At the end of this past year, a couple of pretty monumental events occurred in the Missoula bar scene and they both revolved around the same business. First, the old Elbow Room closed. Second, the new Elbow Room opened. While the old Elbow Room was great, my objective for this blog post is to talk about and review the new Elbow Room.
First thing you will hear from anyone who frequented the old Elbow Room on a pretty regular basis when you ask them what they think about the new Elbow Room: “It is just not the same.” Well, duh, of course it is not the same. I can’t speak for the owners but I really don’t think the point was to make the new Elbow Room a replica of the old Elbow Room. The new Elbow Room is at least triple the size of the old one, the facility is clean, it Is trendy, there is a full food menu, and the bathrooms are sanitary…and these are just a few of the differences. Basically, what happened was the owners demolished the old Elbow Room and made an entirely new bar from scratch, basically just saving the name and a couple of nostalgic features from the previous bar.
The Elbow Room (from here on out, whenever I refer to the “Elbow Room” I am talking about the current incarnation of it) is a restaurant sports bar that has caught up technology wise to what a lot of the similar type establishments across the country are operating at. This of course makes it cutting edge in Missoula. This becomes evident immediately as you walk in the door. If you go in during the night hours, the bouncer will take your ID and put it in a machine that electronically checks and verifies it. If you sit at one of the tables for dinner, the waitresses will take your order while punching everything into a little keypad that they carry around, thus simultaneously running your tab without ever having to go back behind the bar or to the wait staff area to enter your order into a computer. Bathrooms are immaculate and of course have televisions in them with crystal clear sound. Instead of feeling like you are in a 1980’s time warp as you did in the previous bar, you feel like you are in a modern, sophisticated environment. Nothing against the 80’s, but I prefer a more updated and sleek experience when I go out.
I have heard some people complain about how the bar is set up but I personally like it. The bar is composed in a rectangular shape. A smooth, nice looking wood counter area surrounds the bar tender/wait staff area and serves as the place for patrons to sit at. This wood area makes up three sides of the rectangle shape with the fourth side being the area where all the booze resides. Sitting at the bar if you raise your head there will be various televisions for your viewing pleasure. Surrounding the three areas of seating at the bar is a generous amount of open space and then numerous tables. There is much more than just elbow room. On one side of the bar, seating extends way back down a hallway type area. To the right of this hallway is a separate space divided by a mini wall reserved for shuffle board (there are two of them). The hallway area will then turn to the left and there is even more seating. When you take this left you will notice that to the right of the seating is the dance floor. The dance floor is pretty much separated from everything else and is pretty much a personal preference on If you like the set up or not. On the other side of the bar that does not have the long hallway there is a poker room on the other end of the wall. Throughout the whole place plasma televisions decorate the whole joint. I believe their electronic reader board said they have 54 of them.
Ashley and I enjoying the Elbow Room on NFL Championship Sunday
A distinguishing part of the new Elbow Room is their full food menu. I would characterize their menu as “fun.” For a guy, the menu is a thing of beauty. Of course they have all of the tasty, greasy type selections such as pizza, hot dogs, burgers, wings, chicken strips, nachos, etc. But then they also have unique menu items such as Vikings, cheese curds, fried pickles, a ½ hot dog ½ hamburger type entrée, a hamburger filled with cheese, sliders, and much more. I have ate at Elbow Room a few times. I have had their pasties (it is actually just one giant pastie), their pizza, and their BBQ pulled pork sandwich. Side wise, I have also had their french fries and their chips and queso. Honestly, I have to say that the food was a little bit bland. I would say that the pastie I had was probably my favorite. The chips and queso were good also but how do you mess that up? I split the pizza with my friend Ashley and it came out burnt and the pulled pork sandwich was just basic at best. However, I definitely understand that sometimes you just have to order the right item and I realize that I need to give them a chance because taking on a pretty large food operation is a tough task…especially in the first couple months of business.
A good sports bar needs good drinks, right? I love the Elbow Room’s drink options. First off, let’s start with the beer. The Elbow Room has three sizes for their tap beer: a pint, a 21 ouncer, and a large 32 ounce big daddy! (I believe they have a special name for their big sized beer but it escapes me). The 32 ouncer comes out in a big glass that resembles a large chalice. I will say they look awkward when carried around the bar and I don’t think the design/shape of the glass really fits the Elbow Room but the price is great. You can get a 32 ouncer of Cold Smoke for around $5, not too shabby. The selection of tap beer is good and if they don’t have what you like on tap, they will have it in a bottle. Their mixed drink selection is varied and creative. Again, they have most anything that you can think of and the prices are cheap. They have a whole page devoted to just alcoholic energy drinks. Talk about capitalizing on a popular niche! Many of the mixed drinks are around the $5 range as well. Remember , the glasses are big and they give you a generous amount of liquor. Gone are the days of the Thursday Night 25 cent progressive beers though. They now run at a $1 each and the deal stops at 10pm (only on Thursdays). All considering though, drinking at the Elbow is a great value.
The service at the Elbow Room is exemplary. The staff pretty much consists of half of old Elbow Room employees and half new hires. Most of the new hires come from serving backgrounds though. Two of my favorite Hooters girls now work at the Elbow. The bartenders are down to earth, nice people. About half female and half male, they respect the customers and serve to the best of their ability. I have been comped a couple times on drinks and they are committed to getting things right. The table servers are amazing too. Once again, respectfulness and the desire to perform the best at their job are traits that they share with the bartenders. One time I was there, the manager came over to my friend and I and sincerely asked how everything was and wanted to know if he could do anything additional for us. The last time I was there, the owner came over to the bar where myself and one of my interns were in the middle of lunch. My intern had a Boston Red Sox hat and Boston Red Sox shirt on, and since the Elbow Room is a Red Sox themed bar, the owner came over and chatted him up for a couple minutes. They talked baseball and the owner told him to stop by once the season starts because the bar will be showing all 162 Red Sox games. I value bars/restaurants that are ran by personable and professional staffs.
Finally, it is time to talk about the clientele at the Elbow Room. It is key to point out that it is much more diverse than the old Elbow Room. You really have many different crowds represented and I like that. You got the middle aged men, you got the young professionals, you got the college students. You still have the missing teeth older women and you got the blue collar folk as well. Thankfully there are not a lot of hippies that go there. A lot of people use it to pregame at before going downtown, some use it as the place to head after they are finished with downtown, and some people just stay at the place all night long. Bottom line, if you walk into the Elbow Room you are going to most likely see multiple people you know and those multiple people could be complete opposites of each other. Elbow serves as a great place to both see people you know and to see people you don’t know (people watching!).
The Elbow Room is an improvement over the old one. It was in need of an upgrade and not only did it get one, but it got one and it was done right. I will be frequenting the Elbow Room much more in the future. Don’t Blink.