Big Sky Conference Tourney Day #1: Awesome

As I mentioned in a previous post this past week, the athletic department that I work for earned the right via our excellent players and coaches to hold our men’s basketball conference tournament. Throughout that post I talked about how excited I was to have the opportunity to take part in helping to host the tournament.  Still in my office after an extremely long day, I can’t express how much fun Day One of the 2012 Big Sky Conference Tournament was.

The whole day was full of constant movement and activity. Sharing our office space with the Big Sky Conference staff while assisting visiting schools and media as they walked in and out throughout the day was pretty cool. I got to put faces to many names and also see a lot of people I had not seen in a while. Many people in our department went above and beyond to accommodate our conference, our competitors, and our guests…a valuable example and lesson to someone like me who is still relatively new in the business.

When it came to the actual games, we could not have asked for a better night of basketball. In the 5:30 matchup, Weber State (#2 seed) barely edged Portland State (#3 seed). Portland State owned the lead for much of the game but could not hold on. It was so nice to work a good, high stakes, competitive basketball game with no stress attached. Let me tell you though, that stress certainly hit me for the 8pm game as Montana took on Eastern Washington. The Eagles held the lead for most of the first half. Come the second half, the lead went back and forth but ultimately the Griz won, 74-66. The first tournament game got a decent sized, appreciative crowd and then of  course come the Griz game Dahlberg Arena was explosive.
So it all comes down to tomorrow night. Montana will host Weber State in a rematch from just last week. Only this time, instead of a Big Sky Conference regular season championship up for grabs, it will be a Big Sky Conference Tournament championship up for grabs with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to go with it.
For tomorrow night’s championship game we welcome ESPN2 into our arena. The exposure is priceless. I can’t wait for the game to start and for all of the texts and tweets that will come my way from my friends who will be watching in various locations across the country. It is time for Missoula to once again put on a show for the nation.
After I post this, I will once again walk out the doors of the Adams Center so thankful and so happy to be doing a job that I love. It does not get much better than this. Don’t Blink.

