP Edge | Flathead Beacon

They had always planned to open the bar downstairs, but they needed to finish renovations before opening. Crough never got to see the bar come to fruition, but Killian says she was the brainchild behind it.

“This was going to be her baby,” he said. “She was going to be the bartender. This was her thing.”

Killian is making sure the bar lives on, and he hired a bartender while he remains the head chef in the restaurant upstairs, where he has a unique menu including black garlic marinated chicken, Spanish pork chops, buffalo wellington and elk New York strip.

“We try to have food that no one else does,” he said. “It brings something unique to Bigfork. I hate being boring.”

Killian plans to start serving late night bar food after 10 p.m., which will include items like Philly cheesesteaks and Polish sausage.

There have also been a few musicians in the intimate bar, and he plans to have comedy acts, jazz shows, a burlesque show and a metal show on Halloween.

A service industry night is also in the works on Thursday nights, but the restaurant will be closed and patrons must enter through the secret passageway.

After 28 years as a chef, Killian has worked for famous chef Emeril Lagasse in Orlando and at the Peabody Memphis, he’s made sushi in the Virgin Islands and he ran a pub in Anchorage.

Showthyme Act II is open daily from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., although hours are sometimes impacted by a lack of staff. 1908 Speakeasy is open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and will stay open until midnight on the weekends.

For more information, visit the bar and restaurant’s Facebook pages.