A year ago, Steve and Melissa Harkless closed their small hole-in-the wall eatery in Portland, Oregon, and prepared to retire.
About six months later, while visiting his mother in Billings, Steve Harkless noticed the former Golden Phoenix restaurant in the Heights was for sale. Harkless, originally from Billings, had owned the D Street Cafe in Portland for two years and a discount grocery store chain before that.
“I wasn’t really ready to retire yet, I guess,” he said. “I was just kicking tires and all of a sudden it became a reality.”
Steve and Melissa Harkless are opening the
Tippy Cow Cafe at the busy corner of East Airport Road and Main Street. The cafe, which is set to open mid- to late-January depending on permits, will serve large-portion homestyle breakfast and lunch.
While the pair get their venture started, the restaurant will be open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. with plans to eventually expand to a 24-hour diner.
"Homestyle" meals will vary from chicken fried steak and half-pound burgers, to fresh hash browns and five-egg omelets. True to any diner, there will be milkshakes.
Melissa, Steve and Anthony Harkless are opening the Tippy Cow restaurant.
Since moving here in August, Steve Harkless said he's noticed a lack of late-night food options. He’s hoping the location and the 24-hour status will carve a niche in the Billings food scene, especially considering it sits at one of the busiest intersections in Montana, and is close to the airport and the Metra.
Harkless is expecting they’ll be able to make it a 24-hour restaurant within the first six months of opening, but said it depends on finding enough reliable staff. The restaurant is currently looking for staff for all positions.
The name Tippy Cow Cafe was a bit of a compromise for the couple. The name is derived from a sign gifted to the couple by a friend while they owned their Portland restaurant.
The friend kept bugging them to hang up the sign. When they finally did it became the “talk” of their small restaurant, Steve said.
The Tippy Cow restaurant at Main Street and Airport Road is being remodeled and will open in January.
“Everybody laughed at it and thought it was cute and clever,” Steve said. The sign, sporting a wooden cow’s head, reads "Tip Our Staff, Not Our Cows!" The sign is from Tippy Cow Rum Creams, a brand of flavored cream rums from Wisconsin.
Steve had other ideas for a diner name, but Melissa was stuck on Tippy Cow saying his suggestions didn’t “click.”
“I don’t really like Tippy Cow Café, but I like (Melissa) so I lost,” Steve said, with a smile.
“Tippy Cow Café, doesn’t that sound good?” Melissa said. Despite the name, the restaurant will not be serving rum creams — or any alcohol.
Melissa is running with the cow theme, with cow-shaped coffee mugs, a sign on the front of the restaurant featuring a cartoon cow, and lots of other decor.
The Tippy Cow restaurant is opening at Airport Road and Main Street in the former Golden Phoenix building. The cafe is set to open mid- to late-January depending on permits.
Aside from the cow theme, everything from the floor to the roof of the restaurant was renovated.
Now, the restaurant is barely recognizable from its former life as the Golden Pheonix,
which closed in 2018 after more than 20 years. Before it was Golden Phoenix, the restaurant was The Country Kitchen, which opened in 1976.
Steve Harkless is hoping their diner will fill the gap left by the Kit Kat Cafe, which was demolished in 2001. Harkless hasn't lived in Billings since he was 19, and he's looking forward to relearning the city and being closer to his mother.
As the opening date looms, the family is putting the finishing touches on the dining area and completing the kitchen.
Renovations, which began in August, have largely been done by Steve, Melissa and their son Anthony Harkless. It was a job much bigger than they expected.
“If I could've run the other way, I would’ve,” Melissa Harkless joked. Steve bought the restaurant without Melissa seeing it first.
Despite jokes, the couple seem eager to open the restaurant. They miss the familiarity of a small diner and loved becoming friends with their Portland regulars. They're ready to meet their Billings regulars.
“Everybody knew everybody. People came in and you knew what they’d eat every day,” Steve Harkless said. "It was pretty cool."
Retrospective: 99 closed Billings restaurants and bars
5 & Diner
The 5 & Diner
opened in 1997 as a 1950s-style diner, complete with a jukebox and lunch counter. It closed the following year, and was replaced shortly thereafter by a casino. Today, the building is home to Cafe Rio.
The 5th Quarter was an early example in Billings of a true sports bar. It opened in the late 1970s and sat at 231 Main St. above the Metra. The building later housed Roger's Showboat and the Players Club before being razed, and the location is now home to Country Inn & Suites.
17 Bar & The Spur Bar
Located next door to one another in the 1100 block of First Avenue North, the 17 Bar and the Spur Bar catered to the cowboy and cowgirl crowd, with distinctive neon signs to make the target audience clear. It's said that the 17 Bar was able to circumvent a city ordinance prohibiting liquor to be sold on the same premises as a live music and dancing venue. The city limits, it's said, ended at the edge of the dance floor, allowing the bar to operate with live music and dancing, so long as drinks weren't carried across the city-county boundary. Both the Spur and the 17 Bar were closed by the late 1990s. The former Spur location is home to The Loft today, while the old 17 Bar building has been home to various businesses.
