The Gravel Bar
Cassi Miller | Thursday Jun. 1st, 2017
I consider myself a unique kind of adventure-seeker. You’ll find a variety of people under the term “adventure-seeker” in these parts. Some are in it for the hikes into often untouched wilderness, some will hop on a river and float to find the end. I’m in it for the cultural experience. I love to jump in my car, crank up the music, and let the road take me down unknown paths to new small towns. For me, part of that type of adventure-seeking involves experiencing the towns at the end of the road, getting a sense of their identity, their people, and their culture. Part of that culture is bound up in their food. That might be why I enjoy writing this feature! When I plan trips to places, I look up restaurants, diners, and snack shacks, looking for a fun experience. My friends and family always crack jokes at my expense because I will research the best places to eat and drink everywhere we go. I make it my personal mission to know the most fun events and best restaurants for fueling up after fun in every place I visit. You see, every little town has those places only the locals know, those places that let you taste a bit of the town’s essence in a bite of food.
Ennis is a town brimming with personality, history, and unique culture. It’s story is rooted in the gold rush of the 1860s, which drew William Ennis to the banks of the Madison River. It wasn’t long before other entrepreneurs followed, and not just the nugget-seeking kind. Ranches and farms sprung up here and there, and soon Ennis was born. Known for its prime cattle country, blue-ribbon fly fishing, and small town hospitality, Ennis has loads of little gems that really make it what it is. One of those places is The Gravel Bar.
From the outside, it gives off the nostalgic sense of the watering holes of Old West Towns. The inside, oh the inside, offers so much more. The warmth of the wood interior and classic decorations instantly makes you feel welcome. If you’re looking for filling, comforting pub food, The Gravel Bar will not disappoint. Burgers, fries, and wings are staples on the menu. If you need something spicier, try their summertime establishment, Banditos, which offers everything with a little Tex-Mex flair. Enchilada, chipotle shrimp, or something a bit more upscale like the Carne Asada grilled Montana Waygu Flank Steak will definitely tantalize your taste buds. And, that’s not even mentioning the full bar and wide selection of beer and spirits from the locals to the big name brands. They also boast a hearty live music schedule, welcome kids and families, and have a cozy place to sit outdoors when the weather is nice. I’m not kidding when I say this place has something for everyone!
Scott and Amy Kelley are the owners of the Gravel Bar, and I was lucky enough to get the chance for Scott to answer a few of my questions about one of the most fun establishments in Ennis.
CM: What made you want to get into the restaurant and bar business? How did you get started?
SK: I can’t say that I ever wanted to get into the restaurant business. It just happened that way. In the spring of ‘99, my girlfriend (now wife) Amy opened Banditos in Virginia City. She needed somebody to work at the front of the house and I needed a job. So, that’s how I got started. I’m still in the business because I basically have no marketable skills and my wife is a badass chef. So, it makes sense.
CM: Why Ennis? What do you love about the town? About owning a bar/restaurant there?
SK: From ‘99 until ‘10 we ran Banditos in Virginia City during the tourist season and then worked odd jobs throughout the winter to make ends meet. When life demanded a more steady cash flow, we naturally looked towards Ennis. The proximity to the Madison and the surrounding mountains was what made me initially fall for Ennis. My family and I spend as much time as possible on the public lands in Southwest Montana. When that’s your driver, you’re hard pressed to find a better headquarters than Ennis. Also, because of its location, Ennis attracts people from all over who live here because they want to live here and not because they’re stuck here. Therefore, I feel the people are generally happier and more interesting here than in your average American town of 1,000. These people are my customers.
CM: What makes The Gravel Bar unique, in Ennis and/or in comparison with other places in SW Montana?
SK: We just try and be ourselves.
CM: What do you want people to experience when they come into your place?
SK: I want them to relax and leave with a full belly.
CM: Bestselling dish and/or drink?
SK: Our best sellers all come from Southwest Montana. Our burgers are our top seller because of the great beef we use. It’s Montana Waygu (which is just outside of Belgrade). We move a ton Montana beer and we have 12 on tap. Our best seller is the Midas Crush from our buddies at Map Brewing.
CM: Any upcoming events you want people to know about?
SK: We do live music every Saturday May-September. It’s always free and it’s always fun.
I think road trips are an important part of enjoying where you live. Everyone loves to take big extended vacations, but what about check out what lies in your own backyard or just down the road a piece? We’re lucky here in Montana to live in some prime road trip country. We’re lucky enough in the Bozeman area to only be about 50 miles from Ennis, which is perfect for an adventure-seeking day trip. So, when you feel that itch to try and see something new, Ennis should be the spot you travel to. When you’re there, be sure to belly up to The Gravel Bar.