Before we stroll the Garden, how about a little drink?

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The rosewood bar in Manhattan

Several years ago: it was back in the early eighties. I was travelling between Bozeman and Missoula (or perhaps it was Deerlodge) in the vicinity of the headwaters of the Missouri. This is a flat open country for western Montana, where the mountains seem to receed into the distance and can be completely obscured when one drops down into the river floodplains and stands among the cottonwoods. It is almost as if the northern Great Plains reach up and curl their grasp into the mountains from the north to the south as the Missouri wends south, and up, to that place of the "three forks", where it divides. It was near here that the mountain man, Jesse Coulter made his "run", escaping from the indians who were torturing him, naked, through more torture: a patch of prickly pear, to hide submerged in the river and then walk naked some unimaginable distance to safety and a stiff drink. I always thought about that when I was in this "neck of the plains".

There was, is still I suppose, nestled among the bare and grassy terraces and breaks that edge the drainages that come together here, a small town easy to run by nowadays, with the unlikely name of Manhattan, Montana.

That day, long ago, I was ambling. Enjoying every second. Taking it all in, in ways I rarely find the time to anymore. But then, on those early fall days in Montana when the first touch of chill has hit the air but the sun at midday still warms: before the fear of winter is awakened, ambling is natural and easy.

So I stopped into this little Manhattan. If memory serves you can't see the mountains at all from town. The place seems like any little ranching community in the northern plains.

There was a main street, with low, unassuming, flat fronted buildings. The color white predominated. There were clapboards and board and batten, some plateglass; here my memory dims. But things were slow, dreamy, and the little establishment "fronts" seemed to merge into one another where they touched. It would have been easy to walk right past a place if you weren't looking carefully or if you didn't know what you were looking for.

It was just a coincidence that I pulled my pickup into the parking space that was almost in front of a non-descript white-fronted establishment with no other hint of what was behind its door than a neon sign in the window advertising one of the more readily available beers.

Now ordinarily, I don't stop in for a beer in any little old town when I'm travelling. But this was different: I was ambling. I felt good. The breeze was cool and the sun was warm. It was a day, an afternoon in September in Montana. So I decided to have a beer.

I walked in. The first thing I noticed was the funny little man behind the bar. Short, stooped, balding, old: face like a rubber mask. Not scary but loveable in a generic sort of way. He wasn't particularly remarkable: white, short sleeved shirt. The kind you can see through to the sleeveless undershirt. But I can't remeber if he wore one.

There was no one else in the bar.

"Hi." (me). "Howdy." (him). I sat down. My broad-brimmed cowboy hat nearly covered my face so I pushed it back on my head. "What kind of beer do you have?" "Just Bud." "Just Bud?" "Yup, just Bud." "OK, I'll have one."

The Bud was served in a plastic cup. It wasn't particularly cold. At this point I began to wonder why I'd come into this bar. Then I looked up. I was overwhelmed. I was sitting at the most beautiful, solid, ornate rosewood bar I had ever seen. There was nothing in the room, the walls were bare. All there was was me, the old man, and this massive rosewood bar.

The bar was decorated with pillars; everything was rounded and smooth and as understated as anything Edwardian can be understated. The bar back was solid rosewood: dark imposing, framing a mirror that was old and spotted and wavy but still perfect. The mirror was also framed with pillars. There were no bottles displayed on the barback's shelves, and the bar was not appointed with brass (that would have detracted from its dark seriousness), its metal fixtures were dark in color.

"My God, what a bar!" "Yeah, she's somethin', ain't she?" "My God this is the most beautiful bar I've ever seen!"

Then I said, "I never would have come in here if I hadn't just parked outside by accident. There's no sign or anything. This is the most beautiful bar I've ever seen. Why don't you have a sign or something? You'd get a lot more customers." "Well I s'pose its cause we like things pretty much the way they are around here."

"So how old is this bar?" The old man proceeded to tell me the age of the bar and how it had been transported into Manhattan in the early years of this century with great difficulty and at tremendous expense. I don't remember the specifics anymore, but I think it had been brought in on the railroad, and perhaps partway on wagons in pieces. At one time it had been a pretty famous bar. Now it was forgotten. But that was good. What was important was that it was still there: it was still perfect.