T-Pain/Gym Class Heroes Concert Review

Last night I attended T-Pain’s “Snowstorm Music” Tour. While T-Pain was the headliner, most people were just as excited, if not more, to hear his opening act, Gym Class Heroes. Held in the Adams Center in Missoula, the tour consisted of stops in secondary markets that are kind of a little off the beaten path. Last night’s show was the last one on the tour. Can’t really say it went out with a bang.
Besides Gym Class Heroes, there were three other opening acts. Actually, I am not even going to call them opening acts, how about just “warm up” acts? The first two bands/performers (I don’t even know what they consisted of) were just there to waste time and make noise. The third warm up act was Outasight which actually does have a song out right now that is getting some radio time. However, my group decided to bypass these “special opportunities” and we got down to the floor just as the Gym Class Heroes took the stage.
Now it seems that the consensus I got from most people today when I talked to them about the concert was that the Gym Class Heroes were great and that T-Pain sucked. I disagree. I don’t think GCH were as good as a lot of people said and I don’t think T-Pain was as bad. I just think they were both rather average.
For me, it was kind of tough to get into the Gym Class Heroes set. First off, I just really don’t like their music. I don’t like their sound, their lyrics don’t hit home for me, and their music simply fails to draw any emotion out of my body. So I guess they were already kind of off on the wrong foot with yours truly. But with an open mind and a nice buzz going, I was ready to give them a chance to win me over with their lesser known music, stage presence, and charm. They failed. Out of all the songs they sang, I just really did not connect with any of them. I didn’t really even think they sounded that good. As the tour was relatively low budget and they were not even the headliner, the overall production for their stage/set was pretty poor too.
But I think what turned me off the most to really enjoying their time on stage was Travie McCoy. He never built that rapport with me that I want when I go to concerts. I want to feel that special bond between the entertainer and the fan. I want to feel that line of respect that many great  performers can convey to their audiences (even if deep inside they don’t mean it). I thought McCoy was just disrespectful and immature. He led the crowd through a song where the whole time he switched his hand back and forth from a peace sign to an extended middle finger. When the song ended, the middle finger prevailed over the peace sign and he was flipping off the crowd. Throughout the whole set, he continually referred to the audience as “Mother F#$%^&*.” Now I understand he is using it as a term of endearment but I don’t like to be called that, no matter how good the intentions are. It is insulting to me. This is to not even mention that the majority of the audience was easily high school age and younger. Sorry, but a fourteen year old girl does not need to be referred to as a “Mother F!@#$%.” He also did stupid interactive exercises with the crowd that I think should be reserved for youth group ice breakers. Case in point, at one time in the concert he randomly requested that everyone give a hug to the person on their right. Maybe I was just jealous of the guy because ever since the concert was announced here in Missoula every  girl I know had been drooling over how hot he is. Don’t know how much that factored into it but I was not overly impressed with Gym Class Heroes.
                                        Travie McCoy last night. Don’t care for his personality
T-Pain burst on the stage by opening up with “Good Life.” It actually immediately drew me into the show and got me excited for what was to come. Now as I usually say in my concert reviews, the best concert entertainers are the ones who master their set list and sprinkle out their greatest hits throughout the entire show, thus keeping the concert goer entertained the whole time while also making sure that they have something to look forward to because they know that even greater songs are yet to come. Well, T-Pain followed this formula for about ¾ of the show. For that period of time, I thought the set was very entertaining and fun. He was performing all of the best party/dance hits from the past several years. I actually forgot how many good songs T-Pain had been a part of. If the songs that he performed didn’t serve as sufficient evidence of this fact, T-Pain made sure to routinely throw out the stat that he has had forty-something songs on the radio. At the peak of the show T-Pain was jamming, dancing, and sweating like a pig…it was fun! He performed “Low,” “Buy You A Drank,” “In Love With a Stripper,” “Blame It,” “I’m on a Boat,” and “Bartender.”  That alone is a pretty decent playlist to jam out to with a bunch of people. Then he performed a couple of songs that really got the place jumping. When he performed “All I Do Is Win” I admit that I got a little more excited than someone my age should.  Then he performed one of my all-time favorite songs, “All the Above.” Without naming the song, he said he was going to play his anthem and went right into it…definitely my favorite part of the concert.
T-Pain in Missoula last night.
So besides him actually performing some good songs that got the crowd going, there were a couple of other good things about his performance. One of these things happened to be his dancers. Now remember how I said this was a low budget tour? T-Pain had TWO dancers…that’s it. But those dancers WORKED it. Yes they were hot and yes they had moves. They were entertaining to watch and I enjoyed them thoroughly. I thought his DJ was also pretty funny and added a comedic aspect to the show. Pain also had a gorgeous backup singer who did well. The stage and lighting was basic. For the majority of the show I thought T-Pain was funny and sincere when talking to the crowd. He was likeable and even relatable. Yes, things were going pretty well.
T-pain and his dance crew
As I said above, T-Pain put on a great show until about the last quarter of the set. Unfortunately for him, if you ask anyone about his performance in Missoula, most people are going to pinpoint how he went from entertaining and fun to weird. For whatever reason, T-Pain decided to get on a soapbox for the last part of his show and rant. He had the DJ put on some slow beat and he went off just talking about random stuff…again, talking, not singing or raping. He talked about how you should live every day to its fullest, be thankful for each day you wake up, treat people right, etc. etc. etc. Definitely a good message but really out of place and random. Besides the positive stuff he also rambled about using an autotune, basically saying something to the effect of “this is just me being me…you got to be yourself. Didn’t really make much sense and was not necessary. Also he built himself up quite a bit during this period too, making plenty of references to his collaborations, radio play, accomplishments, awards, etc. People literally lost interest in the concert. He capped it off by doing a strange freestyle rap that sounded very “Eminemish” and that totally contradicted his “I Respect Women” shirt that he wore for the whole show. Songs that people in my group were anticipating him to perform such as “Kiss, Kiss” and “The Best Love Song” never happened. It was just a bizarre ending.
All in all, I thought the show was going to be a little crazier than what it was considering it was the last stop on the tour. I was kind of expecting to see Gym Class Heroes and T-Pain kind of go a little nuts because they had reached the end of the road of their small market/small town odyssey. But no, it really just seemed like any other show. Lack of a big finale aside, even though it was not the best concert, the value was great. For $23.50 I got to see two big name acts perform on what otherwise would have been an ordinary Tuesday night.  Just another concert experience to put into my registry. Don’t Blink.

Dan and I after the concert

The New Elbow Room

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.

My pastie that I had


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.

Dan going to work on one of the 32 ouncers.

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.

