Editor's note: This story has been corrected to list Charlie Pyle as one of the first business owners at the Wise River Club site.
With its wood paneling interior and racks of elk antlers that line the ceiling, the Wise River club is the quintessential small-town café. But this seemingly unassuming lodge, restaurant and bar is more than just an ordinary watering hole. In addition to being a historical site for the town of Wise River, the Wise River Club is a destination for travelers from all over the world.
Situated in the heart of the Big Hole Valley along Highway 43 and located near the Pioneer Scenic Byway, the Wise River Club is a favorite stopping point for tourists who travel to the region for its world-class fly fishing, river rafting, mountain biking, hunting, snowmobiling, and a whole lot more.
Lynda and Tom Davis are the current owners of the business, which they purchased with some friends in 2008.
Lynda Davis said owning the Wise River Club has been a dream for her husband, a native of Scotland, who as long been drawn to the ethos of The West.
“He’s always wanted to live in the Wild West,” said Davis. “That’s his passion for this bar.”
Katey White of Butte’s Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, co-listing agent for the property, agreed.
“They turned their passion into really hard work and good food,” she said, describing the Davises.
“And good beer,” added co-listing agent Clay Seccomb, also of Berkshire Hathaway.
But the husband-and-wife team is far from the first owner of the club, which has a long line of owners that goes at least as far back as 1914.
According to local resident Alta Miller, Charlie Pyle of the Big Hole Valley was among the first to open a business at the site, which was originally an 1890s ranch. After that, her husband’s grandparents Dana and Georgia Miller purchased the property.
The Miller family passed the torch to a new generation of owners around 1936, with a number of owners following in their wake, including the Sevalstad and the Schonsberg families, and several others.
The Davises said the Wise River Club has evolved over the years as new components have been added on. Today, it features a restaurant, bar, seven hotel rooms, six fully furnished cabins, a laundry facility and sauna, one rustic cabin, one singlewide trailer, a garage, barn and 13 parking spots for RVs – all on more than 7 acres of land.
The business also comes with a liquor license and the bar’s art deco-like back bar - “lock, stock and barrel,” Tom Davis said. The Davises said they’re also willing to stick around for a week or two to help new owners get situated in their day-to-day operations.
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Currently the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, ranging from burgers and steaks to prime rib on Fridays.
Tom Davis is a familiar face to Montanans because of his commercials for the Wise River Club, which feature the slogan, “what’s in your belly?”
But performing in commercials isn’t Davis’s first time in the spotlight.
Davis formally sang for the Oregon-based band Little John and the Monks and even toured with Van Morrison.
Davis found himself in Montana when he arrived in Butte via Oregon to work as a safety director for Superfund cleanup efforts. The Mining City is where he met his future wife Lynda, who worked at the Copper King hotel at the time. The two lived in Oregon for a while until returning to Montana, where they purchased the Wise River Club.
Tom Davis likes to say that love brought him to the Big Sky State, in addition to a love for wide-open spaces.
He says one of his favorite parts of running the Wise River Club has been getting to meet the throngs of world travelers who pass through Wise River each year – “fabulous, fascinating people,” he said, who hail from countries like Australia, Germany, France and England.
For some travelers, a stop at the Wise River Club has become a tradition.
“We have people who have come in here who have become our very good friends,” said Lynda. “In fact, we have people from the United Kingdom that come here every single year.”
Recently, she said, she hosted a dinner at her home for one of her customers from the UK, who has been visiting the establishment for several years.
But the Wise River Club has many local customers too, not just from Wise River but also from surrounding communities.
The Davises say they have close ties with their local customers and have seen many of their children grow up.
“This is truly a family bar,” said Tom Davis.
Lynda Davis said she and her husband will miss operating the Wise River Club, but it’s time to enter a new chapter of their lives. She says she hopes the next owner will come with enthusiasm and energy and put their own spin on the businesses, where she says the possibilities are bountiful.