John Bozeman's Bistro

John Bozeman's Bistro

England, Mike
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By their very nature, frontier towns tend to possess rich and exciting histories. Rugged mountain men, noble Indian chiefs, intrepid explorers, hardy homesteaders – these are the kinds of figures that imbue a nascent Western locale with character and charm. These qualities imbed themselves, and generations later, we find that same spirit threading currents through our modern, everyday lives.

A fine example of this phenomenon is John Bozeman’s Bistro in downtown Bozeman. Combining classic frontier charm with contemporary décor and diverse culinary stylings, the Bistro represents its namesake with sophistication and elegance. Every plate is prepared with care and attention to detail, from the eye-catching presentation to the stomach-pleasing portions. Owners Tyler and Carla Hill take great pains to preserve the Bistro’s long-standing reputation as an authentic Bozeman landmark.

Take the building, for example. Built in 1905 by a young Bozeman entrepreneur, it housed, over the years, a plumbing store, a paint shop, a funeral home, and a series of restaurants, including the locally-renowned China Diner. Last year, the Bistro moved in, after a long and meticulous renovation. "We’ve tried to take the spirit of the old place, all the ambiance and good energy, and transfer it to this new building," says Tyler. That meant, among other things, restoring the fig-gum wood booths (originally installed in the early '30s), refurbishing the façade to replicate the building’s original design, and adorning the west wall with a series of enlarged Albert Schlectin photographs from the early 1900s.

Combine that with the Bistro’s unique atmosphere – "we get all walks of life here, and you never know what to expect," explains Tyler, "it’s formal one night and rambunctious the next" – and the result is a warm and comfortable dining experience, and an insightful taste of Bozeman – historic and modern at the same time.

The Bistro first opened in 1983, when Tyler and friend Pius Ruby pooled their savings and bought Lucky’s Deli, a sandwich and croissant shop on east Main. Two months later, Tyler and Pius honored their long-time hero by opening John Bozeman’s Bistro. Billed as "A Great Place to Meet, Greet, and Eat," the Bistro was an immediate success. Tyler attributes it to the energy. "From the beginning, there was a lot of passion. It’s a neat thing, feeding people. For us, it’s always been a labor of love, and I think our customers can sense that."

The eighties and early nineties were a propitious time for Bozeman businesses. As the town was "discovered," with tourism and out-of-state immigration reaching an unprecedented high, the Bistro hit the jackpot by acquiring a beer & wine license. "We went from burgers and sandwiches to fine dining almost overnight," says Tyler. And this, they found, is exactly what they’d been waiting for. Tyler started buying up old wines, expanding his stock to build what would one day become an award-winning cellar. The Bistro began serving top-notch gourmet meals, including fresh fish and creative vegetarian entrées. And they started to build a reputation for good times, great ambiance, and excellent cuisine.

Now, over fifteen years later, that reputation is still intact. The new building has a lot to do with it, says Tyler. "It used to be a morgue, and my bookkeeper swears she’s seen ghosts in the basement. But I think they’re good ghosts, friendly ghosts. Eating is one of the most pleasurable experiences in a person’s day. This building has fed a lot of people over the years. You can’t ask for better energy than that."
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