The mood was a little bit chaotic, a little bit somber and a little bit celebratory for Halloween on Thursday, the last day of business for the Old Post Pub after 30 years in downtown Missoula.
The bar and restaurant announced Wednesday evening that it is closing for good due to financial difficulties, staggering longtime customers. The news comes in the wake of an allegation the organization that runs the pub owes more than $22,000 in unpaid bills.
“I’ve been coming here as long as I’ve lived in Montana, 25 years,” said Paula Clarke, of Missoula, as she sidled up for hot tea and a sandwich at the bar. “It’s a real Missoula institution. I’m just really devastated to see it go."
Other customers could be seen taking cellphone photos of the last day, as staff informed them the business was only accepting cash.
"And I just wish there had been a little more warning, especially for the employees too," Clarke continued. "They found out last night.”
Clarke said she and her friends like the atmosphere of the place, with its jumble of quirky wall decorations, local artwork and music.
“It’s always cozy on a cold day,” Clarke said. “We were all so shocked to read the article, that everyone found out last night.”
Travis Yost and his father Bob Yost sat in one of the booths, as they had many times over the decades.
“I’ve been coming here 20 years,” Travis Yost said, recalling that he’s played shows in the parking lot. “I used to love the shrimp basket and the pretzel.”
“It’s a lovely place,” Bob Yost said. “My favorites, I’m gonna go with the Recession Special (a grilled cheese and a cup of chili for $5 that’s no longer on the menu) and they used to have the hamburger and beer special for five bucks. And I miss the music they used to have here.”
None of the staff were willing to speak on the record with the Missoulian, but one longtime bartender lamented that “a lot of people are now going to be looking for work and competing with each other for jobs.”
On Thursday, the staff seemed hurried, and a waitress was seen picking up the constantly ringing phone and quickly hanging it up to get the noise to stop.
The Old Post Pub is a nonprofit run by the American Legion Forgotten Warriors Post 101 and often hosted veterans for events and meals or just coffee on many weekday mornings.
All employees got a letter informing them of the closure on Wednesday.
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“It comes with great sadness that after several years of financial difficulties the American Legion Post 101 members have decided to close the doors of the Old Post Pub effective October 31st, 2019,” read the letter from Trevor Weinheimer, American Legion Post 101 Commander. “With the help from several dedicated employees and professionals, the Old Post has made a tremendous effort to preserve the business and your employment, however our debt far exceeds our income.”
In the letter, Weinheimer said he would be happy to provide recommendations for employment.
On October 15, the American Legion Forgotten Warriors Post 101 was sued by Campbell & Associates, P.C., an accounting firm in Missoula. The company alleged the Old Post Pub hired them to prepare tax returns and other tax-related work over a period of several years, but the invoices were not timely paid, according to court documents.
In court records, the accounting firm alleged that it offered to allow the Old Post to cater parties for the firm in exchange for credit on the unpaid bill, and several parties occurred, but there was still $22,389 in unpaid bills as of June 30, 2018. The accounting firm alleges that the Old Post has failed and refused to either pay the remaining amount or enter into a payment arrangement. The defendants have not filed a response, and a number for the American Legion Post 101 went to voicemail.
The suit is still pending in Missoula County District Court.
The building that houses the business is owned by Tim France, who also owns Worden’s Market. The building at 451 N. Higgins was listed for sale for $3.9 million earlier this year but hasn’t sold yet, according to local real estate agent Jessie Eagen.
“Old Post just isn’t making it there,” Eagen said in a text message Wednesday to the Missoulian. “We’re looking for a new tenant for that space.”
Many people found out the news from a Facebook post by the business on Wednesday evening.
“Missoula! Thursday is the LAST, Last call at The Old Post come say farewell and cheers us one last time,” the post read.
The news sparked emotional reactions far and wide on social media.
Ric Sanchez, a University of Montana graduate who worked at the student newspaper, The Montana Kaimin, and who now works at The Washington Post, took to Twitter to explain his feelings.
"The Old Post was legitimately my favorite restaurant in Missoula," Sanchez wrote. "Cheap food, cheap beer, a mounted moose head that looked like it was keeping a secret. Many post Montana Kaimin staff meeting dinners were shared here. I am distraught."
Bob Yost came dressed as “The Dude,” a character from the film The Big Lebowski. He was in character as he reflected on what the closure means for Missoula.
“The world moves on man,” he said, putting on his sunglasses. “You just gotta roll with the flow.”