17th Street Station
17th Street Station opened in 1993 in a former Chevron service station across from Urbaska Field at the corner of Poly Drive and 17th Street West. The restaurant and coffee house, opened by Shelley, Anne and Jennie Doggett, offered homemade sandwiches, soups and baked goods. It was replaced by Montico's, an Italian restaurant, in 2008. Montico's closed soon after, and the land, owned at the time by Rocky Mountain College, was swapped with Edwards Jet Center in exchange for hangar space for the college's aviation program. The building was demolished, and replaced with a three-story office building.
Much like the legendary Arcade Bar, Al's Tavern was well known for being a "tough guy" bar, with frequent barroom fights and stabbings. According to Jack McKee, who bought Al's shortly before closing it, the South Side tavern originally opened in a former mattress factory along Minnesota Avenue in the 1940s, but within a decade was moved to 3016 Ninth Ave. S.
After the Montana Bar inside the L&L Building at 2624 Minnesota Ave. closed in the late 1970s, the Arcade Bar made the move next door to occupy the space. The bar remained notorious for its fights until its closure in 1994. The L&L Building sat empty for more than a decade, but eventually was remodeled for use as a Subway restaurant. It was later home to
Mel's Lunchbox, which has since closed.
Archer's Beer Depot
Archer's Beer Depot was opened by Ermal Archer in 1957 at 1223 Grand Ave., next to what was then Floyd's Barber Shop. The bar and liquor store became known as a meeting place for local college students, and soon outgrew its tiny space. Archer's son, Bud, took over management, and by the 1970s moved the business down the street to a new building at 1918 Grand Ave. The name was changed to Archer's Casino, and remained in business until Bud Archer retired to care for his ailing wife. Today, the uniquely shaped building is home to Rio Grand Casino.
A small, regional chain, Aunt Chilotta was known for tacos, tostadas, burritos and other Mexican specialties. The tiny restaurant opened in 1976, and was moved to a parking lot on North 29th Street, next to what is now The Sassy Biscuit,
in 1992. The Aunt Chilotta name was dropped during a renovation of the building. It would later house Rocket Burritos (now Rockets), Burger Hut & Ice Cream, and finally Los Mayas, which moved next door when the hut was demolished in 2008. The original location on North 27th Street is now occupied by the Rimview Medical Plaza.
Before their decline in the late 1960s, supper clubs were an important part of the nightlife of many American cities. Billings, of course, was no exception, and one of its most well known supper clubs was the Beacon Club. Formerly known as The Hilltop Tavern, the Beacon Club sat at the junction of Lake Elmo Drive and Main Street, and boasted seating for 400. It is said to have been the largest supper club in Montana at the time. The club
changed format to a youth club in 1966, "with four sheriff's deputies on hand to assure orderly conduct." The Beacon's liquor license was transferred in 1974, and the building was demolished in 1984. Main Street Casino occupied the land for years before that building was demolished in 2015. Today a Starbucks sits on the former Beacon location.
The Beanery, named for the
original lunch building at the Billings Depot, opened in 2000 after remodeling on the building was completed. The restaurant was the first to occupy the building since passenger rail service to the depot ceased in the 1970s. The name was changed to Traxx in 2004, and the restaurant closed in 2007. McCleary's Tavern opened in the space that year, and was later replaced by Phillies, followed by Trailhead Spirits. Trailhead moved to the West End in 2019, and the space became home to Bar MT.
Big Al's, decorated with murals of a 1930s gangster theme, was a
sandwich shop located 9 N. 30th St. A foot long meatball sub, named the "Machine Gun Jack McGurn," ran $2.60 in 1978. Breakfast, soups and a salad bar were also available at the cafeteria-style restaurant. The restaurant changed names to Bathtub Ginnie's Sandwich Joint in 1978, and the space was later home to Ole's Garden.
One of a number of steakhouse chains that opened shop in Billings during the 1960s and 1970s, the Black Angus chain began in Seattle in 1964. The Billings restaurant was located at 2658 Grand Ave. Though it had a loyal customer base, Black Angus closed in the early 1990s. The owners later opened a Mexican restaurant, El Toro Loco, at the same location. Bruno's moved in for a short time, and the location later became home to Hudson's. It's now home to Craft B&B.
The Blue Heron was a restaurant that opened in the
late 1970s at 1543 Main Street in the Heights. The menu included steaks, seafood, pasta and salads, as well as some Asian-inspired dishes. The Blue Heron closed by the early 1980s, and the building was torn down years later during an expansion of the nearby Albertson's store. The site is home to Ace Hardware today.
The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of several steakhouse chains across the country. Perhaps one of the most successful was the Bonanza chain, started in Westport, Conn., in 1963. Billings had several Bonanza locations over the years. The original location at 923 Grand Ave. was home to Bonanza Health Foods from 1976 to 2018, and retains the characteristic shape of early Bonanza restaurants. The Heights location, at 1341 Main St., is now occupied by Bugz's. A third location, at 446 S. 24th St. W., was later home to the Riverboat Casino before the building was demolished to make way for an AutoZone automotive parts store.
Though the cybercafe concept never really caught on in Billings,
Broadwaycafe.com provided an example of the concept at 216 N. Broadway. The coffee shop opened in December of 1997 and offered customers Internet access for an hourly fee. The shop closed a couple of years later, and Casey's Golden Pheasant moved into the space soon after. Taste of India occupied the space before it became home to Imperial Thai.
