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At Tips Up, you’ll be welcomed at the door by one of Big Sky Resort’s original egg-shaped Gondola I cabins. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

Surrounded by memories past, new ski bar gathers all walks of Big Sky life

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – In 1973, Big Sky Resort installed the Gondola I, a ski lift whose capabilities boasted a four-skier capacity and 1,525 feet of elevation gain. It whisked visitors from around the world to survey and ski the Big Sky landscape where it dropped skiers at 9,040 feet. 

Today, one of the red, egg-shaped gondola cabins hangs at 76 Town Center Avenue at the entryway of Tips Up, the community’s new ski bar and live music venue.

After you shake off the nostalgia of the gondola gatekeeper, wondering in awe how skiers used to load themselves and their gear into one of those cabins, the full impact of Tips Up’s interior menagerie will hit you. 

At first, you won’t notice first the striped wood bartops, handcrafted shuffleboard tables, or the row of beer taps behind the bar that occupies much of the room’s south end. You won’t even notice the stage, a hand-painted mural behind, or the acoustic-padded ceiling and carefully placed stage lighting.

Before all of that, what will catch your eye are the walls.

To design the inside, the Tips Up team collected antiques and old skis from all over the state, resulting in generations of used skis. If skis could talk… PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

Colorful memorabilia of skiers and ski bums past covering the interior: old Montana road signs, resort maps, signed Warren Miller posters, a Budweiser Clydesdale, an old baseball scoreboard—which at Tips Up will compare daily snow totals at Big Sky Resort and Bridger Bowl—and skis, hundreds of skis that transcend generations.

Much of this memorabilia came from Big Sky Resort, says Bayard Dominick, who helped conceptualize Tips Up and is also VP of Planning and Development at Lone Mountain Land Company, which developed many of the buildings along Town Center Avenue. But the Tips Up crew also reached out to folks in the area.

“We [were] randomly pulling stuff out of people’s garages,” Dominick said, adding that he’s been collecting skis for 15 years. “We traded skis for beer chips. I think there are seven pairs of my old skis in here.”

The gondola, which had been living a lofty retirement in Ennis, he found on Facebook. But the full effort to make Tips Up a reality was a collaborative one between Okay, Cool Management along with Lone Mountain Land Company and Abby Hetherington Interiors.

“We love the community up here and we said let’s create exactly the bar that we and our neighbors want to hang out at,” said Nicole Morgan, president of Okay, Cool, a Bozeman-based business management company who also oversees Copper Whiskey Bar and Grill, among others. 

Morgan thought up the idea for Tips Up with business partner Casey Durham, who will be serving as the bar’s manager. “We just really wanted to create a place where it’s a love letter to the locals, but certainly a place where visitors can come and have a great, unique, enjoyable experience.”

An old baseball scoreboard will display daily snow accumulations of Big Sky Resort vs. Bridger Bowl as a friendly sign of competition. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

The contrast between old and new is stark and comforting, and all part of the plan for interior design extraordinaire Abby Hetherington, who owns her design firm as well as the Architect’s Wife in Bozeman. Hetherington reached out to all corners of the state—Livingston, the Flathead, Ennis—in search of memorabilia.

“We didn’t want it to feel brand new,” Hetherington said. “We wanted to tell the history of Big Sky so when you walk through the vestibule you can see all the maps on the wall. Their big goal was to create a space where the whole community would come in, whether you’re visiting or been here for 20 years.”

Tips Up will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, year round. Executive Chef Eric Gruber has fine-tuned a menu staring a pickle-brined, bone-in fried chicken as well as other craft bar food, such as chicken strips, a spicy chicken sandwich, a variety of burgers, salads, grain bowls, vegetarian options and a kid’s menu.

The pub will also feature live music five days a week, making it Big Sky’s first dedicated music and restaurant venue. So far, they’ve had no trouble booking artists.

“As soon as we get the go ahead, were going to have everybody’s favorite acts ready to go that they miss seeing around Gallatin County,” said Brian Stumpf, the booking agent for Tips Up. “Then, as soon as we can expand, we’re going to bring in some really exciting and bigger acts and it’s just going to be the spot for live music.”

The size of the venue has allowed Tips Up to stay compliant with the county health’s 50-percent capacity requirement and it will open with a 100-spectator capacity. A state-of-the-art sound system provided by Jereco Studios will make for solid acoustics, and while Stumpf says he wants Tips Up to be a place touring acts can stop by, his focus is set on getting local musicians back to work and on the stage again.

In addition to music and fried chicken, the bar also features a casino, TVs to catch sporting events, and shuffleboards handcrafted by Josh Skoglund of Xplorgames. Just behind the shuffleboards two garage doors can open into a large, corner-lot porch that looks out into the park and plaza behind the Wilson Hotel.

Cruz Contreres, founder of the Black Lillies was the first musician to grace the stage in a private New Years Eve party.  PHOTO COURTESY OF BAYARD DOMINICK

“We want it to be a real gathering place for all walks of life in Big Sky,” Dominick said. “The conversation about this building has been kind of building a downtown for Big Sky because no one really used to stop here on their way home … Now they can and there’s somewhere to do that after skiing.”

In conception, the group drew inspiration from renowned ski town dive bars such as the Great Northern Bar and Grill in Whitefish and the Mangy Moose Restaurant and Saloon in Jackson Hole. 

Tips Up opened on Feb. 1 with a full lunch and dinner menu, as well as online ordering, takeout and a full liquor license. Okay, Cool Management’s commitment to reliability, says Morgan, is key to building Big Sky into a community beyond just a seasonal resort town, but into a year-round home.

The bar provides “something for everyone,” Dominick says, whether that something is a plate of crispy fried chicken, your favorite local act on a Friday night, a post-slope brew or to show your friends and family your old pair of K2s nailed to the ceiling. Just be sure to keep those tips up.

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