Bozeman's Squire House
by Angie Ripple
"Bozeman has changed, but it’s still a great part of the world,” says Michael McGough, propieter at the Squire House in downtown Bozeman, who has been in Bozeman for quite a while, over twenty years. His strong family connections have kept him coming back to Bozeman for over thirty years, and his love for the area and his work ethic initially drew him to restaurant and bar projects with the Baxter Hotel (Robin Bar) and the M & M in Butte. “The Squire House fits the new Bozeman. It’s a bit of the old and the new.”
Angie Ripple: How was Squire House conceptualized?
Michael McGough: Well, it was conceptualized as an amazing location; I was attracted to it being in a hotel, The Element Hotel, the first new hotel in downtown Bozeman in the last eighty years since the Baxter. It’s a great location, it’s a block off Main Street, and we have to drive business off of Main Street to Mendenhall, but Mendenhall is fast becoming the next Main Street. A lot of new restaurants and bars and hotels are coming up. I’ve always liked the idea of a hotel bar/restaurant especially when it will attract business in the off season, the winter. When it’s twenty below, people aren’t going to be walking twenty blocks down Main Street, but I also like the idea of the travelers mixing with the locals. It’s good for everybody, the locals and the travelers and the location and the new space.
I had to come up with a plan and a design to make it work, and keeping with my theme of mixing the old Bozeman with the new Bozeman, I didn’t want to make too much of a contemporary restaurant. I wanted to have a classic feel, but yet somewhat contemporary with the open kitchen. It was a true Bozeman project because I know a lot of people in Bozeman, a lot of the trades guys, and they’ve all pitched in. It’s almost a work of art too: the hundred-year-old white oak floors, to the custom made bar, to the coat room and the mural that hangs over the bar; the WPA art project, are all local made, and that was really fun to have all local input. It was a real Bozeman project from start to finish. The WPA, the Works Progress Administration, is from the 30s during the depression. The government commissioned artists to paint to keep them busy and Montana has five of these murals around the state hanging in courthouses and Post Offices, and the one we have hanging in here, the original was in Glasgow, Montana. It’s called Montana Progress. It’s the state of Montana in 1938, the Fort Peck Dam. Montana was always a resource attraction state, so you’ve got the train, the ranching, and oil are featured in this mural. The Native Americans are looking out because they’ve been disenfranchised, but you see the state of Montana and the pioneers all looking in. I had it recreated by an Italian artist who’s been living in Bozeman for ten years and painted it as we were building the project. It’s a real nod to the past.
AR: What makes Squire House unique in the Bozeman Food Scene? What do you
offer that other places don’t?
MM: We try to differentiate ourselves, but we aren’t trying to be radically different either. Our menu is a casual fine dining upscale tavern. We’re just doing food that is consistent. It’s good and it’s consistent and it’s indigenous to Bozeman. We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re not bringing other cuisines that are done better in other parts of the country, or the state, or the world, just foods that are unique and appeal to people who live in and visit Bozeman: steaks, chops, seafood and pasta.We just do it right and consistent. I think people like it and they come back for that experience with the food, and then you mix the food with the service and the environment, and I think we have a nice niche market here that people respond to. We have a full bar that’s unique and the space is unique because you can sit in the bar and not see what’s happening in the dining room, or you can be in the dining room and not see what’s going on in the bar. We have a private meeting room and a nice patio and a lot can go on here. And we do brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with mimosa specials and a unique menu, and starting June 1, we’re doing lunch, a pub lunch. We’ll be open at 11:30 a.m. for lunch every day of the week. The bar and the patio will be open, which is great during the summer.
AR: What do you want people to experience when they walk through your doors?
MM: I want them to experience a sense that they are in a special place, that they are actually walking on hundred-year-old oak floors. You look out our windows and see the Bridgers, and you can walk into the bar and it takes you back in time. I want them to feel good about the place and spend time here and leave after a nice meal and a beverage and good service and feel like they’ve had a good time and would like to come back again, and sit on the patio and have brunch next time.
AR: What do you enjoy most about being part of the Bozeman community?
MM: Oh, just the relationships and the fellowship. I’ve been around a long time, so I know a lot of people that have been here and they have their own businesses, or they’re raising their kids here and it’s just good to see that sense of community. As Bozeman grows, they’re all contributing and have contributed to what it is now. New people are coming in to the community and they are contributing; it’s just nice.
AR: What is your most popular item?
MM: Oh, it’s hard to say. Everyone asks me what’s my favorite on the menu, and I rattle through all of them and say I’m the wrong guy to ask because I like all of them; it just depends what you’re in the mood for. We have great steaks, a petite filet, a rib eye, our steak fritte, and our hangar steak. Our salmon is great; our seafood is flown in fresh, so we have scallops and risotto and the pastas are wonderful. We have an elk burger, the Squire burger, which is grass-fed beef from a local ranch. We have some amazing salads and vegetarian dishes, so again I like them all.
AR: Do you have anything coming up that you would like the readers to know about?
MM: We are helping to sponsor the BZN International Film Festival in June. We are offering some specials to people who are attending there. We’re also starting once a month, I think June 20, we’ll have a comedian, and the Squire space is a great space for that, so you can have dinner and a drink and enjoy a comedy show. And, we’ll start having music on the patio during brunch this summer. Just watch our Facebook page for special events we’ll run through the summer.
Get out this summer and experience the new Squire House in the new Bozeman with brunch, and top it off with a Rosemary Maple Sour or The Bozeman: a marrying between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. Say hi to Michael for me.