Located at 925 S. 27th St., next to what was at the time a Howard Johnson hotel, The Bungalow
opened in 1994. It served foods from a variety of styles, and included a piano bar and live entertainment on some nights. The restaurant closed in 2003, and was bought by Smith Funeral Chapels the following year after plans to turn it into a western bar fell through. It's still a funeral chapel today.
Known for its broasted chicken, Butler's Kitchen sat at 1005 Grand Ave., though the original restaurant opened as Mrs. Butler's Kitchen across from Billings Senior High in 1957. Owned by Howard and Heloise Butler, Butler's was a Billings staple until its closure in 1988. The second location later became a day care center, then Windsocks Restaurant and finally Four Seas Chinese Restaurant. The building currently sits vacant.
Casa de Pizza
In 1964, Evarist A. "Buzz" Buzzelli opened one of Billings' first pizzerias, Casa de Pizza, at 2916 First Ave. N. Although the beloved restaurant is long closed, its recipes were used as the base for the sauce and dough at Guido's, a pizza place that opened just one block from the former Casa de Pizza location in 2007, and that is now located on Montana Avenue. The old Casa de Pizza building now houses Cham Thai Cuisine.
Casey's Golden Pheasant
Casey's Golden Pheasant originally opened at 2622 Minnesota Ave., next to the L&L Building. It later moved to North 25th Street, where Don Luis now sits. The restaurant moved to 109 N. Broadway, the current location of Hooligans, before making its final move one block north to 222 N. Broadway in 1998. Casey's specialized in Cajun food, often with live entertainment. It closed in 2006. The most recent Casey's location is now home to Daisy Duke's. The original building was demolished in the early 1980s.
Once located in the space that is now occupied by Stella's, Cattin's was known as a late-night hangout. Formerly a Sambo's location, the restaurant was part of a Washington-based chain of family eateries that operated in several western states. It opened in 1983, and after 17 years of serving downtown customers, Cattin's closed in September of 2000. The space was later occupied by The Timbers before Stella's moved in from a few blocks away in 2005. One Cattin's restaurant continues to operate in Puyallup, Wash.
The Cattle Company
Like Bonanza, The Cattle Company was part of a larger steakhouse chain. Located in Rimrock Mall, the restaurant was one of the first tenants when the shopping center opened in 1975. The space later became a tap room location for the Helena-based Sleeping Giant Brewery (now known as Lewis & Clark Brewing Co.) and Lucky Lil's Casino. It is now home to the
Freefall Brewery taproom.
Cellar 301 opened in the basement of one of downtown Billings' most recognizable buildings, the old Chamber of Commerce Building located at 301 N. 27th St., in 1977. After Cellar 301's closure in the early 1990s, the space became home to Walker's Grill, which moved to the Securities Building on First Ave. N. in 2004.
Charlie's opened in the
late 1970s at 2528 First Ave. N., inside the same Lincoln Hotel space that was previously home to Mediocre Mike's Pizza. Charlie's also offered pizza, as well as sandwiches and other dishes. The restaurant was gone by 1985 and the space is part of the Montana Rescue Mission Women and Children's Shelter.
Chinese Kitchen was a Chinese restaurant that operated at 117 S. 29th St. on Billings' South Side. It was open for more than 20 years before closing
in the 1990s. The building briefly became home to La Familia, a Mexican restaurant, before it was demolished. A residential garage stands in its place today.
The Club was located at 131 Moore Lane, in a neighborhood known more for industrial shops and recreational supply businesses than bars. The site was formerly home to another bar, The Cockpit. The Club was described in a 1993 Gazette story about a lawsuit over a 1989 shooting at the bar as being "known as a hangout for Samoans in Billings." It closed not long after the incident.
One of a small number of bars that served the Heights in the 1960s and 1970s, Clyde's Tavern was located at 251 E. Main St. The bar, named for owner Clyde Kuether, often provided live music. The bar closed in 1977, and the address is now used by Smoker Friendly, a national tobacco store chain.
Dagwood's, named after Dagwood Bumstead, a "Blondie" comics character known for making enormous sandwiches, was a sub shop located across from West Park Plaza at 1520 Grand Ave. After closing, owner Julie Chattenton opened Windsocks Restaurant in the former Butler's Kitchen location at 1005 Grand Ave., carrying over some of the menu items from Dagwood's. The sandwich shop became a car lot, and the building was eventually demolished when Lithia Toyota built a new showroom on the property.
Dr. Feelgood's Nite Club was located at the corner of Regal Street and Industrial Avenue, in the former Gramma's location, first sharing a space with Woody's Sport Lounge and later Desperados. The bar and nightclub had a complicated history, and after changes in ownership, closed in 2003. The building was demolished the following year, and the 15th Street Center strip mall was erected in its place.
Part of the downtown dining scene for a decade, DeVerniero's Ristorante was one of several restaurants opened in Billings by the DeVerniero family over the years. The original restaurant, at 513 N. 32nd St. near the Transwestern Plaza, was vacated in favor of the former King's Table location at 411 S. 24th St. W. in 1994, and the name was changed to DeVo's. The updated restaurant was short-lived, closing in 1995. The space would later be home to Pratt's before being sold and demolished to make way for Buffalo Wild Wings.