Philly West Review

Tonight I tried one of the newer restaurants in Missoula, Philly West. The place is located on Higgins street, in between Ryman and Orange. It is actually in the same location as where the former burrito shop, La Parrilla*, used to be. The restaurant serves food that you would find in Philadelphia, with their cheesesteaks being their signature item. Philly West, from what I can tell, is trying to capitalize mostly on the large college population in Missoula. Situated right in the middle of the downtown district with late hours and a menu that would satisfy anyone after a long night of drinking, it is pretty obvious who they are targeting. Even though I am so much more sophisticated than that (yeah right!!), I decided to try it out.

                                   The new reastaurant in Missoula, Philly West

I went to Philly West with my friends Dan and Rosie. Immediately upon entering the restaurant, you see that it is nicely decorated to fit its Philadelphia theme. Right to your left when you go through the door is a painting of the liberty bell and it just becomes more and more Philly after that. Pennants, pictures, and paintings reflecting the city cover the walls. On one of the sides, there is a map of the United States painted onto one of the walls. All of the states are painted black except for two, Pennsylvania and Montana, which are red. A depiction of a Rocky silhouette on top of the stairs covers a wall in the back. Phillies, Flyers, and Eagles memorabilia is present. The word “cheesesteak” and its definition is also painted high on one of the walls. There is plenty of seating with an assortment of high and low tables. There is a marble wrap around counter up a little ways and to the left of when you walk in that serves as the place to order take out. On the other side of the counter is the wait staff area. A little further back is the kitchen area which is in the full view of customers. It is an inviting, hip atmosphere.

                                     I liked this map they had on the wall

We had a cute waitress who was very attentive, polite, and easy going with us. When it comes to the menu, if you are in the mood for some greasy, genuine Philadelphia food, this place is for you. The variety is great. Besides their cheesesteaks, you can also select from pizza, stromboli, sandwiches, and pasta. They also have lots of tempting side items such as french fries (they have pizza fries and gravy fries on the menu), different kinds of cheesy bread, and mozzarella sticks. The restaurant is about as casual as you can get. The menus are paper, condiments are already on the table contained in a six-pack bottle beer container, flimsy silverware is wrapped in a basic white napkin, and the food comes out in baskets.
Wanting to get the full “Philly Experience,” I ordered from the cheesesteak portion of the menu. I got the pizza steak, which is basically just a regular cheesesteak with pizza sauce added on. Rosie got the vegetarian stromboli and Dan went with the chicken wings. I should mention that Wednesday at Philly West is “Wing Night” and wings are only twenty-five cents each…not bad! Dan took full advantage of this deal and got sixteen wings.
It took about twenty to twenty-five minutes for us to get our food, the perfect amount of time in my opinion for a place like Philly West. Rosie and I got our dinners at the same time with Dan getting his dinner about two minutes after us. My cheesesteak came with a pickle and I ordered french fries with it as well. The sandwich was loaded with meat. The bread (hoagie bun) was very soft and fresh. Both meat and bread were very warm. Even though the cheesesteak contained tons of meat, it was not hard to eat. I could simply pick it up with my hands and eat it without making a mess. While it was very pleasant to eat and chew, I found the meat a little too salty and lacking a tad bit in flavor. Of course, it did not stop me from eating the whole thing. The crinkled cut fries were very basic, nothing special there. When it came to Dan’s wings, he said they were okay. But you do have to understand that Dan’s favorite food in the world is wings. He orders them everywhere and when he is not thinking about girls or working out, he is probably thinking about wings. I would not be stretching it if I said that he has probably ordered wings at every restaurant in Missoula that offers them (SIDE NOTE: Ask him what his favorite wings in town are and he will answer the Old Post without even hesitating). I tried one of his wings and found it pretty good. They had plenty of sauce on them and an average amount of meat. Not bad by any means, but not spectacular. I did not try Rosie’s stromboli but she said it was really good. I will not argue with her.

                                                 Our food!!

The next time I go to Philly West I am definitely going to get their pizza. I watched our waitress bring a couple of them out to other tables and they looked fabulous. The ones I saw were deep dish style with the crust about four inches high. It looked like there were about five pounds of cheese on them as well. All three of us were tempted to go over to the tables that had ordered the pizzas and ask for a slice.
Pricing is about average at Philly West, except of course if you get wings on Wednesday, then you are getting a great deal. My sandwich was $8.50 and I want to say Rosie’s stromboli was $7.50. For what you get in relation to what you pay, I would say that the prices are just about right.
While I would say my cheesesteak was nothing spectacular, I will try Philly West again. They have too much stuff on their menu not too. I also have to order a pizza soon from the place. I know they have daily specials so I might go in when I can cash in on one of those…it just gives me an excuse to eat out. I wish Philly West the best of luck in Missoula. Don’t Blink.

