Feature

The campiest bar in America

The mermaid hour: Customers relax as the show unfolds.

Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is the Sip 'n Dip in Great Falls, Montana.

Courtesy image

You wouldn't necessarily think that visiting Great Falls, Montana, could renew your faith in America, said Brooks Barnes at The New York Times. "A soul-deadening place," the city of 59,000 spreads out from a weary main drag lined with chain restaurants, and digging deeper reveals that the largest local employer is an Air Force base that services nuclear missile silos. But Great Falls is home to a bar that for good reason has made it onto many Americans' bucket lists. The Sip 'n Dip, a "kitsch-tastic" tiki bar nestled on the second floor of the family-owned O'Haire Motor Inn, is proof, if nothing else, that life is a tenacious force. Indeed, "it always breaks through — sometimes in unintentionally hilarious ways — even in the most unlikely places."

Climb the carpeted stairs to the Sip 'n Dip and you enter a cave-like room with two large windows that look directly into the motel's pool. Starting at happy hour six days a week, women in mermaid outfits swim past, doing flips and blowing bubbles. "I'm hiring," says the bar manager who dreamed up the idea about 20 years ago, and she's serious. Recently, she posted her first ad for mermen, and every pol in Montana tweeted about it. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke offered to lend out his Speedo if the state's attorney general really intended to give it a go.

As it happens, "the mermaids alone do not make the Sip 'n Dip the campiest cocktail lounge in the history of campy cocktail lounges." Velvet paintings, fake ferns, and seashell lights abound. Three nights a week, Pat Spoonheim, a retired church organist with towering hair, sits down at a big electric keyboard, adjusts the Ace bandage on her wrist, and starts playing. "We love you, Piano Pat!" yell two guys in cowboy hats, lifting their blue umbrella drinks. Pat, a shout-singer, has been performing at the Sip 'n Dip since 1978. On a good night, the scent of chicken-fried steak will hang in the air as Pat starts singing a jazzy rendition of Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar." For fans of "Americana run amok," there's no better place to be.

Read more at The New York Times, or book a room at the O'Haire Motor Inn. Rooms start at $90.

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