The Donut Hole
The Donut Hole once served tasty, fried dough rings at three locations in Billings. One was at 1101 N. 27th St., another at 1500 Broadwater Ave., and one at 926 Main St. in the Heights. The donut shop chain offered a wide variety of donuts, including a giant one that was often bought for occasions such as birthdays as a cake alternative. The Heights location, which was part of the Main Plaza office and business complex, closed in 1997. The Broadwater Avenue location is home to Red Rooster Cafe today, while the 27th Street location has been incorporated into the medical corridor. A Donut Hole location in Helena operated for more than 20 years, but closed in 2015.
Dudley's Sports Bar opened in the former KoKo Club location on Grand Avenue in the early 1980s. The bar was known to host events that were beyond what most bar patrons might be used to, including Super Bowl pig roasts and indoor beach volleyball. Dudley's closed in the early 1990s, and was replaced by Magoo's. The building that housed Magoo's, as well as the well known Pork Chop John's restaurant, was demolished in the early 2000's, making way for Santa Fe Red's and later Beef O'Brady's. Guadalajara has since moved into that building.
A Portland-based chain, Elmer's Pancake & Steak House had two locations in Billings. The Heights location, at 875 Main St., was converted to a Fuddruckers in 2001. The West End location, at 2455 Central Ave., was torn down in 2004. The space is now occupied by CJ's and Casino Royale. The Heights Fuddruckers suffered a fire in 2019.
ElRoy's the Poor Boy BBQ
ElRoy's outdoor barbecue was started by James Admiral LeRoy, an Alabama native and former city utility worker who ran for city government several times as both a Republican and a Democrat. LeRoy sold his barbecue ribs on the front porch of a house at South 26th Street and First Avenue South, across from what is now the Billings Skate Park. LeRoy died in 1994 at age 76, but the house where he sold southern barbecue still stands.
Fossen's was a family restaurant located at 5435 Midland Road, in Billings' primary hotel district. The restaurant predated several of the hotels in the area, having been built during the 1960s or 1970s. After Fossen's closed in the 1990s, the building became home to the Silver Dollar Casino, and later Maui Nites Casino. It is now the High Tide Casino.
G. Willikers was a family restaurant located at 2150 Grand Ave., a building formerly home to Happy Joe's Pizza Parlor. It was closed by
early 1985, and today the building is home to Montana Nugget Casino.
A well-known Billings eatery for nearly 30 years, George Henry's occupied a former residence near the First Interstate Center on North 30th Street from its opening in the spring of 1980 to its closure in October of 2009. The restaurant was both a popular lunch spot and a destination for steak lovers. The former farmhouse is one of the oldest residential buildings in the area, dating to 1882. After George Henry's closed, the space was occupied by Benson's, which closed in 2013. Commons 1882, a locally-sourced restaurant, opened in the remodeled space, but has since moved. The building is vacant as of August 2019.
The Golden Belle served as the in-house restaurant of the Northern Hotel for almost five decades. Opened in 1959, the restaurant had decor reminiscent of the 1890s, closer in style to the hotel's first incarnation, which burned in 1940. The restaurant closed, along with the hotel, in 2006. While the hotel reopened in 2013, the separately-owned Golden Belle was replaced with TEN and Bernie's Diner.
One of the few West End bars in this list, Gramma's first opened in 1967 at 1310 15th St. W. In 1973, the bar moved south of Mountview Cemetery, to 145 Regal St. Gramma's featured a large screen for viewing sporting events, as well as a number of video games and frequent live music. After 22 years, Gramma's closed in 1989. The original location on 15th Street West is now home to the Gold Dust Casino, while the Regal Street location became home to Woody's Sports Pub, the Heartbreak Cafe and Desperados. A commercial building sits there now.
Opened by C.W. and Lin-Lin Lo in 1987, The Great Wall Chinese Restaurant sat at 1309 Grand Ave., next to what was then the Ernst Home Center. Ernst was demolished in 1999 to make way for the construction of the Evergreen Midtown Plaza, and the building housing The Great Wall followed just three years later. The site is now home to a CVS drug store. The Los would later open Sweet Ginger on Montana Ave.
Known for the telephones at every table by which customers placed their orders, an assortment of pies and a breaded sandwich known as a "Cheese Crunchie," The Happy Diner opened in 1970 at 1045 Grand Ave. The restaurant served patrons for nearly 36 years before closing in 2005. The building was demolished to make way for a new Dairy Queen.
Hearth Bakery was an "Old World" bakery, which baked European-style bread in its brick oven. The bakery opened at 3005 First Ave. N., next door to Pug Mahon's, and made desserts and breakfast items in addition to bread. The bakery closed in 2006, after less than two years in operation. The brick oven was later used to bake pizza at Guido's, which opened in the space in 2007, and moved out in 2019.
According to paperwork registering the Acme Hotel Building with the National Register of Historic Places, the Heidelberg Bar was one of the longest operating bars in a single location when it closed in the early 1980s. Opened in the 1930s and tucked between the F.W. Woolworth store and a furrier, it was a popular downtown drinking establishment for people of all economic statuses. After the Heidelberg closed, the space at 109 N. Broadway became home to Casey's Golden Pheasant after Casey's moved from Minnesota Avenue. Casey's moved up Broadway a few years later, and the space became home to different restaurants before Barley's Casino moved in. Barley's Casino and Hooligans Sports Bar occupy the old Heidelberg space today.
