By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF
GALLATIN GATEWAY – “Bingo!” Few exclamations have the ability to taste so sweet.
For such a simple game, Bingo has an incredible effect on those that play it—the rush of filling out a card with bright, inky markers, the anticipation of the caller yelling out that one number you need and the suspense of wondering to what degrees your competitors’ boards are filled-out can elicit energy one would expect at the beginning of a sporting event.
Yet at the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill in the Gallatin Canyon, the suspense just might be a notch above that at most Bingo gatherings, as Big Sky locals—friends, family, peers and colleagues—gather on a few select Tuesdays each shoulder season to test their luck against the other patrons’.
A winning board at the Riverhouse can pocket the owner several hundred bucks, depending on the round, but it comes with a price: prepare to be heckled, booed and have dozens of wadded-up losing boards tossed in your direction.
In fact, ads placed around Big Sky don’t shy away from the phenomenon, reading, “You know the deal, practice throwing insults mostly.”
Yet, there’s no animosity involved, as Bingo represents much more than a game—it’s a chance for those that live in Big Sky to gather, unwind and enjoy each other’s company during the quieter moments when the town is majorly free of visitors and tourists.
“The whole reason we do Bingo is to keep the locals happy, the people who make this place [Big Sky] happen,” said Greg Lisk, co-owner of the Riverhouse. “When you look at it, 95 percent of the people at Bingo are locals, with the other 5 percent just passing through and seeing an opportunity for a good time.”
The notion, providing for the working locals that make Big Sky tick, is a sentiment of Lisk and his business partner Kyle Wisniewski that is reflected even in the menu, which features a three-piece fried chicken dinner for $7.
“The whole reason we did the $7 dinner was to make locals happy. Not everyone can afford a $25 steak, and we haven’t changed that price,” Lisk said.
Literally putting their money where their mouth is, Lisk and Wisniewski opted to allow American Legion Post 99, based out of Big Sky, to collect all proceeds from the Bingo event as well as use the space as a de facto gathering space.
“We always used to put [Bingo] on, but then we were like ‘Let’s get the American Legion guys come in and make the money and make the hall theirs,’” Lisk said. “The locals are getting something fun to do, the American Legion makes some money, and Gallatin Riverhouse Grill gets their cut selling chicken and PBRs.”
According to the chapter’s Facebook page, American Legion “was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to mutual helpfulness. It is the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization, committed to mentoring youth and sponsorship of wholesome programs in our communities, advocating patriotism and honor, promoting strong national security, and continued devotion to our fellow servicemembers and veterans.”
“This money goes toward scholarships, and Boys State [program], and the oratorical contest we have at the school,” said Kenny Alley, a member of Big Sky’s American Legion chapter. “This is pretty much what brings in the money for the work we do. It’s such a popular thing, Bingo, and it’s something to do for the locals during the offseason.”
Lisk also acknowledged many of the town’s other businesses for their contributions, which constitute many of prizes offered to Bingo winners at the Riverhouse, such as gift cards and merchandise.
“…It’s not fair to just talk about the Riverhouse. Other restaurants donate things too, and they know the proceeds go to the American Legion. It’s really the community as a whole working together to have some fun.”
Good food at fair prices, good people in a one-of-a-kind community, good times and good deeds—what’s the word? Bingo.