* – I thought La Parrilla was okay. They had some really interesting and creative burritos listed on the menu, I just don’t know if they actually tasted as good as they sounded. I would say it was not really close to the quality of Taco Del Sol but a little bit better than El Diablo. Basically, I believe the construction that was going on right by the restaurant for what seemed like forever and the highly competitive burrito market in Missoula proved to be the downfall for La Parrilla).

Other Missoula Restaurant Reviews I Have Done:
Double Front Chicken
Yo Waffle

Double Front Chicken Review

Having lived in Missoula for around six years now, I have tried many of the landmark restaurants around town. However, one of the most popular and oldest places around the city had eluded me for the longest time. A couple nights ago I decided to go eat at Double Front Chicken.
Double Front Chicken is a fried chicken haven located in downtown Missoula on the street that the restaurant is named after (Front). The history of the place is well documented but I would be lying if I said I knew the details about it. What is fact is that the restaurant has been around for many decades and is etched in Missoula lore as having the best chicken in the state of Montana.
Friday night I went through the doors of Double Front for the first time. Upon entering the front door you are greeted with a door right in front of you and then a door to the left of you. For someone who is visiting for the first time it might cause some confusion on which one to enter. However, I chose the left door and I made the right choice because it took me into the restaurant area. Once in the restaurant area things were no longer confusing. In front of you is the dining room area with an assortment of tables and booths with the kitchen area and carry out counter further back.  The dining room is cut in half left-to-right by a three foot high divider wall. The restaurant was pretty full and as we made our way to a booth on the right half of the restaurant I felt the sharp stare of just about everyone in the place.
If you like blue collar places, Double Front is the place for you. Everyone in the restaurant looked like they had just gotten off work at either the railroad, the cement plant, or the mechanic shop. Overalls, hats, and fu manchus dominated  the place. Because I was sporting neither of these three things probably explained why it felt like I was getting eye balled by the entire place. The smell of grease and fried food engulfed the whole restaurant. Lighting was pretty bad, there was absolute no concern or attempt at aesthetics. Double Front Chicken on this particular night was a one-waitress operation. With the restaurant pretty much full, it took a little bit of time to get served.
Of course I did not come to Double Front for the presentation, cliental, or service. I went for some chicken! To be fair to the waitress, it did take some time for her initially to come over to our booth but after that she was pretty speedy. When she came by for the first time I ordered a Shock Top and after she came back with the drinks we put our order in. We got the appetizer sampler and each of us got the white meat half dinner.
The timing of when our food came out was a little unusual. Probably about twenty minutes after we put our order in, our appetizer sampler came out. The waitress put it down at our table and then probably not even a full minute after we got our appetizer, our chicken dinners came out as well. I probably would have liked the two parts of the meal spread out a little more for two reasons: 1. I generally like to eat my appetizer before the main course and 2. It was way too overwhelming having all of this fried food in front of us at once.
Okay, ready to hear what the appetizer sampler was? It was a whole bunch of onion rings, mozzarella sticks, macaroni wedges, and corn nuggets (can you say “heart attack”?). The macaroni wedges were simply macaroni and cheese enclosed in fried dough. The corn nuggets? Corn enclosed in fried dough. It pretty much explained why America is so fat. I should mention there were just two of us so we had way too much food in front of us just with the appetizer sampler, not to mention the chicken. I mean there is not too much to critique about the appetizer. If you like fried food, you are in heaven. My favorite part of the sampler was the corn nuggets but after you eat enough of it, it all pretty much tastes the same.

                                                      The appetizer sampler

As I said earlier, I ordered the white meat half dinner. It consisted of a breast and a wing. In addition, the dinner was served with a bunch of french fries.  The menu says that all chicken dinners take around thirty minutes to cook but that night their fryer must have been working a little better than usual because we got our dinners within twenty minutes. To sum up their chicken in two words: Good and greasy. Because I don’t eat fried chicken too much I can’t really get too specific about what makes it so good but I can tell you it is very different than say chicken from KFC, Popeyes, or Chick-Fil-A. It is not as fried and it is not as dry. The breast had so much chicken on it, you definitely get a lot for what you pay. Even if I saved myself the thousands of calories and held off on ordering the appetizer sampler, I would gotten more than enough to eat with just the white meat half dinner.