The Hop, a fifties-style drive-in, was among a number of drive-ins that operated in Billings throughout the 1990s. The location, at 1313 Central Ave., was once home to another drive-in, The Poor Boy, and retained the carhops and jukebox after Aserlener and Jubentino Landaverde bought the restaurant in 1988. It operated on Central until 2003. Then-owner Dan Klahn promised that the restaurant would reopen downtown, even going so far as to begin remodeling the space at 114 N. 27th St., but the lease negotiations fell through. The drive-in was demolished, and the lot is now occupied by an auto service garage. The downtown location that was once slotted to become The Hop eventually became another Billings burger destination - The Burger Dive.
House of David
The House of David, which was located at 304 N. 19th St., opened in
the 1970s and offered Korean, Japanese and Chinese dishes, as well as burgers and other American food. It was later renamed Junie's Cafe. The building was recently home to Mamacita's Cafe, but is now home to Mirch Masala, an Indian restaurant.
Junga Juice is a smoothie bar and cafe chain that first started in Missoula in 1998. A Billings location opened the following year in front of Lowe's at 2695 King Ave. W., just weeks after the Georgia-based Planet Smoothie chain opened a store on Grand Avenue. Junga Juice was later renamed Jus Chillin' before closing in 2007.
King's Table/Royal Fork
Part of a chain of buffet restaurants originally known as The Royal Fork, The King's Table was a great value for budget-minded diners looking to eat large quantities of a myriad of foods. Located at 411 S. 24th St. W., the restaurant closed in 1993, having opened as a Royal Fork location in the late 1970s. The chain, however, continued on with locations in other states.
Kit Kat Cafe
Opened in 1952 at 633 Main St., the Kit Kat Cafe quickly became a Heights institution, made even more famous by a 1995 visit by President Bill Clinton. The Kit Kat Cafe was demolished in 2001 to make way for a Taco Bell.
Opened in 1984 in a former grocery store at 614 S. 31st St., Koinonia served Mexican food until closing in 1995. The Chrysalis Academy, a Christian school, moved into the building later that year. An explosion caused by a gas leak destroyed the building shortly thereafter. The former Koinonia location is now occupied by housing.
In a space that has been home to numerous bars over the years, the Koko Club opened at 1223 Grand Ave. in 1961. The Koko Club remained in business there until it was replaced by Dudley's Sports Bar.
A multinational donut chain, Krispy Kreme opened a shop in Billings in July of 2004. Though initially extremely popular, the shop was closed after less than four years. The building at 2850 King Ave. W. became home to Montana Lil's Casino and Liquor Store. A new Krispy Kreme opened on Central Avenue in 2017.
After first opening in Bozeman in 1996, La Parrilla was expanded into Billings (as well as Boise, Idaho) in 1999. La Parrilla (Spanish for "the grill") served burritos, often with nontraditional ingredients. Though Bozemanites can still enjoy La Parrilla, the Billings location closed after a short time. It was located in the Rimrock Mini Mall.
Though it closed after just 2 1/2 years, La Toque left a legacy in Billings dining through its ownership, who later opened Bistro Enzo on the West End and included James Honaker, who opened Walker's Grill in the Old Chamber Building with his brother, Bill. The French-inspired La Toque was located at 123 N. 26th St., and opened in 1987. The restaurant closed in 1989.
The Lettuce Shoppe
Lettuce Shoppe opened in 1979 at 2705 2nd Ave. N., a location that was formerly home to Farr's Jewelry. It served salads, soups and sandwiches. Within a few short years, the location became home to the Magic City Deli. The building was torn down to make way for the Park 3 parking garage and City Hall expansion in the late 1980s.
Known for their flour tortillas filled with pizza toppings, called "pizzaritos," Li'l Peetzas sat next to Taco Bell on Grand Ave. from the late 1970s through the late 1980s. Owners Bev and Rich Hageman later sold the items in the Dairy Queen that they owned nearby. The former L'il Peetzas location is home to a small business complex today.
Little Big Men Pizza
Started as a chain by Jim Grubbs and Bob Boorman in 1972, Little Big Men Pizza had two locations in Billings. The Heights location, at 406 Main St., was converted into Main Street Casino in 1987, but the building has since been torn down and replaced with a Starbuck's. The other location was at 18th St. W. and Grand Ave. The Little Big Men restaurants in Laurel, Lewistown and Hardin remained open.
Little J's Cafe
Little J's Cafe was owned by Glenn Jerome Johnson and his wife, Louise. It opened in the 1980s and remained in business for a few years before closing in the early 1990s. The cafe was the
scene of two fires in the span of a week in 1985.
Long John Silver's
Among the growing number of fast food options in Billings in the 1970s was the Kentucky-based Long John Silver's seafood chain. Several locations operated in Billings between the '70s and '90s, including one at 1112 Grand Ave. and one at 2274 Central Ave. The Central Avenue location closed in the early '90s, replaced by the Jackpot Casino, and the chain has never returned to Billings. The building that housed the Grand Avenue restaurant, shown here, is now home to the Palms Grand Casino.
