Do you like to relax with an after-work drink? Do you meet friends for a happy hour beverage at the end of a long week? Do you feel like you frequent the same handful of bars every time you go out?
If so, please keep reading. We are a youngish professional couple who know how you feel. Driving home from work one day, we were in the mood to settle in for a cocktail but were tired of the same old haunts.
Frustrated, Mr. Bitters proposed a challenge: “What if we visit every bar in Billings? In a city of over 100,000 people, there have to be more options!”
Olive, his beautiful, intelligent, highly Type-A wife, immediately started asking questions: “Would we visit every bar, or just ones we’ve never been to?” “Should we keep a list?” “How often should we update it?” The next day, she presented a spreadsheet of local liquor licenses, courtesy of the Department of Revenue—unbelievably, there were 212.
We decided to start sampling as many of them as we could, knowing we couldn’t possibly try them all and seeing no need to bother with the sort of casinos that don’t even pretend to care what they serve their patrons. And since we are self-centered enough to believe others would be interested in our quest, we have decided to share our reviews, week after week, here at Last Best News.
The Bar Tab, as we came to call our quest, will document each of our visits, and we hope they will help readers branch out and try something new while supporting our local businesses. We will try to evaluate each visit honestly and fairly, sharing the good, the bad and the meh.
Please remember that these reviews offer one couple’s opinion, based on one or two visits at a particular time. The intent is not to make an in-depth examination of every establishment; honestly, we don’t have the time or inclination to take on that kind of endeavor.
This project is not peer-reviewed or checked against other more reliable objective data. Rather, it is offered to you, at no expense, so that you may share in our experiences and perhaps be inspired to take your own bar-cation.
Before we begin, please let us introduce ourselves.
I am a student of cocktail culture and have recently grown to appreciate the craft of proper mixology. I believe martinis should be stirred, not shaken. I make my own bitters and I can hardly stomach a margarita made without freshly squeezed lime juice.
While my home bar is growing, I love to be inspired by local bartenders and appreciate people who are skilled in their trade. Please don’t get the wrong impression—I’m not an elitist at heart. I am a local professional from an unremarkable background and I grew up drinking domestic beer, malt liquor and Mr. T’s Whiskey Sours. I once bought a bottle of Mogen David because I enjoyed the taste of communion wine so much. Turns out there’s a reason they give you thimble-sized servings.
I drink wine. I like it red, dry, and would describe my favorites as spicy or peppery, preferably with a “dank basement smell.” After years of research, I’ve cultivated my palate and once won a blind wine tasting (not that I’m bragging).
The down side of this skill is that my wine costs have gone up considerably. Still, the quality is worth the sacrifice. I also enjoy a dry martini, but hate sickly sweet cocktails. I believe “Hot Damn!” should be an expression of amazement, not served in a shot glass. A compulsive organizer and planner, I offer a much-needed structure to my husband’s general disorganization. Nevertheless, I can serve up sharp wit and sarcasm with the best.
We were both raised in Montana, are proud graduates of Montana State University and have lived in Billings since 2010. We are constantly impressed by the sense of community the city offers, and we like to support local entrepreneurs whenever possible.
We are by no means staying out till dawn or closing down the bars, so our reviews will not detail the best places to party. For us, going out for a drink provides a time to socialize with our friends and co-workers, unwind and experience local flavors.
We will not waste time reviewing bars our crowd already frequents. If you come here expecting to read about Jake’s, Walkers, or Montana Brew Pub, we apologize in advance. But if you’re willing to try something new with an open mind, you might find a new favorite … or learn which joints to avoid. We hope you enjoy.
And here is Chapter 1:
What makes the Squire Lounge unique is…
Let’s start over.
The Squire Lounge is a great place to…
Never mind. There is nothing interesting or distinct about the Squire Lounge, located at 1525 Broadwater Ave. It would make a great generic “bar” for a television shoot, since there seems to be one such establishment in every town across the country. And we should know, since we’ve been in dive bars across the country.
