NY Times Reporter Leaves The Urban Environment to Find The Campiest Place on Earth: Great Falls, MT



They take time to mock the 85-year-old female piano player.

Via NY Times:

When a study recently found Great Falls the least gay-friendly city in Montana, one man wrote on a local news website, “Let’s keep it that way.”

Mermaids are totally tolerable, though.

Great Falls, home to 59,000 mostly conservative citizens, can be a soul-deadening place. Big-box stores and chain restaurants line the weary main drag. The primary employer is Malmstrom Air Force Base, which services nuclear missile silos. The wind chill has been known to hit 40 below.

But you can’t hold life back. It always breaks through — sometimes in unintentionally hilarious ways — even in the most unlikely places.

I don’t know how else to account for the Sip ‘n Dip, a kitsch-tastic tiki bar hidden inside the O’Haire Motor Inn here. To find this treasure, you walk past the stack of Western Ag Reporter newspapers in the lobby and climb a narrow set of carpeted stairs. There, swimming behind glass six nights a week on a rotating schedule, you will find 12 women dressed very convincingly as mermaids.[…]

As it happens, the mermaids alone do not make the Sip ‘n Dip the campiest cocktail lounge in the history of campy cocktail lounges. (Honorable mentions to the Red Fox Room in San Diego and the velvet-wallpapered Bryant’s in Milwaukee.) Adding to the atmosphere is an 85-year-old singer: “Piano Pat.”

Pat Spoonheim has been an institution at the Sip ‘n Dip since 1963. (The bar opened in 1962 and has the original Naugahyde to prove it.) She still arrives three nights a week with a towering hairdo. She applies a little lipstick, adjusts the Ace bandage on her wrist and sits down at an electric keyboard encircled by Christmas lights. Ms. Spoonheim can be a little cranky — she’s sick and tired of “Sweet Caroline,” she’ll have you know. But she will accommodate the occasional request. She describes her style as “jazzy.”

“We’re rockin’ and rollin’,” she was shout-singing when I dropped in over the summer. “It’s Great Falls! On good-Ole Friday night!”

Two macho-looking dudes in cowboy hats lifted their drinks (blue concoctions topped with umbrellas) and roared in unison: “We love you Piano Pat.” A guy wearing a T-shirt reading “Beer, Bacon, Guns & Freedom” turned away from the mermaids long enough to clap. A husky lady with the remnants of a home perm fervently tapped her fork on a platter of meatloaf.

Oh, didn’t I mention the menu?

Despite its landlocked location, the Sip ‘n Dip has tiki décor. Blowfish and glass buoys hang from a thatched ceiling. There are velvet paintings, fake ferns and seashell lights. Behind the Formica bar, pink light glows upward through stacks of cocktail glasses. But the food is pure home on the range. There is a full menu. For $15.95, you can enjoy the Hog Heaven (pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, bacon bits). That meatloaf will also set you back $15.95. It comes with potatoes and gravy.

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Author: Papa Mike


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