                                             My white meat half chicken dinner

I mentioned the price…the bill came to $33.49. That included the two white meat half dinners, the appetizer sampler, and a couple beers. Definitely a value dinner. However, you do have to ask yourself if the cheap price is worth it. Again, what I ate for dinner that night was anything but healthy. I know just from that meal I probably surpassed the recommended caloric intake for a guy my  age for a whole week. It was definitely not one of those meals that after you eat it you can smile and say “That hit the spot.” Rather, my stomach felt upset and I felt a little disgusted with myself. Of course this is not the fault of the restaurant at all, it is just the consequence of what happens when you eat way too much fat and grease during one sitting.
Yes, I would recommend Double Front Chicken for someone who has never tried it before and who has a love for chicken. It is definitely not a place that I would go to on a regular basis though.  However, if you have a craving for some good chicken and you don’t mind punishing your body and clogging some arteries, give Double Front  a try.  Don’t Blink.

Another Missoula restaurant review: Yo Waffle

Buying A Halloween Costume

Today I went out and bought my Halloween costume. Since I graduated college, finding a costume for Halloween has been much more fun. No longer do I have to rely on my old Fred Flintstone costume that I wore for the first time in HIGH SCHOOL for a school dance to get me by the holiday. Now that I have a decent job, I can choose to be pretty much whatever I want to be. Bye bye handmade Fred costume with 50% of the black spots fallen off.

      My date’s mom made it for me when I was a senior in high school. Wore it three times in college.

As do many people in this nation, I have gone to Spirit the past three years to buy my costume. If you have never gone or heard of a Spirit before, it is a seasonal Halloween retail chain that sets up shop around the United States in various locations at the start of October. They sell costumes that cater to both adults and kids and their product is usually very up-to-date on the current trends and pop culture (they had Gaddafi stuff there today). They have a large online presence as well.
In Missoula, and in many other places as well, Spirit does business from whatever out of business former retail location that happens to be available. Each of the past three years, the Spirit in Missoula has been in a different location. Spirit stores really follow the cliché of “putting lipstick on a pig.” Although they make the place as festive as they can and add in as many interactive goblin/ghost/vampire type lifesize exhibits, the store always looks dumpy and grim. Spirit banners are slapped around on the outside of the building, usually with the name of the previous storefront still visible. Inside, temporary racks are brought in to hold many of the costumes. The lighting is bad and there is a distinct smell that makes it obvious that the store had not been inhabited for quite a while. A cheap fold out card table acts as the place to go to get access to the dressing room area which consists of a lot of pipe and drape. Handwritten signs are present all over the store warning customers not to try on costumes outside of the dressing room area. The store floor is covered with fallen down and discarded costumes, masks, and hats.

                                                 One of the exhibits at Spirit.

Obviously, Spirit really does not need to improve the dingy store atmosphere because every time I go in there the place is absolutely packed.  And although I am not a big fan of crowds when it comes to a store setting, I actually like the vibe I get when I go into Spirit.  People are excited to be in there. They know it is their lead up to the one night (or two nights, or for some, three nights) where they get to escape reality and dress in something totally ridiculous so for the most part there is an aura of anticipation and excitement circulating throughout the store and I like that. I definitely buy into the same feeling that everybody else has and I enjoy myself when I am in there.
One thing that always jumps out to me about Spirit is the primary age demographic of the cliental. At least 80% of the people in there are adults. I think of Halloween as primarily a holiday for kids but I guess what you think is not always what is reality. I think maybe Spirit itself is more of a place for adults (although like I said above, they do have tons of costumes for both adults and kids) while places like Wal-Mart are more for kids. Spirit definitely has plenty of costumes that bring sexual themes and innuendo into direct focus. They have costumes that…well….just let me say….I love to see girls wearing on Halloween night. They also have many violent and gory costumes. So maybe my observation is not really the result of a dramatic shift in the age demographic of who is celebrating Halloween but rather the product that is being sold at the certain store.
One thing that I tend to overlook at Spirit is really how shitty the costumes are relative to their price. The average costume in that store runs between $40-$50. The cost it took to actually produce most of these costumes has to be around $10. They do a great job of making the costume look great on the label of the package but once you take it home and open it up, you will shake your head. I am not kidding, there is not a lot of thought and care that goes into making them. Before buying a costume, always read what is actually included. The model on the picture label will be decked out in accessories that the manufacturer would never think about including in the actual costume package.

