Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill opens to public next week

With just a few details left to attend to, the Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill is almost ready to open on Montana Avenue, in what must be one of the more spectacular indoor spaces in Billings.

The new business, which is leasing the old United Glass building at 2203 Montana Ave., is being developed by Sam Hoffmann, owner of Red Lodge Ales. It will be serving a variety of hard ciders made on the premises, as well as some guest ciders, wine on tap and all the beers made at the Red Lodge brewery.

Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, the Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill will also be serving food from a menu developed by chef and kitchen manager Jason Corbridge, an experienced chef best remembered as the proprietor of Cafe DeCamp.

The pub will have an invitation-only soft opening this Friday and Saturday for contractors and others who helped launched the business, and for others in the food and drink business. The full opening will be sometime next week, Corbridge said, preferring to leave that date in suspense.

The expansive, high-ceilinged industrial space with huge windows looking out over Montana Avenue was redesigned by by Susie Hoffmann, Sam’s sister and the owner of Envi Interior Design in Bozeman. Envi also designed the Fieldhouse cafe, a few blocks west and across the railroad tracks from the Last Chance.

“I largely let Susie do her own thing,” Sam Hoffmann said.

The result is a pub with lots of bare brick and ironwork, black concrete floors covered with clear coating and a variety of industrial-looking light fixtures, some of them suspended from antique pulley blocks. The focal point of the pub is German-style fireplace faced with green tiles.

Corbridge, who was attempting to describe the look of the new pub, eventually settled on this: “So, yeah, it’s ridiculously gorgeous.”

When you walk up the short flight of stairs from Montana Avenue into the pub, the dining area and fireplace are on your right. There are easy chairs and side tables near the fireplace, and another little living-room-like area in one corner of the dining room, up against one of the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows.

Another bank of windows, salvaged during reconstruction of the building, is set into the wall dividing the dining room from the production area, so diners can watch the whole process from their seats. To the left as you enter the pub is a long row of little offices. Several of them are being used by the staff, but two rooms will be used for extra pub seating.

Corbridge brought in Tanner Vinecke as general manager of the business. A veteran of the food and drink industry for many years, Vinecke mostly recently worked as the Eastern Montana salesman for Willie’s Distillery in Ennis.

Vinecke said he’s been a fan of Corbridge for a long time, so it was “really a great honor” to be offered the job.

“Then I had to talk to my 2-year-old and his mom about where our future was going,” he said with a laugh. But it was an easy call in the end, and he’s looking forward to helping build a business from scratch.

“That’s the fun of it, isn’t it?” he asked. “Getting thrown to the wolves is how I learn best.”


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

There are many different light fixtures, including some suspended from pulley blocks.

Vinecke’s favorite part of the building is the refrigerated room where giant crates of sweet-smelling apples are stored. They have already bought apples from orchards in Fromberg, Belfry, Townsend and St. Ignatius, and they also have apples from Hoffmann’s own orchard north of Red Lodge.

Still other apples were shipped in from Michigan, Vinecke said. A supplier there has a method of de-oxygenating stored apples, making it possible to ship them year-round.

On the north side of the new pub is a concrete loading dock, half of which has been fenced off to serve as a patio starting next spring. The patio can easily accommodate 100 to 150 people, Vinecke said, while the pub and dining room has an occupancy permit for up to 450 people, including employees.

There is on-street parking on Montana Avenue and North 22nd Street, and after 5 p.m. people can park across Montana in the lot used by the city’s Public Works Department, headquartered in the farthest-east building in the Billings Depot complex. (CORRECTION: This, unfortunately, is not accurate. A spokesman for Billings Depot Inc. said the lot across the street from the Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill is owned by the Billings Depot and is needed for their event guests. The east parking lot is reserved for the city and CTA Architects during the daytime, and after 5 p.m. is to be used for Billings Depot events only.)

After-hours parking will also be available in a lot behind the building. It is owned by CTA Architects Engineers, which occupies a beautifully restored industrial building across the alley from the Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill.

But you are probably wondering about the food.

Corbridge said he has written 40-some menus over the past eight years, but the one he drew up for the Last Chance is entirely new, with unique dishes he created ingredient by ingredient. And it’s probably not quite finished yet.

“I’ve been modifying it virtually every day,” he said.

One of the “small fare” dishes is a cider-braised pork belly with oatmeal streusel, made with cinnamon, coriander, fennel seed caramel and black pepper creme fraiche. The Montana grass-fed burger comes on a brioche bun with lettuce, a fried egg, fresh onion and a Bent Nail pickle, Bent Nail being Red Lodge Ales’ popular India Pale Ale.

Or how about sweet potato and mushroom tacos, sourdough apple latkes or grilled cheese canapes?

Corbridge said he tried to make the menu “approachable and accessible.”

But, he added, “In a way I really like proselytizing people. … I want people to challenge themselves a little bit, but also to trust that I’m not experimenting on them.”

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