From For the record (Wednesday, January 24, 1996): Bill Hartley is the former owner of the Saltese Inn at Saltese, Mont. The inn’s ownership was reported incorrectly in a story in Saturday’s Spokesman-Review.
Lookout Pass lost a historic landmark this week when the Old Montana Bar and Grille burned to the ground.
News spread fast in the Silver Valley. People reacted as if a favorite uncle had died. Jaws dropped. “No kidding!” they said after a long silence. “You’re putting me on.”
Just 10 miles into Montana, the establishment was a favorite Shoshone County getaway, particularly after gambling in Idaho shut down a few years ago. It also did a brisk business with snowmobilers.
“I bet 90 percent of our customers were from the Valley,” said a former employee of the bar that burned down Wednesday morning. “They really worked those poker machines.”
“I’ve been in there two dozen times in the last year or so,” said Silverton resident Bud Pears, who for years owned the Wallace Smokehouse, and before that the Trading Post in Avery. He and his wife were particularly fond of the chicken.
“It was a great place. Clean and nice, and always full of people. Not only that, but they served up some very good groceries.”
For most of its long life, the cafe offered steak and potatoes and fried chicken - typical backcountry fare. But it occasionally treated locals to gourmet cuisine.
“They used to have this chef, a French lady … Paulette … she cooked some great stuff,” reminisced Dick Caron, a longtime Wallace resident. “Her bearnaise sauce! We used to call her up - this was 12 or 14 years ago - give her a few hours, and she’d serve up some great country French dishes. She let us bring the wine.”
Constructed around 1910, the building also had a varied past.
“I believe it was a service station in the 20s,” said Bill Pike, 79, of Superior. “In the 30s the fellow who had it added a bar.”
He said the establishment was known as the Montana Bar and Cafe until its present owner, Gloria Howard, took over four years ago and amended the name.
Pike owned the neighboring Saltese Inn in the 1940s. Silver Valley customers came to Montana even then, because the bars stayed open longer.
“It’s an hour later, but the bars here didn’t close exactly on time,” he said.
A collection of historic photos that hung on the walls of the Old Montana Bar and Grille bore witness to its colorful history. They were lost in the fire.
Caron mourned the loss of the business’s huge oak back bar. “It was one of the nicest around this country. Built in very early style, with Corinthian columns, if I remember right. Later they added neon to accentuate the architectural elements. Oh, it was fine. It rivaled the one at the old Fahles Bar, that wound up at some big hotel in Portland.”
Pike said the Old Montana Bar figured in his father’s stories of winter on Lookout Pass before the days of snowplows.
“The road between here and Spokane didn’t used to be open in winter. In spring they’d start working shovels on both sides of the pass. I guess it was a hell of a good party,” he said.
Built in the 1870s, Pike’s Saltese Inn was destroyed by a grease fire in 1968. So far, the state fire marshal has not issued a verdict on the cause of the fire that leveled the Old Montana Bar and Grille.
“The building was many, many years old and I’m sure the wood was pretty dry,” said Mineral County Sheriff Mickey O’Brien. “Once it got going good, there was just no way to get it out.”
A couple who lived in a trailer house behind the bar noticed smoke pouring from its windows around 2 a.m. Wednesday. Firemen from both Haugen and St. Regis responded, but after unsuccessful attempts to quell the flames, they simply joined the crowd of some 50 people who kept vigil until the bar caved in two hours later.
Howard, the bar’s present owner, sat on the back of a fire truck to watch the tragedy run its course.
Ironically, she had applied for historical recognition for the building just one week earlier.
“The place was the core of Saltese,” said Howard, who moved to Montana from Alaska after falling in love with the bar. “How can you replace something like that? You can’t. It can never be replaced.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of area
MEMO: Changed in the Spokane edition.
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