     For night two of Halloween last year I was a pirate. The sword was not included with the costume.

That is another way on how I am a sucker for Halloween. I am never content with just buying the actual costume. I have to buy the accessories too. You see, when you go out to the bars on Halloween night, you need to have something in your hand (besides your drink) to make you standout. Whether it be a gun, sword, bat, fake animal, etc. it just adds to the fun. I definitely fall  for the marked up accessory prices and go all out.

    I was a gangter for night one of Halloween last year. No need to have a snake, but I could not resist.

So despite my complaining about the atmosphere and the actual product, I love buying my Halloween costume. I don’t mind walking around in a makeshift seasonal hell hole and being ripped off solely because Halloween is so much fun. I am not going to give away what I am being for Halloween this year although I must say it was a very tough decision. So tough that I will probably, just like last year, end up buying a second costume (one costume for this Saturday and then another one for the actual Halloween date on Monday). Costumes that were finalists for me today but did not make the cut include a pharaoh, a ghostbuster, and Caesar. It took me forty-five minutes inside the store to make up my mind.
I hope everyone has a successful experience purchasing their Halloween costume. My advice is to be what you want to be! Spend the extra money for a costume that you have your heart set on. Halloween only comes once a year. Good luck and here’s to a great 2011 Halloween! Don’t Blink.

Disaster at the Iron Horse

One of my favorite places in Missoula is a restaurant called the Iron Horse. By Missoula standards, it is a classy, yet casual, place to go.  The restaurant has two different levels and then it has patio seating in three different locations around the building. The long main bar on the ground level is marble, seating is spacious, and service is great. The place serves as a popular meeting spot for people taking a break from work during the day and once night hits it becomes one of Missoula’s busiest hot spots for the college and young adult crowd. Yesterday, the Iron Horse faced a horrific situation.