Marco Polo Gardens
Open at a former Sizzler location at 1502 Grand Ave., Marco Polo Gardens specialized in Mandarin cuisine. The restaurant served Billings customers until 2002, when it was sold and demolished to make way for a second Montana location for the Mustard Seed, an Asian-inspired restaurant first opened in Missoula. The Mustard Seed would later be converted into its sister restaurant, Noodle Express, before being sold in 2013.
Matthew's Taste of Italy
Matthew's Taste of Italy
opened in 1996 at 1233 N. 27th Street, in the Rimrock Inn complex. As the name suggests, the restaurant served fine Italian cuisine. Matthew's moved to 1029 Main Street in 2001 after The Red Door, which was next door and bolstered business at Matthew's, moved to the West End. Matthew's remained open until the early 2000s before closing. The original North 27th Street location was home to The Rock Pile from 2002 to 2017, when it reopened as 406 Kitchen & Taproom. The Main Street location, which was inside the Circle Inn, was torn down after the golf course closed. An AutoZone auto parts store was constructed on the property in 2012.
Mayflower of China
Opened in 1984 at 1720 Grand Ave., the Mayflower was one of only a small number of Chinese restaurants in the area at the time. The restaurant was known not only for its food, but also for its unique interior decor. It closed in 2005, with owner Shelley Ma hoping to open a new restaurant on Shiloh. The former Mayflower site is now Players Paradise Casino.
Mike's Cafe was located at 310 N. 29th St., and operated from the 1970s through the early 1980s. It's said that the cafe received national attention for refusing to accept Susan B. Anthony dollar coins, due to their close size and feel to quarters, leading to the dollar coins being mistakenly used as change by waitstaff. Sarah's Mexican Food, formerly known as El Burrito Cafe, occupies the space today.
From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, Miyajima Gardens was one of the few options for diners looking for Japanese cuisine. The teppanyaki grill, at 5364 Midland Road, closed its doors in 1994. The building is now home to Broadway Books & Video, an adult bookstore.
Mongolian Grill was opened by Vietnamese immigrants
in 2000 in a former crematorium that was originally a Pizza Hut location at 2202 Central Ave. The Mongolian grill concept was fairly unknown in Billings at the time, allowing diners to fill a bowl with meat, vegetables, noodles and sauces of their choice, and watch as chefs cooked it on a round, flat grill. The restaurant closed in late 2014, and the building was leveled to make way for a Little Caesar's restaurant.
Though not exclusively a bakery, Morgan's Market, a gourmet grocery store and deli, included a bakery that produced cakes, muffins, pastries and artisan breads. Morgan's Market opened in 1998 at 1530 24th St. W., and closed in 2003. The space became home to an Arizona Bread Co. outlet, and later a Wheat Montana outlet.
Yet another steakhouse chain that found its way into the Billings market in 1968, Mr. Steak was based in Colorado Springs, Colo. The chain went bankrupt in 1987, after the 825 Grand Ave. location had closed. The address is now the home of Nickels Casino.
Bring up local fast food with most Billings natives over the age of 35, and chances are you will hear the name Novasio's. The family-owned burger shop, known for its 10-cent "greasers," operated from 1929 to the 1980s at 17 N. 29th St. Guadalajara now occupies the space.
Formerly located at 3222 First Ave. N., O'Hara's billed itself as the "Home of Fine Foods." The restaurant, which served as an unofficial meeting place for a number of local organizations, was known for its homemade mashed potatoes, among other home cooking. After 53 years in business, O'Hara's closed in 2006. World Class Travel occupies the space today.
An Italian-style gelato chain, Paciugo first opened at 3429 Central Ave. in 2006. The store expanded to serve soups and sandwiches before moving to 2695 King Ave. W. in February of 2011. The store closed in 2012, and the space became home to Mooyah, a burger chain.
Unrelated to the pizza chain of the same name, Papa John's was a casino and sports bar that operated in Rimrock Mall beginning in 1979. It was located next to the interior entrance to Montgomery Ward (now Dillard's). It closed in the late 1990s.
Opened by third-generation restaurateur Paul DeVerniero in 1997, Pauly's was a pub that operated at 119 N. Broadway until DeVerniero's retirement in 1998. The space is home to Bin 119 today.
Pipes & Pizza
A tobacco themed pizza place? No, the "pipes" don't refer to any form of smoking device. Rather, they refer to the theater pipe organ that was used to entertain guests while they enjoyed their pizza. Silent movies, a light show and a dancing bear mascot were also part of the experience at Pipes & Pizza. The restaurant closed in the 1980s, and its former location at 2501 Montana Ave. now houses MoAV Coffee.
Located in the same oddly-shaped building that originally housed the 5th Quarter and later Roger's Showboat, the Player's Club opened in 1990 at 231 Main St. The bar was the the last business to occupy the building before it was demolished in 2001. Owners Wayne and Pam Ask opened the Club Casino (with a second location on the West End) along with Bottles & Shots Liquor Store nearby. They built the Country Inn & Suites on the old Player's Club location in 2002.
