Whether it’s Montana’s short summers or our farming roots, patios are big hits in Billings.
The fun is all outside because you can’t play cornhole or have a snowball fight indoors.
Bar and restaurant owners boost the shade for hot days and add heaters and fire pits to keep the evenings warm and patios open, often into October.
Out of the dozens of patios and decks offered at eateries and bars in Billings, the Enjoy staff picked some of our favorites. Here they are:
Best patio to play games: Canyon Creek Brewing Co., 3060 Gabel Road. If you’ve never tossed a beanbag into a hole in a piece of plywood, you’re missing out because a quick game of cornhole while you’re sipping a cold microbrew makes for a perfect summer evening. Cornhole is just like horseshoes only if you get hit in the shin with it, it doesn't hurt. A plus at Canyon Creek is it’s also an excellent place to watch the sunset.
Fun fact: Owner Ron Kalvig joked about calling his patio "beer henge," because the construction crew asked what they were using all the huge stones for: a re-creation of Stonehenge.
Best patio to people watch: Montana Brewing Co., 113 N. Broadway. Just don’t let the boss catching you sipping a microbrew at lunch on a tedious Monday. This patio is in the heart of downtown Billings with petunias and other blooming flowers all around you and people walking up and down the sidewalk on North Broadway. Owner Sean Graves said the patio has been there since the early 1990s. In fact, its presence helped shape downtown's Renaissance.
“It was the first place that had a patio into the street. When I first came here 14 years ago, there were businesses closed down and windows were boarded up, but look at North Broadway today.”
Graves said the best time to sit on the patio, which seats 50, is September and October because of Montana’s typically mellow Indian summer.
Fun fact: Pumpkin beer season starts in late September, so watch for special seasonal brews.
Oldest and one of the biggest patios: Tiny’s Tavern, 323 N. 24th St. Owner Curt Grimm still remembers the snowball fight they had on the patio about 20 years ago when Tiny’s beloved Denver Broncos played the Green Bay Packers.
“We built a stadium out of hay bales and ran heaters into the scaffolding that held the TVs so the screens wouldn’t freeze up. Pretty soon, they started with the snowball fights.”
More typical is a rock band playing on a Friday or Saturday night during the summer months or seeing Norrine the Outlaw Queen playing country music on Sunday afternoons on the patio.
Grimm has owned Tiny’s for 34 years and believes that the patio, which seats 200, has been open since the early 1970s.
Fun fact: Part of the draw on the Tiny’s patio is the orange crush drink, which is made with orange vodka and other secret ingredients, Grimm said.
Best patio to go after a Rocky Mountain College football game: Bistecca at the Granary, 1500 Poly Drive. The Granary deck has also been around since the 1970s. It has been renovated several times into its existing look. Kevin Bos, who owns Bistecca with his father, Jim, said customers gravitate toward the patio and the bar because they prefer casual dining. You can also order off the full dinner menu and sit outside under the umbrellas or in the shade of 100-year-old cottonwood trees. The biggest evening of the year on the patio is when the Battlin' Bears play their arch rivals, the Carroll College Saints from Helena.
Fun fact: The Granary is actually built in a former granary that was part of Rocky Mountain College.
Best urban atmosphere patio: The Fieldhouse, 2601 Minnesota Ave. From the minute you walk out onto the patio, which faces the railroad tracks, you feel like you’re in a real city. Ghost signs on the brick buildings across the tracks help add to the ambiance. A mural of a large Cheshire cat, a la Alice in Wonderland, is painted on the brick wall of the restaurant and large shade sails fly overhead to keep customers out of the sun. The menu, created by chef Ben Harman, boasts locally sourced foods all made from scratch. One of the best times to go is for brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
Fun Fact: Harman first got excited about cooking when he took a home economics class at West High School.
Best patio to watch Magic City Blues or Alive After 5: The Rex Restaurant Bar & Grill, 2401 Montana Ave. The Rex is part of the historic district and is located in a turn-of-the century building. Come Aug. 5 and 6, the Rex patio will be the front-row seat to Magic City Blues on Montana Avenue. The patio, shaded by birch trees with hanging plants and patio umbrellas, is also a great place to watch Alive After 5 when the Rex hosts Laney Jones and the Spirits, an alt-rock band from Florida, on July 28. It's the only Alive After 5 event where you can sit under a tree and enjoy the music.
Fun facts: The Rex was once owned by Alfred Heimer, Buffalo Bill Cody's chef for his Wild West show. It was frequented by characters like Will James and Calamity Jane. Billings woman Senia Hart saved the building from the wrecking ball, buying it the day before it was to be torn down in 1975. It became The Rex in 1983.