Rebirth of the Rockin’ R Bar

Friday Sep. 2nd, 2011

On July 26th, 2011 873 days after a natural gas explosion literally rocked downtown Bozeman at its core The Rockin R Bar returned in all its glory to 211 East Main Street, much better than ever. The Rocking R Bar originally opened in the late 1940s in downtown Bozeman, and has been a Bozeman mainstay and icon ever since. The bar has been a popular hangout for Montana State University students and Bozeman residents for generations, with its signature branded hat following patrons around the world.
Personally I spent my 21st birthday in the original Rockin R, a dingy, dark, not particularly clean environment with a large bar divided by two rooms, a few pool tables, a bunch of tvs playing sports, and a smelly ski bum sitting next to me at the bar. This is what Bozeman used to by like! Dive bars with good names, long traditions and real Montana attitude. Alas, times change, architecture is recreated to fit the 21st century, the look and feel of Bozeman is updated and I suppose upgraded. I miss some of the old haunts and feelings I got as a 20 something living on Main St in downtown Bozeman when there were no open fronted eateries or drinking establishments. And those old time places still exist when one has the hankering to enjoy them (ie. The Western Cafe, Stockyard, and the Filling Station).

The climb back from the shear devastation that took place downtown on March 5th, 2009 was not an easy one for R Bar owners Mike Hope and Ralph Ferraro. Paperwork, insurance forms, phone calls and lawsuits all filled the days between the explosion and reopening, peppered by sleepless nights and wonders if all would be put back in its place. The new F&H Building, as it is now dubbed, is a testament to these mens love of Bozeman and dedication to the success of their business. Bozeman just could not go without the Rockin R Bar, it was too valuable a landmark, watering hole, and Bozeman icon.

There was little question whether or not the Rockin R would come back, more of a question as to how and how long? Hope and Ferraro began rebuilding plans immediately after the explosion, beginning with insurance claims and other paperwork necessary to get things rolling in the direction of reopening.

Today the Rockin R Bar is a beautiful reintroduction to Bozeman’s main street. With it’s original and iconic sign amazingly surviving the blast as its crowing jewel on the exterior of the building welcoming new and old residents, students and visitors. A big change for the R Bar is the open layout of the entryway leading to the bar. A very large garage type door opens the entire facade to Main St, with outdoor seating right on the side walk. The very large rectangular bar within gives many the opportunity to gather around and enjoy both a drink and a sandwich or burger from the newly added Sideline Grill. Four pool tables in the back add another level of fun, and 18 large tv screens give the best chance to catch a Bobcat game, or other national sporting event on any given occasion. Live music with Diamond Rock and Soul will fill the R Bar every Wednesday night in September from 5:30-9pm as well.

The transformation that has taken place for the R Bar since I sat in its dark recesses for my 21st birthday is phenomenal really. The updates in the years before the explosion were huge improvements in themselves, creating a much brighter and cheery setting, and now with a whole new building another new start. The Rockin R Bar, though down for a short time proves it will never be out!

If you haven’t already you really ought to head downtown to the new Rockin R to show your support of rebirth and continued growth in our community. As Mike Hope says “It’s a great community we have, and its been a community effort (for us to come back).” Have a pint and a burger for $5 on Thursday nights from 5-9pm. Route for your favorite team or shoot a game of pool. Meet a friend for lunch, or take a co-worker out after work to check out the new digs, and tell them Bozeman magazine sent you!     r

Angie Ripple is co-owner and publisher of Bozeman magazine. She has lived in Bozeman since 1995, two years before she could legally go to the R Bar.