Montana’s Ale Works Restaurant

Montana’s Ale Works Restaurant
Great ski-racing careers propel a great Montana restaurant.
BY JAY COWAN

In the 1980s, when I first got to know mark Taché and Christin Cooper, they were skiing as strong as anyone in the world. Both were on the U.S. Ski Team, where Coop won three World Championship medals, one Olympic silver medal and five World Cup events in a stellar career that saw her inducted into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame. Taché raced on the U.S. team for eight years and on the World Pro Tour for five, where he was the top American in 1987, finding a place in the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. I had a feeling they’d never slow down.

When they retired from racing, Cooper began a 20-plus-year career announcing ski racing on CBS and NBC, and Taché coached ski racers and managed his world-famous surfi ng nephews. Together they started celebrity ski-race events in the 1990s to benefit various groups in Aspen, Vail, and Sun Valley.

But since they still had to fill a few moments that weren’t otherwise occupied with those postracing careers — plus traveling, skiing, cycling, and  climbing  — they started opening restaurants.

 Climbing  — they started opening restaurants. “We really wanted to try something outside the ski industry, beyond the normal choices of celebrity skier, coach, or ski-shop owner,” says Cooper.

In 1992, they became co-founders of the MacKenzie River Pizza Company, focusing on the flagship Bozeman location in what became a statewide chain. Appetites whetted, they and two MacKenzie partners renovated an old railroad freighthouse in downtown Bozeman. That space, which opened in 2000, became Montana Ale Works — a destination dining spot in a ski-crazy college town that has Bridger Bowl, Big Sky, and Moonlight Basin nearby.

The place is Montana-big: Ale Works seats nearly 400 and does the highest volume of any dinner-only restaurant between Salt Lake City and Seattle. The historic building, modernized inside, is airy and sprawling, always fast-paced but never frantic, much like a good racing run through the gates. Inside there’s a huge centerpiece bar, three billiard tables, many booths, and a streetside atrium. Views of the  snow-drenched Bridgers light the north side. head_p1

The bar pours more than 40 regionally brewed beers, more than anywhere else in the Northern Rockies. In this town, that’s a big plus. Yet it’s the food that accounts for 60 percent of sales. Executive chef and partner Roth Jordan seriously elevated the restaurant’s cuisine when he came on board in 2006. My ahi poke cup is outstanding; the Waygu steak is Montana-raised and perfect. My companion’s superb pan-roasted Alaskan halibut comes on a unique chipotle pepperjack polenta with a mango crab salsa and avocado butter. Nightly specials highlight über-fresh locavore offerings such as lamb sliders and pork-belly schnitzel; grilled wahoo fish tacos and the chèvre-heavy Gallatin Valley Salad are regulars’ faves.

“This adventure has been about people as much as food, and fi guring out how to transfer some of what we learned about teamwork, communication, work ethic, and inspiration to the world of service and hospitality,” says Taché.

“But yeah,” he adds, “We serve great food too.”