                                    Me with Fawn at one of my favortie places, the Iron Horse

Whenever The University of Montana hosts a Griz Football game, the whole community of Missoula directly benefits. Businesses that deal with lodging, shopping, and food receive great boosts during six different Saturdays in the autumn. Yesterday, with it being Homecoming, the community very well could have had its most profitable day. Definitely, it was crucial to have everything working and for everyone to be on their “A” game.
Of course, the Iron Horse was slammed yesterday. The place was overrun with happy Griz fans wanting to celebrate the football team’s 55-28 dismantling of Northern Colorado. People were in the mood to commemorate the Homecoming win by buying lots of food and drinks. Suddenly, during the peak time, the restaurant’s bill software crashed and disaster rolled in.
When the software crashed, the Iron Horse servers no longer had access to the computers that enables them to keep the running tabs of their various tables. Worse yet, their ability to make credit/debit  card transactions was totally wiped out. My friend who is a waitress at the Iron Horse told me the incident that happened was something she has nightmares about. Yesterday, she got to live that nightmare out in front of one of the Iron Horse’s largest crowds of the year.
With the software down, all of the current tabs in the restaurant vanished from the computers. The servers were forced to piece back what everyone had ordered at their respective tables from memory. Once they did their best to remember every single drink that was ordered and every single miniscule menu item or extra side that was placed, they had to manually add up the total, constantly cross referencing the menu to make sure they had the right price. After they had hand written the receipt out they had to copy it TWICE more so they had documentation for the restaurant patrons, the register, and the kitchen.  Obviously, doing a task like this that takes a lot of memory and a lot of math takes time…time that is not available when you are serving to an anxious full house on a Saturday evening. People started to get impatient. Patrons who wanted another drink right away were not satisfied. People who expected their server to check in with them every two minutes felt snubbed. The numerous grumps who needed their check right away were fuming. Top notch, prompt service was simply not available due to the circumstances.
Believe it or not, the night got rougher for the poor wait staff at the Iron Horse. Remember how I mentioned that credit card payment was now unavailable? This completely infuriated many of the people dining in at the restaurant last night. Many of them took the low road and berated their server, giving them an earful about the inconvenience and the terrible experience they were undergoing. Some people took an even lower road and simply walked out of the restaurant. Yes, I am not kidding here. Some people decided to “Seacrest Out” and abandon their tabs altogether. With the chaos that was going on in the restaurant with the wait staff doing a thousand different things at once and the deep level of fury that was being generated by the customers, the Iron Horse could unfortunately do very little to stop the jerks who felt that a problem beyond anyone’s control entitled them to a free meal.
It kept getting worse for the servers. When they clocked out of their shifts, they had no idea how much they owed the restaurant and how much they were owed from their tips (they keep their own banks during their shifts). All that they had were numerous handmade receipts and random cash. Not wanting to risk anything, my friend gave back way more than her fair share to the restaurant. In what should have been one of the most profitable days for her turned out to be one of the worst.
For me personally, I could not help but feel infuriated by so many of these customers who acted like spoiled babies during the whole Iron Horse ordeal yesterday.  Because something went wrong that understandably made service a little slower and that made an alternative form of payment necessary, many found it acceptable to make a tough situation even tougher. What was wrong with maybe cutting these young servers a little bit of slack and maybe make their nightmare shift just a little more tolerable? Was getting your third rum and coke at record speed really that pressing of an issue when obviously the whole staff was under incredible pressure? I have never worked in the restaurant business before but that does not stop me from respecting the people who wait on me each time I go out to eat. By the way some of these scumbags treated the Iron Horse staff last night I really wonder what deep personal issues they must really have. Unleashing your wrath on a waiter or waitress who is trying to do all he/she can to serve you the best way possible under extenuating circumstances is sad and pathetic.
To the people who walked out on their tabs last night, you are flat out selfish thieves. I know the situation was not ideal but be a decent person and use the ATM that the Iron Horse has in their restaurant to get cash and close out your tab. You have to be one cheap low life to feel that when a credit card machine goes down it gives you the right to not pay a cent of your $200 tab. How can you justify going into a place, eating tons of food, consuming numerous drinks, and benefiting from good service and then just walk out and leave?
When an unfortunate situation occurs that you are directly involved in or indirectly involved in, you can do one of two things: You can let the bad situation consume you and make the situation worse or you can step it up and be positive and help remedy the situation. The people who bitched at the staff last night and who walked out on their tabs have probably never faced true adversity in their lives. They were probably spoiled growing up and had everything given to them. Someday, karma will catch up to these people.
Always treat people who are serving you in any area (restaurant, taxi, car dealer, espresso stand, haircut place, etc.) with respect and patience. Not only does it make for a much better experience for the server, but it also says a lot about you as a person. Do the right thing. Don’t Blink.

Yo Waffle Review

Maybe you have already noticed it but there is a trend sweeping the nation dealing with frozen yogurt. What this trend entails is people going into these new yogurt shops and serving themselves. All you do is grab a container around the size you think is going to satisfy you and then you fill it with the yogurt of your choice. You then move onto the toppings and once again you serve yourself, pouring as much and as many of the toppings you want on your yogurt creation. You then go to the cashier and they weigh it for you. The price is usually based on the ounce. Obviously, the point of this whole system is to do away with fixed sizes/flavor choices/topping choices and let the customer have complete control over how much he/she wants to eat.
The first time I entered one of these shops was just this past summer in Las Vegas. While on the strip in the midst of a 100 degree day, I ducked into one of the hole-in-the-wall shops that was advertising “healthy” frozen yogurt. I saw the signs directing customers to serve themselves and thought it was a pretty cool concept. Even though the yogurt dispensaries in this sketchy shop were all leaking and the counter that held the bins for the toppings had just about as much of the toppings on it as the bins had inside, I decided to prepare myself a cup. I got enough yogurt to fill maybe a small cup at Baskin-Robbins and was charged over $8 for it…but it is Vegas, what do you expect? Well, I expected it to taste better.
So although my first experience with the self-serve yogurt craze did not go over too well, I could not help but get excited when Yo Waffle opened up here in Missoula a couple months ago. Yo Waffle took up residence in the heart of downtown, right in the middle of the bar district. Combining frozen yogurt and Belgian waffles, this place definitely had a unique concept that caught my eye.
Tonight was my first time trying Yo Waffle. Dan and I decided to get some ice cream after the Thursday night college football game ended.  Right when we entered Yo Waffle I was relieved to find a clean, well-lit, inviting shop. It took ten seconds for us to walk through the doors before the owner was right in front of us, offering a warm greeting and an explanation on how the shop worked (same thing as Vegas…get as much as you like – yogurt, flavors, toppings, sauces – and then get it weighed and pay). However, the Vegas shop did not have waffles! The first option you have available to you are two waffle makers sitting on top of a table. Under the table is a refrigerator where the batter is. Unfortunately, this is the part of the self-serve experience that I did not care so much for and I will explain later. Anyway, Dan and I skipped that part.
We moved on and picked up our yogurt containers. They had a few different sized containers that you could choose from and then fill them with as much yogurt as you pleased. We each took a medium sized one. Next, you got to the frozen yogurt bar. There were five dispensaries with two flavors per dispensary, giving you a very decent selection of ten different frozen yogurts. Flavors included outrageous orange, strawberry kiwi, strawberry banana, pistachio, a coffee flavor, apple pie, and the traditional flavors. I opted for filling my container with half strawberry banana and half chocolate/vanilla swirl.