Rax, a chain of roast beef sandwich restaurants, had two locations in Billings at one time. One was located at 1105 Grand Ave. and the other was located at 455 S. 24th St. W. The restaurants opened in the
1980s and remained in business until 1998. Taco John's moved into the Grand Avenue building from their original location a few doors down, and the West End location became a bank. The Rax chain still operates about eight locations, with six in Ohio and one each in Illinois and Kentucky.
Housed in the same unique, tilted building near the Metra that once housed The 5th Quarter, Roger's Showboat opened in October 1986. A Gazette review from that year notes the restaurant's "relaxing atmosphere," while also mentioning the menu, which included steak and seafood dishes. Roger's closed in 1990, and the building was sold. It later housed the Player's Club, before being demolished to make way for the Country Inn & Suites.
Not to be confused with the Safari Club International hunter's organization, the Safari Club was located in the shadow of the First Interstate Center, on the opposite side of Transwestern Plaza. The restaurant, with a large patio area, was formerly home to Yellowstone Kelly's, and catered to the downtown lunch crowd. It opened in the mid-1980s and was gone by the end of the decade. The building was removed to provide more parking for Transwestern offices and the nearby YMCA.
Appropriately named, Sandwich Alley was located on the alley side of the ground floor of the Darryl Apartments building on North 26th Street and served deli sandwiches. The shop operated during the late '70s and early '80s, catering to the downtown lunch crowd. After closure, the space became home to Miller Photo. In 2001, the city purchased the building and razed it to make way for a parking garage.
The Scoop Tavern
Originally located on 5th Street West near Montana Avenue, The Scoop later moved a few blocks northeast on Montana Avenue to its final location. The bar operated for years until its demise in the 1980s. The building on 5th Street West was razed at an unknown date, while the second location was torn down in 2014. Albertson's stands on the spot of the earlier Scoop location.
Part of a Minnesota-based chain, Sidney's opened in Rimrock Mall in the summer of 1993. Though pizza was the primary focus, pasta, salads and even rotisserie chicken could be found on the menu, which at one point included nearly 70 items. Sidney's closed abruptly in 2001, with almost no warning to its nearly 50 employees. The space later became home to the Billings Police Department's Crime Prevention Center until it moved downtown in 2011. The space was later incorporated into Dress Barn, which closed in 2019.
Silver Dollar Inn
Though its history was perhaps not as colorful as the Arcade Bar two blocks away, the Silver Dollar Inn undoubtedly served many of the same patrons from its bar at the corner of South 29th Street and Minnesota Avenue. The Silver Dollar Inn opened in the 1930s in the former home of Shaffer's South Side Market. The bar and card room remained in business until the 1980s. Today, the building houses Montana Rescue Mission offices.
Skooterz Java Pub
Located next to the police station, Skooterz Java Pub opened in 1993 at 2722 Third Ave. N. It was sold in 1999, and operated for another six years before being sold again to the Native American Development Corp., who renamed it Whistling Water Coffee and used it to train young Native Americans in running a business. The shop remained open until 2008, when the space became home to a second Soup and Such location.
The Skyline Club
Originally built as the residence of Charles O. Myers, the Skyline Club first opened in 1944 just west of the airport atop the Rimrocks. It was renamed the Bella Vista for a number of years before returning to its original name in 1969. The club burned down in July 1971. The former site is now occupied by homes on Skyranch Drive.
The Spaghetti Depot opened in the 1970s at 2223 Montana Ave. in the Sawyer Building. The space was later home to Stella's Place, an Italian restaurant that would eventually become Stella's Bakery. The building later housed an antique mall, and is now home to The Grotto, a kombucha taproom, and the Asylum Distillery.
The Stock Exchange
The Stock Exchange, which operated at 1002 First Ave. N., opened in 1977. It featured a working stock exchange ticker above the bar. The building was also used by restaurants The Stockman's, Bruno's and The Elegant Farmer, and the Underground Club. It later became home to Yellow Cab White Limo Service and, most recently, Scottie's Auto Sales and Ace High Auto Sales.
A perennial favorite in the fried chicken category of the Gazette's Readers' Choice Awards for several years, the Suds Hut closed in
February of 2018 after 42 years. Though its Broadwater Avenue location was its most well-known, there was once a Heights location at Main Street and Lake Elmo Drive, and even a location in Lockwood.
Sweetgrass Sandwich Co.
Sweetgrass Sandwich Co. opened in 1976 at 2908 First Ave. N., and remained in business for nearly four decades. At the time of its closing in 2015, it was said to be the oldest sandwich shop in Billings. Shortly after it closed, Lisa's Sandwich Den opened in the space, serving similar food.
T-Birds was a '50s-themed bar and nightclub in West Park Plaza. It opened in 1987, with a checkered dance floor, a jukebox and other nostalgic decor. T-Birds was short-lived, closing by the time the '90s rolled around.
One of the largest frozen yogurt chains in the U.S., TCBY (from "This Can't Be Yogurt" and later "The Country's Best Yogurt") operated multiple locations in Billings, initially occupying space with Heros sandwich shops. The last location open, at 1505 Rehberg Lane, closed in the mid-2000s, though the chain still operates many locations around the country.
