Montana Destination: Livingston
August 08, 2006
By Lynn Donaldson/for Montana Living
The eclectic town of Livingston combines arts, tradition and recreation
On any given day on Main Street in Livingston, you'll find novelists, painters and movie stars cheek-by-jowl with working cowboys, ski bums, and rednecks. Nowhere else in the state is there such a comfortable balance between Old and New Montana.
It's no surprise, then that this windswept railroad town has a mix of things to do and see that's every bit as diverse - or eclectic, as the newcomers might say - as its nearly 7,000 residents. In and around Livingston, which sits just on the fringe of the Paradise Valley, there are endless outdoor pursuits, eateries and lodgings worthy of major city, and galleries and boutiques that range from the quirky to the cosmopolitan. Depending on who you talk to in town, you'll hear that Livingston is either the setting for Rancho Delux or the unofficial Neon capital of the Rockies or a favorite retreat for Dennis Quaid. Don't bother figuring out who to believe. They're all right.
WHERE TO EAT: Start your day with coffee and breakfast at Hearthstone Bakery. While you wait for your caffeinated brew, check the fresh offerings in the pastry displays and grab a warm honey-glazed sticky bun. Come lunchtime, make for The Stockman, a Main Street institution know for its jaw-stretching burgers and steaks. Locals also head to the recently relocated Pinky's Cafe for hearty soups and sandwiches (try the pastrami) on homemade breads. After a day of traipsing around town, you'll probably need a boost or a break or both. Head to Coffee Crossing and plant yourself at a sun-drenched table among the paintings by local artists. If you're in a rush, or are a nostalgia buff, you'll appreciate the drive-up service at the 50s-era Mark's In &Out , a whitewash-and-chrome diner that serves milkshakes a la Happy Days. Another place, with an even more antiquated atmosphere, is The Sport (114 S. Main, 222-3533). Think of an1880s saloon with a handful of trophy heads mounted on the walls. The chairs are creaky and the original tin ceiling sags a bit, but the portions are oversized enough to stuff a homesteader and drinks are served in charming vintage canning jars. Top off your meal with a slice of the apple pie, made from the owner's grandmother's secret recipe. Get it a la mode, with a creamy scoop of Wilcoxin's ice cream, made locally since 1912.
WHERE TO SHOP: As you step into Sax & Fryer (109 W. Callender; 406-222-1421) you'll feel like you've entered a time capsule. They bill themselves as "booksellers and stationers since 1883" and the antiquated display cases are evidence. Inside them you'll find contemporary books, pens, magazines, and art and photo supplies; lifesavers and candy bars are sandwiched between postcards and American flags. Across the street, is Reed Leehman Pottery (112 W. Callender; 406- 222-7618). This funky little gallery sells the artist's hand-formed ceramics - plates, platters, and teapots depicting whimsical cowboy scenes with Crayola-colored borders and other bright, cheerful motifs. Tucked away in a charming blue house at the end of Main Street, Prairie Renaissance Candles (326 S. Main; 800-782-9424 or www.prairierenassaince.com) carries bath and body products with a Victorian slant, as well as a full line of candles and candle accessories. Best in show: Their signature line of botanical candles pressed with wildflowers plucked in the Paradise Valley. Another must-hit is Cowboy Connection (110 1/2 N. Main; 406-222-0272 or www.thecowboyconnection.com). Sitting above the Whisky Creek Saloon, it's so packed with authentic Old West relics - no reproductions here - it could pass for a museum. Check out Buffalo Bill Cody's silver-plated, ivory-gripped Colt 51 TKMODEL and Annie Oakley's boots. Rodeo Queens will forth over the mint condition shearling coats and 1920s cosmetics compacts. For matching vintage wear, visit Grandma's Treasures (211 S. Main; 406-222-2177), a jewel-box-sized trove packed with taffeta party dresses, rhinestone broaches, and a rainbow of Tony Lamas. The town's best bang-for-the-buck bargains are at Gil's Got It (207 W. Park; 406-222-0112), a palace of kitsch where souvenirs such as placemats, salt and pepper shaker sets and little plastic cowboys adorn the cluttered shelves. There's far more than just trinkets; note the fine selection of turqoise bracelets and Minnetonka Moccasins. At Dan Bailey's you'll find a staff of anglers steeped to the gills in the gear and fly patterns they sell - and use. A legendary fishing outfitter since1938, Bailey's makes its own line of waders, leaders and flies which are customized to fit local waters. The best place to find out about those fishing holes, or any hiking, biking or climbing route within a 100-mile radius, is at Timber Trails, which, not coincidentally, is also the best place to get outfitted for all Livingston's non-angling outdoor activities.
WHERE TO STAY: Livingston is the kind of place that has lodges and inns with 19th century detail right next to 1950s highwayside mom and pop motels. The best of the railroad inns is The Murray Hotel, a relic across from the train depot. The rooms, which were restored this spring, maintain the lodge's original character. One thing not fixed is the two six-shooter's worth of bullet holes that legendary hard-drinking director Sam Peckinpah let fly when he lived there. Another good choice is the TK Bed and Breakfast outside of town in the Paradise Valley. The rooms face the Yellowstone River with spectacular views of the jagged Absarokas.
COCKTAIL HOUR: Slump into one of the deep barrel chairs at the Owl Bar. They're great for sinking into and cozying up with a drink. You won't need to order a double, since stiff pours are the norm here. If it's reading material you're looking for, ask the bar tender to pull something from the bookcase on the back bar-a three-shelf tribute to local writers who frequent the place, such as Thomas McGuane, Jim Harrison and Tim Cahill, who affectionately wrote that sitting in the Owl is like "sitting in the belly of a dinosaur."