                                             The frozen yogurt bar at Yo Waffle

After the selection of our frozen yogurt, we approached the toppings station. If you like variety, you will love Yo Waffle. They had pretty much every topping you could think of: Chocolate chips, sprinkles, cookie dough bites, animal cookies, fruity pebbles, peanuts, butterfinger, brownie bites, m&m’s, reeses, coconut, etc. etc. I put cheesecake bites and oreo cookies on mine. Finally, you get to top your creation off with your choice of sauce. Once again, they have all of your bases covered. I am a peanut butter lover, so I covered mine in a reeses peanut butter sauce.
We then went to pay. Once you approach the cashier, you place your container on a scale and it neatly converts the weight into a price right in front of your eyes. I might be off by a couple cents, but the price at Yo Waffle is $0.42 per ounce. Dan and I both made creations that cost around the $4.30 mark. Yes, we are slobs. We both filled our containers very generously and liberally applied our toppings so we got our money’s worth.

                                  These are what Dan and I made!! (Dan on left, me on right)

I enjoyed my dessert. The strawberry kiwi yogurt was great, the chocolate/vanilla swirl was pretty basic. You might not think that cheesecake bites and peanut butter go well together but I loved it. As for Dan, he said he really enjoyed the coffee caramel flavor he got but was not as big of a fan of the apple pie flavor. That of course did not stop him from eating every single bite. We talked at length about what kind of combination we were going to get next time we come in and we even briefly entertained the idea of going through again that night but cooler heads prevailed.

                                     Dan pigging out on his Yo Waffle creation

Overall, there are a lot of pros about Yo Waffle. The shop is clean and they have indoor and outdoor seating. The frozen yogurt quality is great. The variety of toppings and sauces is superb and the quality is fresh. I thought the price was very fair and they also have a loyal customers program which I appreciate. The owner was very nice and the other person who was working is a member of our Spirit Squad so the staffing is awesome! Monday through Thursday the shop is open until 11pm and on Friday and Saturday it is open until 12am so the hours are flexible.

                                           Me enjoying my ice cream

The only major con I felt centered on the Belgian waffles. As it is with the yogurt and toppings, the waffle station is also self-serve. When I stay in hotels that have continental breakfasts that offer self-serve waffles, I stay away. I hate waiting in line for people to cook their waffles and I hate making them even more. It is messy, it is confusing, and it is impossible to get your waffle just right. I struggle with turning the machine over once one side is done and I worry about whether I am going to burn it or not. Making my own waffle just puts way too much stress on me that it is not worth it to attempt when I go into Yo Waffle. The sad thing is, I would have LOVED to have a waffle with my frozen yogurt. I bet it would have tasted like heaven. But I am not going to risk the embarrassment and time of making my own waffle as the whole shop looks on. The only other con I would point out is the diversity of the yogurt flavors. It is awesome that they have ten different flavors but I feel that the fruit flavors are way over represented. Aside from vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, and the coffee flavor, the remaining six are all fruit flavors. I would love to see flavors such as peanut butter, marshmallow, red velvet cake, or white chocolate macadamia. Then again, I bet they have rotating flavors and I just caught them on a day where they decided to feature more fruit flavors.
I had a great time at Yo Waffle and will definitely be going back. The concept is awesome, although I do have some concerns on whether it will catch on in Missoula. I sure hope it does though. Good luck to Yo Waffle and I hope all of you get a chance to try it, please be sure to get a waffle and tell me how they are. Don’t Blink.