On any day of the week, you may see a 50-ish man in a bespoke tweed sport coat, or a university student, or a skater with a purple mohawk.
They come to “Celtic Connections ... for Every Situation” as much for the drinks with names like “Foamy Fairy,” “Dead Scotsman” and “Nutty Piper” as for the brogue-laden banter of Weston Arlich – the shop’s vividly colorful Scot.
The lion’s share of Celt-inspired drinks on the menu are, after all, his own creations – a mad scientist’s verve for concoctions. An experienced barista, Arlich says he briefly attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu Paris in order to learn more about flavor profile.
Tasty drinks overflow on this menu, but it’s the “Foamy Fairy” that is the shop’s most requested drink, Arlich says.
“It’s a subtle comfort drink,” Arlich says nodding toward a woman sitting at the bar. Spilling consonants, he tells me she comes in “fer two or tree a day.”
Megan Boehnke and Dan Palchak do come in every day. Palchak favors the “Welsh Dragon” or “Dead Scotsman,” and calls the pull this place has over him “a vortex” that can easily steal four hours at a stretch.
Boehnke admits she’s addicted to the fluffy pixie-namesake tea drink, but denies the “two or three a day” habit. Both men remind her it’s the first sign of a problem.
Just sweet enough, and different from anything else she’s had in town, or anywhere, she says, it’s a penchant shared by owner Caiomhe (pronounced “Kiva”) McNeil-Dunn.
Arlich made the frothy drink for her one day after bragging about making the world’s best cappuccino, she says.
“I told him a cappuccino would be grand if I liked coffee,” McNeil-Dunn says. Within an hour, the triple-steeped black tea with honey-infused soy milk drink was born, and takes its place among the city’s most unique and sought-after drinks.
McNeil-Dunn purchased Celtic Connection about a year or so ago, and has yet to change the official signage that hangs outside.
And that is where it all gets a little muddled.
The marquee may say “Celtic Connection” and sandwich board signs at street’s end may continue with “...and Green Bicycle Tea Room” but all that has changed.
“It’s haird to explain, loov,” McNeil-Dunn says in a brogue that is a lot northern Irish, a little bit country, and a small measure of Butte.
An Irish food caterer, who traveled from festival to fair, she had always called her business “Celtic Connections ... for Every Situation.” When she opened the store last year, it made sense to keep current signage to acquaint herself with former clientele, while attracting new customers with a distinct drink menu.
That menu, full of coffee drinks, Irish “fizzies” and teas, accompany daily baked goods made from decades-old McNeil family recipes passed on by her Irish granny and auntie.
Born in Montana, McNeil-Dunn’s roots are steeped in the history of Butte’s Irish miners. Roots deepened further with a decade back in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland.
Customers may stop in to hear her or Arlich’s sing-song accent, but once there, both drinks and traditional Celtic baked goods – such as Irish soda bread, and plum cake – help them linger.
“Most of the recipes are my Gran’s and my Auntie LaVallene’s,” she says. “My Irish soda bread and bread pudding are very distinct to the family, because they’re made much differently than other recipes.”
The scones are made by McNeil-Dunn’s friend Jo Boyles, who grew up in England, she says.
Ever the smooth Scotsman – though not at all like a Sean Connery – Arlich chimes droll one-liners on a moment’s notice. This time, it’s telling customers that an English woman is chained up in the back of the store ... “When we need more scones, we just go back there and poke her until she turns ’em out,” he says.
A straight-faced follow-up – “You know why da Brits ’ave tried to take over so many countries, doncha? To escape der own cookin’” – keeps customers smiling.
Arlich, who teaches 27 musical instruments (six of them Celtic, including bappipes and bodhran), isn’t the only entertainment at the shop. Every so often they’ll stage walk-in movie nights, where patrons bring snacks to go with house drinks, and take in Celtic flicks like “Boondock Saints” and “Braveheart.”
This Saturday, McNeil and company will be making a St. Patrick’s dinner of corned beef and cabbage with traditional Dublin coddle – a potato-bacon dish – at St. Anthony’s Hall from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Adults $8, kids $6.
Proving any day is a good day for chocolate, Congratulations goes to Missoula’s own Posh Chocolat, recipients of the “Grand Award” for the 2010 Best Chocolatiers and Confectioners in America, based on medals won at various shows in 2009.
Columnist Lori Grannis may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-8788.