Sports and Recreation
Best Fly Shop Well, anglers and river-run-through-this types were of divided minds, apparently, so we have a rare official tie in this race. King Fisher and Grizzly Hackle have to share the honors, but we're sure they'll be nice about it, because after all fishing is such a soothing obsession. Hobby-we mean hobby.
Best Store for Skis Missoula is a town very enamored with the white stuff, as evidenced by the huge turn-out in this category. Gull Ski won by a whisker over Bob Ward and Sons. Three cheers for Gull, and for the other dozen or so shops that nabbed votes. Now, mush!
Best Store for Outdoor Gear A fierce duel. Three contenders with impeccable cred took it to the mat for the honors in a heavily voted category. Finally, the Trailhead emerged victorious, but check this out-Bob Ward and Sons held on to second, just two votes behind the winner, and Pipestone Mountaineering took third just two votes behind B-Dubs.
Best Bike Shop Three cheers for our old friends at The Bike Doctor, who, uh, shredded in this category. The Bike Dox know what cycling is all about, but they don't take it so seriously that they won't rehab your Schwinn cruiser. That makes 'em cool in our book, and apparently with our readers as well. Pretty much every two-wheeler shop in town garnered some support, proving once again that the 'burg that rides together, stays together.
Best Gun Shop Sportsman's Surplus got its mack on for serious in this race, and with their vast array of hunting weaponry, it's not hard to see why. Bob Ward and Sons, a pillar of the community for decades, did well too, as did the scrappy folks at The Axmen.
Best Ski Hill We have to say that we saw this one coming: Snowbowl by a landslide. Honorable mention goes to Discovery, Lost Trail, and The Big Mountain.
Best Bowling Alley This one is always close and makes for one of the most fascinating races to watch. But for the third year in a row, the undisputed champion of local keglers' hearts remains Westside Lanes. We've got some hipster pals that hit Westside every Thursday night, and they sing its praises loud and long. Rock 'n' rollers, old-school bowlers, cowboys, cowgirls, families out for fun-now, ain't that America?
Best Health Club Once again, all our votes for "Missoula Club" fell fallow, as sporty types carried the day. In fact, Missoula Athletic Club rolled to victory. The YMCA, Montana Athletic Club, Women's Club and Gold's Gym all posted highly respectable showings.
Best Day Hike Well, our personal choice ("Between Charlie B's and Al & Vic's") didn't seem to generate a lot of momentum in this outdoorsy category. In fact, the Rattlesnake stood head and shoulders above the crowd here. The Rattlesnake's claim to fame is that it's closer than any other wilderness in the country to an urban area. We are truly blessed.
Food & Drink
Best Breakfast With all of the breakfast choices in Missoula, it should be no surprise that this category was one of the most highly contested. Defending 1998 champion, The Old Town Cafe, emerged victorious once again. Valiant efforts by The Shack and Paul's Pancake Parlor for second place should not go without notice.
Best Lunch Under $5 Having returned from a winter's trip to the motherlode of Cajun food, New 'Awlins, I was happy to find that the Dinosaur Cafe could serve it up with the best of them at half the price. Last year's winner, Tipu's Tiger came in a close second with a variety of curry and rice tasties for under five bones.
Best Power Lunch Talk about a close call! Missoulians gave Marianne's Hob Nob the nod for best place to schmooze your boss or prospective clients for the second year in a row by five scant votes over Red Bird. Either establishment provides ample atmosphere for using lunch as an excuse to work nine hours instead of eight. Hopefully, the fellow who voted for Sizzler can finally figure out why he is still working in the mailroom.
Best Romantic Dining The way in which Shadows Keep buried the competition for top romancing honors hasn't been seen since Bush steamrolled Dukakis in '88. This makes it three years in a row now that the castle-like structure atop Whitaker Drive has garnered top honors for its swoonability. In a Truman-Dewey like battle for second place, Ray Risho's Perugia nudged out The Bridge.
Best Place to Eat Alone I'm one of those guys you see at lunch hogging a whole table that seats four all by himself. And there's no place I'd rather do this with my books spread all around me than Tipu's Tiger. If you're lucky enough to get a window seat, it doubles as a great place to spy on the guys at the Missoulian.
