More than Just Live Music on the Menu at Newly
Renovated Top Hat

By PAUL SIDORIAK

A text message was sent letting Ryan know that I was in route to the Top Hat in Downtown Missoula.  A few blocks away, I received one back that he was en route and would be joining me for lunch.  Ryan and I have met at the Top Hat well over a baker’s dozen of times over the years, but until today, never for lunch.

With a bit of synchronicity, I quickly found a parking spot directly in front of what I noticed to be a new ticket window with a dashing view of Front St.  To my recollection, the ticket window had never been there before and if it had, it went un-noticed.   It was the first of many changes I discovered at the newly remodeled and now quite noticeable Top Hat.

Walking in thru the main Front Street entrance, I could immediately tell that things would be different inside the venue as well.  A custom hand forged door handle adorned a sturdy oak door almost speaking to all the hard work that went into bringing a contemporarily rustic feel to the Missoula landmark.

The Top Hat Lounge

The Newly Renovated Top Hat Lounge

I was later told it was a slower lunch service today, but a good bunch of the tables were full of early afternoon diners.  I figured that pub food would be on the menu and thoughts of Onion rings the size of Christmas tree ornaments came to mind.  I was pleasantly surprised with what was available in their absence.

The menu was a trifecta of tastings that are healthy, hearty, and wholesome.  There are three basic components to the menu. Flatbreads, Salads, and Tapas.  Our waitress told us that the items are intended to be shared, and sampled.  She was spot on.

Tapas menu at the newly renovated Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, Mt.

Spicy chorizo sausage, red grapes, and balsamic on a skewer.

The special today basically consisted of an offering from two of the three parts of the menu for 8 bucks.  We partook.  I kicked off with a salad of frisee, bibb lettuce, candied walnuts, blue cheese, and champagne vinaigrette.  My salad was very crisp, very fresh, and easily juggled all the flavors with so many balls in the air.  Ryan had a chop salad.  Both of our salad’s had a bit of an artisanal flair.  The presentation and flavors were resonating the new normal in the comfortable environment.

Tapas menu at the newly renovated Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, Mt.

Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with buttermilk blue cheese.

Ryan went with a Flatbread for his main.  Consisting of roasted wild mushrooms, serrano ham, goat cheese, and fresh thyme, it looked fantastic and was a great size for sharing.  The flatbread with sweet roasted peppers, picholene olives, caramelized onions, and manchego cheese caught my eye but I went in a different direction.

Tapas menu at the newly renovated Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, Mt.

Flatbread with roasted wild mushrooms, serrano ham, goat cheese, and fresh thyme.

I ordered spicy chorizo sausage, red grapes, and balsamic which came on a skewer.  We also tried bacon wrapped dates stuffed with buttermilk blue cheese.   All of the tastes and flavors were well balanced and playfully presented.

Had the two of us planned on a longer lunch experience, we probably would have ordered some of the offerings from the vegetarian tapas part of the menu.  Some of the vegetarian offerings seem simplistic like the seared green beans, garlic, and Murray River sea salt but after being impressed with the salads, I bet the vegetarian offerings would make the ingredients center stage.  The roasted butternut squash raviolis with sage brown butter and reggiano parmigiano on the other hand seems like a much more hearty and complex offering while still catering to a vegetarian palate.

The Newly Renovated Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT

The newly added second bar means no more waiting 12-deep at the primary bar. Can you say “faster service”?!

After Lunch, Ryan headed east en route to an early season float on the Smith River.  I was able to chat with the Top Hat’s new owner Nick Checota.  His goal was to provide healthier food offerings that when paired with beverages and entertainment would not be too expensive for Missoula’s pocket.

Checota hand selected a majority of the tapas and flatbreads after researching Zagat reviews from some of the most acclaimed metropolitan restaurants for inspiration.

Owner Nick Checota--a commercial builder--did a nice job of keeping a lot of the old flavors of the Top Hat while updating to new colors and materials. The tin ceiling shown here...is actually made of sound-proofing materials to add to the Top Hat's new, state-of-the-art acoustics.

Owner Nick Checota–a commercial builder–did a nice job of keeping a lot of the old ambience of the Top Hat while updating to new colors and materials. The tin ceiling shown here…is actually made of sound-proofing materials to add to the Top Hat’s new, state-of-the-art acoustics.

He applied many inspirations from renowned restaurant and music venues when he conceptualized the Top Hat. Checota recognized that even the most devoted music enthusiasts could burn out on live shows night after night so they are trying some unique entertainment that caters to a broad audience.  The Top Hat has been showing Movies on Monday’s, having singer-song-writers performing for the dinner crowd on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and having Family Friendly Friday’s where Mom and Dad can have dinner and a beverage while the 3-9 year old family members dance away the week’s aggressions in front of the state of the art sound stage.

It is nice to see that the Top Hat embraces the legacy of its location while improving on some of the needs of today’s audience.  Between the significantly improved sound, addition of food offerings, and variety of entertainment options The Top hat is on tempo to be one of the Northwest’s premier venues to have a rocking good time!

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Paul Sidoriak writes for Make it Missoula’s On the Grill blog about his adventures in grilling.  His website Grilling Montana shares more of his culinary successes and failures.  He would be honored if you liked his Grilling Montana page on Facebook.  It’s just getting going.

Check out the full photo gallery below.  To learn more about the newly renovated Top Hat Lounge, and its menu and events, check out the new Top Hat Lounge Website.

(CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE AND USE ARROWS TO SCROLL THROUGH ALL IMAGES)

Check out the ticket window (lower left just above the grill of the maroon pickup) and the beautiful exterior of the newly renovated Top Hat Lounge.
Check out the ticket...
The building exterior blends beautifully with the adjacent building--it's almost as if it's been there forever! Oh yea, it has been!
The building exterio...
As always, the Top Hat offers plenty of local brews on tap. Chances are you won't go thirsty!
As always, the Top H...
The newly added second bar means no more waiting 12- deep at the primary bar. Can you say "faster service"?!
The newly added seco...
Cool wall art--vintage Montana license plates.
Cool wall art--vinta...
A nice blend of old and new.
A nice blend of old ...
Owner Nick Checota--a commercial builder--did a nice job of keeping a lot of the old flavors of the Top Hat while updating to new colors and materials. The tin ceiling shown here...is actually made of sound-proofing materials to add to the Top Hat's new, state-of-the-art acoustics.
Owner Nick Checota--...
Similar to many of the newly added light fixtures, tables and stools at the are a blend of iron and wood--they look old, but are new and hip--and easily moved when the venue provides for larger bands and entertainers.
Similar to many of t...
Hip wall art.
Hip wall art.
The secondary bar means faster service!
The secondary bar me...

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Paul Sidoriak writes for Make it Missoula’s On the Grill blog about his adventures in grilling.  His website Grilling Montana shares more of his culinary successes and failures.  He would be honored if you liked his Grilling Montana page on Facebook.  It’s just getting going.