On a Saturday afternoon in prime football-watching season, we walked into a darkly lit, wood-paneled bar to drink, snack and watch the Bobcats win.
We were greeted by an ineptly accommodating waitress, who informed us that they had liquor and lots of beers, but nothing on draft. It was a little too early to start on the hard stuff, so we asked what bottles of beer were available. She wasn’t sure.
Mr. Bitters ordered a PBR, his macro-domestic preference, and Olive opted for a Michelob Ultra, after noting that the “selection” of boxed Franzia came only in a pink variety. While we waited for our drinks, we took a minute to look around the place. All the standard boxes were checked: generic, non-partisan sports paraphernalia, tables full of nondescript sports fans and a mirrored bar showcasing mid-range liquor. A bank of complimentary phone chargers in the corner offered a unique touch.
We should mention that on our way into the Squire we noticed that it has a rather large patio outside. Given the light rain and temperatures in the high 40s, we continued inside. Nevertheless, it did look rather inviting, and perhaps worth a follow-up review in more patio-appropriate weather. The outside bar, by the way, appeared to open into the parking lot, so that should provide a certain level of amusement also (as well as obvious open-container violations).
Since we were planning to stay a bit, we looked over the food menu to see if we could agree on a salty snack. The offerings were basic, limited to fried appetizers and pizza. Olive was trying to decide between a basket of fries or “gems” (a.k.a. tater tots) while the table behind us ordered. Their conversation with the waitress was telling:
Patron: Is the pizza any good?
Patron: OK. We can’t decide if we want cheese or pepperoni. Can we get half-and-half?
Waitress: Well, they’re already made back there. They’re, like, frozen.
Patron: (Laughing) Like Tostino’s?
Waitress: Yeah, kinda, but a much better brand. Like Red Baron.
We watched with bated breath while the pizza was served a little while later. Conveniently, they kept it on the cardboard round for easy handling.
Mr. Bitters finished his beer and ordered a second round with a basket of fries. When the fries were delivered, we learned that the bar and restaurant are technically separate establishments, so we had to pay for our food separately. This was a little inconvenient, but both took credit cards and it wasn’t a deal breaker.
The fries turned out to be pre-made but perfectly cooked. They were a great salty accompaniment to the beer. A couple of friends who had come into the Squire to meet us ordered a basket of “gems,” which were also prepared competently.
The entire time we were in the Squire, most of the tables and all the bar stools were full. It was extremely dark inside, so the flood of daylight was a bit of a shock each time the door opened to let in a new customer—which was often. And why not? We were able to go to one bar and simultaneously watch all three football games we were interested in.
At one point, a very loud, very drunk man seated behind us started instructing the bar on the best way to get out of jury duty. According to this gentleman, if you keep shouting “Hang him!” irrespective of the nature of the case, you should be dismissed. Building on this sage advice, he and his friends went on to have a lively political discussion—one that proved that half the population really does consist of morons.
Admittedly, this was a little aggravating, but certainly not the Squire’s fault. When the drunken gentleman started in on “You know who controls the banks…” we knew it was time to stop listening in.
Our games ended, so we asked for our tab. It wasn’t egregious, but it seemed expensive given the atmosphere. At least the Bobcats won (obviously). On our way out, we noticed our opinionated friend from the bar had ordered another beer but had skipped out, leaving the beer (and his tab) behind. It sounded as though he was known for doing this, so perhaps he was going to settle up the next time he came in.
Overall, the experience was average in every sense. The Squire Lounge is a sports bar that offers lots of TVs, a decent selection of domestic bottled beers, mid-range liquors and unobjectionable bar fare. And there’s plenty of room for large groups.
It’s not that we wouldn’t recommend it, but we felt one visit was plenty.
Great set up to watch sports
Chairs were well-padded and comfortable
Bar and food are separate so you can’t run one tab
Limited drink options
Service is nice but not well trained