Teriyaki Bowl Express
Offering fast Japanese, Chinese and Thai cuisine, Teriyaki Bowl Express was first located at 2695 King Ave. W. It opened in the late 1990s, and by 2007 opened a second location in the Town & Country Center on Main Street in the Heights. Both locations were closed by the early 2010s. The West End location became LemonGrass, while the Heights location became part of Flooring America.
The Thai Orchid is said to have been Billings' first Thai restaurant. It was located at 2926 Second Ave. N., where it opened in 1983. After being sold in twice, the restaurant closed in 2004. A cookbook based on its recipes was published around the same time. The space is home to Shanghai Village today.
When it opened downtown in 1990, Todd's Plantation was one of the only coffee shops in Montana roasting its own coffee, and the only espresso shop in Billings. By the end of 1992, Todd's Plantation had two espresso carts in addition to its shop at 115 N. 29th St. The business was sold in early 1998 and closed in 2004. The former Todd's Plantation space was then occupied by Los Mayas Mexican restaurant, which moved to Grand Avenue. Sassy Biscuit moved in in 2018.
The Vegas Club was located at the corner of First Avenue North and North 25th Street. The bar and supper club opened in the 1950s and at one point included a Polynesian-themed lounge known as the Tahiti Hut. A fire swept through the Vegas Club in December 1976. The building was salvaged, though it looks much different today, providing mostly office space.
One of the few restaurants in Billings history to prominently feature Polish and Central and Eastern European cuisine, Warsaw Gourmet opened in the late 1980s at the corner of Third Avenue North and North 29th Street. The menu included items such as cabbage rolls and pierogis. The restaurant was closed by the early 1990s. New Attitude Salon occupies the space today.
Wheat Montana, based in Three Forks, is one of the largest grain producers in Montana. The company runs a number of bakery outlets where customers can buy bread, pastries and deli sandwiches, in addition to Wheat Montana flour. In 2004, a Wheat Montana outlet was opened at 960 S. 24th St. W. A second store was opened in August, 2006, straight north of the first store, at 1520 24th St. W. That store closed within a year, and the first store closed in 2011. Wheat Montana breads and flours are still available in local grocery stores.
Another South Side bar that experienced ups and downs was the Wheel Inn at 3510 Seventh Ave. S. The bar began as a simple neighborhood tavern, but eventually became a topless bar, attracting rowdier clientele. When Terry McKay purchased the bar and its liquor license in the late 1980s, he did away with the topless dancers in hopes of changing the bar's notoriety. When the state Department of Transportation drew plans to widen State Avenue, the Wheel Inn became the center of a dispute over compensation for the loss of parking and business that the bar expected to incur. Eventually, the bar was demolished and the street was widened. Today, a vacant lot sits between the corner of South 35th Street and State Avenue and the cul-de-sac that was formed at the end of Seventh Avenue South when the State Avenue project was completed.
Windsocks opened in the former Butler's Kitchen location at 1005 Grand Ave. in 1993. The restaurant opened as a family dining spot, but was set apart by its use of the drive-through window once used to deliver Butler's famous broasted chicken to traveling diners. Windsocks boasted an eclectic menu, ranging from Mexican to Italian, and even served items from the menu of Dagwood's, another closed Grand Avenue restaurant operated by the same owner. Windsocks closed less than a year after opening, and by 1997, the building became home to the Four Seas Chinese restaurant.
When it opened, Wong Village was one of the only Chinese restaurants in the area. The Lockwood restaurant was known not only for its Chinese dishes, but also its steaks and cocktails. Wong's closed in the 1995, but its former owner, the late Mitch Hayashi, released a cookbook of Wong's recipes years later. Its former location at 4061 Lockwood Road is now occupied by Planet Lockwood.
Woolworth's lunch counter
Tucked inside many F.W. Woolworth department stores was a lunch counter, serving typical diner fare. In fact, a Woolworth's Luncheonette, as they were called, was the location of the 1960 Greensboro, N.C. lunch counter sit-ins by civil rights activists. The location shown above, in the shopping center at the corner of 13th Street West and Grand Avenue,
closed in 1993. Today the space is home to a Dollar Tree discount store. Another Woolworth's location, on N. Broadway downtown, closed years earlier. That space is now home to Hooligan's Sports Bar.
Though frozen yogurt was present in Billings as early as the late 1970s, it rose in popularity during the 1980s. In Billings, Yogurt Time was an early example of a frozen yogurt chain, with locations at 1101 N. 27th St. and 1500 Broadwater Ave. In addition to the standard frozen yogurt toppings, the shops offered yogurt pies. Both locations closed some time around the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Yoko's Hibachi Pot
Though not the sole Japanese restaurant that opened in Billings in the late 1970s (Miyajima Gardens, a teppanyaki grill, opened in the southwest corridor around the same time), Yoko's Hibachi Pot was still one of the only options for diners looking for Japanese cuisine in Billings for a number of years. Unlike Billings' current hibachi restaurants, the food at Yoko's was cooked in the back kitchen, rather than on a grill in front of the customers. By the late 1980s, owners Yoko and Takashi Sasaki had moved out of Billings. The restaurant changed owners and names not long before closing. The Bookie Casino most recently occupied the Yoko's space, which was vacated in 2019.