I had forgotten that the beer was warm. The generic bartender had become a sage. He was a captain, a pilot, a navigator, a conservator, of a beautiful craft, a ship, a vessel, an edifice. Time had stopped completely, all life, all creation were held in suspension. I was cut off. Held momentarily in a special world.

But I had to go. I finished the beer. I could allow myself only one. I was traveling, even if it was Montana in the early eighties.

"Well, thanks for the beer." "You paid for it." "Well, thanks for the bar. I mean, thanks for keeping the bar. Thanks for taking care of it." "Huh." "It's the most beautiful bar I've ever seen. Take care of it." "I will." "Goodbye." "Goodbye to you."

I stepped out into the afternoon light. I was blinded, pulled on sunglasses and pulled down my hat. I was a bit disoriented. What a place.

But I was back in time and as soon as felt ready I traveled on.

The years intervened and I moved away from Montana. But five or six years later I returned to pick up some possessions left behind. This was a hit and run style trip: hard driving and intense. I had to get in and out quickly before winter began in earnest. It was dark grey, blustery and threatening for the whole trip, and I had a friend along in the somewhat bewildered personage of a feminine companion who never really stopped wondering why she had ever agreed to accompany me.

We had just left Bozeman headed west at the start of our return loop when I remembered the Rosewood Bar.

"There's something you have to see up ahead." "We're stopping?" "Just for a minute. Little town called Manhattan, right off the highway." (Sigh.)What is it?" "Something special. You'll see." "OK, well, it better be." "Oh, don't worry. It is. It's something you'll never forget."

We pulled off the interstate right as it was getting dark. The sun had disappeared behind the Tobacco Roots and the sky was full of clouds. Manhattan looked just the same, mostly white, which was ghostly in the dusk. That time when your eyes play tricks on you. I found main street and drove the same pickup past the place I thought I'd find the bar. But I wasn't sure. We stopped, parked, and began to walk the sidewalk.

"I thought it was around here somewhere!" "What?" "This place I want you to see. It's a bar." "A bar?" "Yes, a bar. But not just a bar. A very special bar. The most beautiful bar I've ever seen." "How special can a bar be?" "Oh, you'll see, believe me, you'll see."

We went right to the spot I thought I remembered. We'd actually walked past it several times already as I closed my mind and my eyes to what was there and kept looking. But I could no longer deny it when I looked up and saw an empty space, an empty lot, full of rubble and weeds hemmed in closely by the abutting sidewalls of two vintage buildings. An empty space.

"Oh no." "What's wrong?" "Oh God it's gone." "What?" "The bar. It's gone." "Gone? How could it be gone?" "I don't know. This is too weird. I'm gonna ask around."

We walked to the nearest open business. I have no idea whether it was a gas station of some sort of office. But there was a dark-haired early middle-aged woman behind the counter.

"Excuse me?" "Yes?" "I'm looking for a bar. A beautiful old rosewood bar. It was right up there, I think. Very plain front....." "Oh yes. Such a shame!" "What!?" "Oh that old place burned to the ground, just burned to the ground about a year ago. Lucky the fire department was even able to save this block!" "Oh my God, no!" "Yes. Such a shame." "That was the most beautiful bar I've ever seen." "Yes, it was, wasn't it. Such a shame." "The old man.......?" "Such a shame. He took it pretty hard you know. He's gone.....died two weeks after it burned down." "Oh God. Well, thank you."

We stepped out into the cold. The night was dark. We drove into it.



-- Anonymous, June 02, 2002

Answers

Ah, finally - we're *here* !

I *love* your Rosewood Bar. I sure would have loved to have seen it. You do what I like to do - wander, and wander, and wander in.

I always wanted to stay in a place called The Wander Inn. Maybe that's the heaven that the Rosewood Bar went to when she went to that great Hotel in the Sky.

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-- Anonymous, June 03, 2002


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