The Scoop Bar: Rebelling Against And Embracing The Future

Rachel Hergett

In 1977, brothers Jerry and Gary Davis saw an ad in the Sunday paper about a bar for sale. Not knowing it was the Scoop Bar, where Gary had once been a bartender and then helped remodel and expand in 1976, the brothers inquired. By September, they had bought themselves a bar.

The Davis brothers formed their own company, Hard Times, Inc., but kept the Scoop much as original owner Lee Brookshire had left it. Brookshire had a vision, expanding the former pizza place into his dream hangout with room to shoot games of pool, throw a game of horseshoes, or toss some darts. Thus the Scoop Beer Parlor became the Scoop Bar, although the liquor license still lists the former name.

After Jerry’s death in 2011 and Gary’s death in 2015, the bar passed on to the next generation, namely Jerry’s son Robert and Gary’s daughter Thail. Like their fathers before them, this generation of the Davis family is determined to let the bar be, not falling into traps to gentrify the place.

“Not much has changed,” Robert said of the time his family has owned The Scoop during an interview at the bar at the end of March.

And no one seems to want anything different. Each remodel, no matter how slight, comes with blowback from the regulars. There was grumbling when TVs were installed on the south wall, when the ceiling was painted white after smoking was banned in Montana bars.

“We both knew Montana in the ’70s,” Thail said. “It kind of reminds me of that atmosphere. It’s part of what The Scoop is… The Scoop to me is just a B.A.R.”
This Modern World

Reality, however, is things do change. The Scoop no longer sells pitchers of every macro-brew out there. You’ll only find PBR and Coors Light on tap. But the Scoop does sell a lot of PBR, more than any other bar in the state for two years running.

Moving past the macro-brews, other taps are reserved for Montana beers.

“We’ve had a lot of success rotating taps,” Robert said. “Until two years ago, they hardly changed… There are so many great breweries in the state.”

Tastes in other types of beverages are constantly in flux as well. Fernet, for example has seen a recent spike in popularity, Thail said.

“Drinking trends go in circles,” Robert agreed. “Some years everyone is drinking Crown Royal. Then it’s Jameson.”

About a decade ago, Jagermeister had a run, though looking back it’s hard to remember why, he said.

Demographically, The Scoop’s patronage has also changed.

“In the ‘90s, The Scoop was mainly a working-man’s bar,” Thail said, joking you could easily build a house with the carpenters, plumbers, electricians and painters on the stools come happy hour. “Now in Bozeman there’s not the same percentage of working-class people.”

Another change is the way people get to and from the bar. More and more people are walking, biking or taking the bus (Streamline bus has a couple nearby stops). It’s decidedly different than the culture of 40 years ago, Thail explained, when police would follow behind your car if you had over-indulged.

“Younger people got the memo about drinking and driving,” she said. “They never knew a time when it was not a big deal.”

Location, Location

The Scoop is right at home next to Bagel Works near the corner of Seventh Avenue and Main Street. It forms the northern point of the Barmuda Triangle, an affectionate name for a trio of bars (the Scoop, the Molly Brown and the Haufbrau) with similar mentalities on the block between Seventh and Eighth avenues and Main and Babcock streets. The joke, like the namesake Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic Ocean, being that if you enter, you may never be seen again.

“It’s interesting how many people love to come back to Bozeman and come back to the Barmuda Triangle,” Thail said.

There is an affection between the bars, with slightly different but generally overlapping clientele. They don’t compete, Robert explained, but work together. When Gary died two years ago, people were invited to celebrate his life at the Scoop, with overflow at the Haufbrau, according to his obituary.

To walk into The Scoop is to be transported. The wood walls and low-hanging beams make you feel like you’re in some secret hideaway.

And maybe some like it that way.

“Patrons coming in here are not judged,” Robert said. “It’s a place to get away for whatever reason you want to get away.”

There are no windows to the outside world, though evidence of one sometime in the building’s past remains in the rock facade on the Main Street side of the building. There are precious few frills, aside from the bottle-cap mural Robert started in 2007.

“Oh, it’s a dive bar,” Thail said when asked to describe the Scoop. “A proper one in the best way.”

The Scoop, at the south entrance to the North Seventh Avenue corridor in city manager speak, is finding its way in an evolving town.

“I think we’re the heart of Midtown,” Thail said. 

Sign of the Times

Original owner Brookshire bought the “BAR” sign gracing the building’s Main Street entrance, giving life to the plain brick facade.

“The Scoop is sort of gloriously devoid of architectural elements,” Thail said. “The sign is the thing.”

The angled sign once lived farther down Main Street, bringing customers into the Stockman Bar, which was in the space now occupied by Plonk. At one point, Robert said, the sign had an angled beer on top.  

Last year, at the urging and in the hands of the technicians at Signs of Montana, the retro “BAR” sign was reworked, stripped of much of its colorful (and broken) neon, and retrofitted with LED lights. During that process, the original painted “Stockman” over the illuminated “BAR” was revealed. With the restoration, the sign now says “Scoop” in red script in its place.

A Different World

With the March shuttering of The Bacchus Pub, local bar owners may seem to be on edge, worrying about an uneasy future.
But the trend is nothing new. An increase in sting operations has led to an increase in violations in local bars, Thail explained. And if you exceed a certain number of violations in a three-year period, your license is revoked. But like most owners, the Davis’ stick to the book and take their responsibilities seriously.

“We have to cross all our t’s and dot our i’s, tightening things here and there,” Robert said. “Twenty years ago this business was a lot different.”

Unlike The Bacchus, the Davis family also owns the building housing the bar. It’s one less worry in a business where mistakes can have real-world repercussions.

“There’s a lot of things that can be stressful about owning a bar, stressful about any business,” Thail said. “I remind myself this place has been doing what it’s been doing for longer than I’ve been alive. We just have to be good stewards.”

Robert and Thail said they have been making small changes so as not to rile the regulars. The bar has Wi-Fi, a TouchTunes internet jukebox, and is now looking into ordering patrons who may have had a few too many a very modern ride home - an Uber on their bar tab.

Underneath that, however, it’s still the same old bar.

“It’s a little slice of real Bozeman,” Thail said.

“There’s a lot of history here,” Robert added. “People come back to reminisce.”

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