Angie Ripple | Friday Oct. 1st, 2021
Stepping into the Bacchus Pub within the Baxter Hotel in downtown Bozeman can transport you to another time and place, namely 1929 with architecture designed by Fred Willson, who styled the cozy space to evoke the atmosphere of a historic European tavern. The Baxter was created to bring locals and visitors together, and the Bacchus continues this tradition with its comfortable atmosphere, and original dark stained beams intact over head, and original Nemadji tiles lining the walls. Even the very same German monk heads that guests sat beneath in 1929 decorate the pub today.
The European-inspired atmosphere of the Bacchus Pub combined with the melting pot nature of Bozeman work together to create a safe space to learn about Bozeman’s history and come together as a community in the spirit of the families who brought it to fruition, the Grafs and Baxters.
Zach Thompson has been the manager of the Bacchus for the past three years, one of those years he was deployed and spent time in seven countries. We relied on the keeper of Baxter Hotel history, Amy Horton, to help us with this question.
Angie Ripple: How was the Bacchus conceptualized?
Amy Horton: The story of the Bacchus Pub is intimately tied to the history of Baxter Hotel which starts with one man – Eugene “Gene” Graf. Gene’s story is similar to that of many who made their homes in Bozeman over the last 100 years. Gene moved to Bozeman with little more than a dream and with the help of neighbors, friends and other like-minded pioneers, he made a lasting mark on the Bozeman community.
Gene arrived in Bozeman from Germany penniless but with a knack for baking, and for business. At first, Graf sold his bread in the hobo area near the train station on the eastern edge of town. Eventually, he saved enough money to open a bakery on Main Street (you can still see the Bon Ton Bakery tile on the corner of Main and Willson Avenue across the street from the Baxter Hotel). By the 1920s, Gene had founded the Bon Ton Flour Mill and established himself as a business leader in the growing Bozeman community.
It was around that same time that Gene hatched the idea for a state-of-the-art downtown hotel that would serve as a gathering place where out-of-town guests could stay and mingle with members of the community.
Gene enlisted the help of other like-minded citizens, forming the Bozeman Community Hotel Corporation. The group rallied the support of nearly 250 community members to secure most of the funding needed to break ground. But it wasn’t enough. After all of their work, the project still fell $50,000 short of its fundraising goal. That’s when the Baxters, a local ranching family, stepped up to close the monetary gap, ensuring the completion of what would become the Baxter Hotel.
On March 16, 1929, the entire community was invited to celebrate the opening of the Baxter Hotel, which became known as “the crown jewel of Bozeman.” All 250 attendees from the community raised their glasses “to the Hotel Baxter, to pledge ourselves to cooperate in doing everything possible to make Bozeman the best town in America in which to live.”
To Gene, the Baxter Hotel was the heart of Bozeman, and the Bacchus Pub was the centerpiece of the Baxter Hotel. The space that now is the Bacchus Pub originally housed the Baxter Hotel Coffee Shop where Gene sold his breads and other baked goods.
Although the premises of the Bacchus originally opened as the Baxter Coffee House and the iconic name change came in the 1960s, the space itself and the welcoming spirit remain largely unchanged.
AR: What do you want people to experience when they walk through your doors?
Zach Thompson: I want them to have a great dining experience for one, but I also want them to get a little background into the Bozeman community. We see a lot of tourists and regulars coming in and when they come here we want them to experience a little bit of history of the historical Baxter Hotel downtown and we have a nice outline of the history of the Baxter and of the Bacchus on our menus and that gives them a little idea of our roots here in Bozeman community.
AR: What makes The Bacchus unique in the Bozeman Food Scene?
ZT: We are a mixing pot of American fare, Irish food, German food, and all of that combines together in nice hearty portions, filling food that compliments our beer selection really well. We have a phenomenal kitchen staff that make a ton of our product from scratch, we try to use as much local product as possible. We have a great relationship with where we get our beef from, the rancher literally drops it off at our door for us. It’s the hard work that we do to prep everything and make everything from scratch that makes us unique in the Bozeman Food Scene. You just can’t get some of what we make anywhere else in town. For example, we are probably the only place in town that you can get corned beef and cabbage all the time. The corned beef is slow-cooked for over 24 hours, we take a lot of time to prepare it correctly and make sure it comes out with a great taste.
AR: What do your regulars keep coming back for?
ZT: I would definitely say that our burgers are a really popular item. The bison burger or just our basic bacon cheeseburger are two super popular items because it is as fresh as you can get. Our Red Angus beef is from right down the highway in Three Forks.
But, I think regulars keep coming back because we have such a great staff on hand. They are super knowledgeable, we rotate through a ton of different beer selections and there is always something new to try here on the beer side of things. My staff is always there to have a conversation with the guests and they get to know them, they’re going to ask them about their weekend, and they customers are going to get to know the staff members too. We don’t have a lot of turnover here so you can come here just every summer and you will probably still see the same faces and get to know those people and build relationships with the community. That’s why people come back here because they feel like the servers care about them, and the bartenders care about them because they do.
AR: What is your personal favorite menu item?
ZT: My personal favorite would definitely be the Reuben, it utilizes that slow-cooked corn beef. We use a house-made citrus slaw on there that gives you a little bit more pop than traditional sauerkraut would, and your choice of sides.
AR: What do you personally enjoy most about being part of the Bozeman community?
ZT: When I’m not at work I like camping, hiking, fishing, anything outdoors is what I gravitate to. I also enjoy coaching football at the High School too.
At the Bacchus it’s great to be a part of this community, especially our downtown community, it’s super close knit so we get to do cross promotions with different companies down here, like Chalet Sports we’ve worked with. We have a network of small business owners, and it’s really great working with those guys. And when we all get together we’re able to do bigger things for our community as well, giving back to a lot of nonprofits that operate in the community has been phenomenal. Those are all things that you don’t necessarily feel everywhere else, but in Bozeman there are a lot of different organizations doing a lot of different things for our community.
AR: Do you have anything coming up in October that the readers should know about?
ZT: We are finally in a position to be open 7 days a week again. We can be open from 11 am to 9 pm Sunday through Wednesday and 10 pm Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We are happy to get back to our regular hours of operation. We’ll always have sports going if you want to come down and watch sports, we’re always going to have great food being served up, and great beer options, so pretty much anything you’re looking for in a dining experience.
We have Happy Hour from 2-6 pm every day, and we do trivia on Monday nights right now from 7-9 pm. We’re looking at a couple of new promotions coming soon, but you’ll have to stop in to see what they’ll be.
If you need a night out, a delicious Reuben for lunch or your next place for Happy Hour stop into the Bacchus Pub and enjoy some Bozeman history with your pint.