There are those places where you just have to stop. No matter how trashy, gimmicky, or weird they are, you just have to make it a point to pull the car over and enter…and no, I am not talking about Wal-Mart. I am talking about certain landmarks that define geographical areas, places that you can only frequent when you are traveling and out of dodge.
For many, a restaurant serves as this. It seems as every area has a fabled hole in the wall diner that serves out greasy mouth-watering burgers and unbelievable shakes. For others, it is a bar. Lots of people remember certain dives far away from where they live for a one-of-a-kind atmosphere and from what their memory serves them, the coldest beer they have ever tasted. Still, others look fondly on certain gift shops that carry precious items, memorabilia, and knick-knacks that they can’t get anywhere else.
In all reality, people like these types of places more for their charm, nostalgia, and out of the way location rather than the actual products they serve, sell, or produce.
Would you believe me if I told you that I know a place that actually encompasses all three of the services above (restaurant, bar, gift shop) while fitting into the “landmark gimmick” category? Yes, most of you would because I would bet that 75% of you reading this right now have frequented this place once or twice. In fact, if you make the drive on I-90 to and from Montana and Washington, you have probably stepped inside its doors more than just a couple times. No surprise here, I am talking about the $50,000 Silver Dollar Bar.
I started going to the $50,000 Silver Dollar Bar when it was still the $10,000 Silver Dollar Bar. In fact, I remember the first time I ever stepped inside. We were traveling from Spokane to Missoula for a gymnastics meet for my sister and I was seven or eight. My parents decided to pull over and when we walked inside I thought I was in a different world. I thought the wide assortment of toys, trinkets, and novelty items presented in a distinct Montana type setting was the coolest thing ever. My mom allowed me to get one item and I can still visualize it now: In resting position it was a green metallic cutout of a dragon. However, when I snapped my wrist while holding it, a comb would pop out at the end. I thought it was so cool! That visit created a special place in my little heart for the $50,000 Silver Dollar Bar. I thought about it and told my friends about it until we traveled to Missoula 2 years later for the same reason. Once again we stopped at the place and once again I graded it out as pretty cool.
As I grew older, I probably only made a couple stops at the $50,000 Silver Dollar Bar simply because I had little reason to travel to Montana. During those stops I still thought the place was pretty cool but the magic started to mellow out a little bit. When I started looking at going to The University of Montana I stopped at the place a couple of times going to and from my campus visits. While still neat, I knew at that time that I no longer had to stop there each and every time I drove by. Finally, when I started going to school at UM and then subsequently after I graduated and got my job, I started to think of the place as an old flea market and began to avoid the stop completely. Now, as a seasoned 26 year old man, I see the place for what it is and what it stands for and I actually look at it with a little bit of admiration (just a little bit).
Located in the middle of nowhere in Haugan, Montana, the $50,000 Silver Dollar Bar is a haven for tourists. Even though everyone can immediately spot the large, old looking building with yellow signage coming out all across the slanted roof and a gigantic Vegas style stand alone yellow sign with about five different panels advertising the different services about 200 feet from the building, the marketing people wouldn’t know it. I say this because the amount of money they spend on billboard advertising has to be astronomical. I think it has calmed down a little bit over the past couple years but when you used to get within 80 miles of the place, you would see a billboard every five to ten miles. You have to be blind if you have ever traveled by Haugan and not realized that the place is there.
You walk in the front doors and there is a restaurant to your far right, a bar area straight ahead, and then an oasis of merchandise to your near right, in front of you, and then a vast ocean of stuff to your left. Different cash registers are in all areas of the place, mostly enclosed by see through cases that hold all different kinds of items in them. As I said earlier it is a Montana themed store so you got guns, knives, and fishing stuff in front of you and to the near right. In the left part of the store you got all the Montana souvenir stuff you could want. Shirts, hats, shot glasses, coasters, glasses, and playing cards are all sold for relatively cheap. They also have a wide selection of Montana made products such as beer, candy, baking mixes, and drink mixes. Then, they have a wide assortment of junk. Fans, pens, board games, greeting cards, small toys, books, art work, and much more is available. For the most part the merchandise they have is not too terribly bad, it is just that it is in a very old store in the middle of nowhere that turns people off like me, or, on the other hand, intrigues others like my seven year old self almost 20 years ago.
The bar is pretty cool. It is definitely old school with a long, straight bar with stools lining it. Chandeliers hang and behind the bar plastered on the wall is what the place is known for…silver dollars. It is definitely a cool sight but there is no way they actually have $50,000 hanging there. The bar area has a hardwood floor and is spacious enough that there are tables set up and gaming machines available to play. One of the trademark sights is that at one of the tables there is a fake cowboy and indian sitting next to each other. Although they are obviously fake, if you see them out of the corner of your eye they will startle you.
The restaurant is basic. It serves your typical diner food. I ate a couple times with my dad at the restaurant and enjoyed the food well enough but enjoyed spending time with my dad and looking out the window more.
If you have kids, go ahead and stop at the $50,000 Silver Dollar Bar. They will enjoy the experience. If you don’t, then I say only go in the place for the one reason that I do: To go to the bathroom. Don’t Blink.