Best Mexican Food Despite a strong 11th hour surge by El Topo Azul, Casa Pablo's held on to its reign as Missoula's best Mexican food for the fourth year in a row. Perhaps their excellent margaritas are one reason they are able to have such a strong showing year after year.
Best Chinese Food Like Morton Anderson's last minute field goal to lift the Falcons over the Vikings in this year's NFC Championship, Hong Kong Chef stole victory from the clutches of the Mustard Seed to claim top honors by a mere three votes. One may wonder if Gary Anderson could have won the thing in regulation for the Vikes if he'd just eaten some of HKC's crispy tofu during half-time.
Best Thai Food Who would have thought that the battle for the Garden City's favorite Thai restaurant would be as heated as traveling on Highway 93 at rush hour? Thai Spicy played the part of tow-truck, cleaning up the demolition derby debris between The Thai Deli and SaWaDee, who duked it out for second place.
Best Seafood If the contest for best Chinese was like the Falcons and Vikes, then Best Seafood was more like the 1975 NCAA tournament when the Griz almost felled mighty UCLA. Last year's champion, The Depot, escaped defeat by one mere vote to stave off a furious rally by Joey's Only in the closing minutes.
Best Vegetarian Food Best Journalist winner and Indy staffer Zach Dundas secretly sneaks away from the office to enjoy the best damn cup of Chai in town at Tipu's Tiger, which is also the winner of this year's best veggie restaurant. Bipin and the fellas at Tipu's have been cleaning up since winning Best New Restaurant and Best Lunch Under $5 last year. 1998 winner, The Black Dog, put up respectable numbers as this year's runner-up.
Best Hamburger Talk about Populism in action! Fuddruckers pulled off what was once thought to be impossible by defeating the incumbent Missoula Club, who had dominated this category since its inception in 1995. The Dinosaur Cafe battled for third, narrowly escaping from neighborhood favorite Del's Place.
Best Sandwich A new category for 1999, best sandwich honors go to the folks out at Friends, who make great grub to pick up before those rowdy fall Griz Soccer games at South Field. Staggering Ox made some noise in second place with their assortment of cleverly named sandwiches.
Best Pizza This battle was so epic it was like the conclusion of the Iliad with MacKenzie River cast as Achilles and The Bridge as Hektor ... and the mighty MacKenzie River emerging victorious outside the high walls of the Garden City. Maybe that whole reconciliation feast at the end of Homer's masterwork was with take-out.
Best Ice Cream Last year after being beaten out by Goldsmith's for Best Ice Cream, the owners of Big Dipper launched an initiative codenamed "Operation Cream Team" to capture this year's prize. The details are sketchy, but a recent investigation has uncovered ties between Big Dipper management and Wisconsin dairy Mafia leader Jimmy "The Udder" Schlemke.
Best Milkshake Inquiring about the dominance of the Uptown Diner in this category, a source close to the situation divulged their secret for success: "It's all about bringing that stainless steel shake thingy to the table with all the leftover shake stuff in it." Apparently Big Dipper's "Operation Cream Team" was not able to gather enough reconnaissance on the Uptown to push them over the top in this category, coming in second again.
Best Steak It takes a lot to impress my dad when it comes to someone grillin' up a steak for him. You see, he's been in the meat packing industry since I don't know when, and usually complains about something or other when he orders steak from a restaurant. Maybe it's the taxidermy, but for his money, Guy's Lolo Creek Steakhouse is the first thing on his mind when he thinks of Missoula.
Best Bagels We may have to vote on term limits for Bagels on Broadway, for they have won this award by a landslide each year since they opened their doors. However, their location across from the courthouse probably insures them getting off on a technicality if any such restriction was enacted.
Best Bakery Bernice's has been kicking out the best pastries and decadent goodies long before most of us even knew where Missoula was, and the coffee is potent enough to wire even the most caffeinated connoisseur.
Best Delicatessen There was a period in my life where Worden's Market was the closest eatery within bikeshot of my job, and as a result, I think I have consumed every salad and sandwich that they have. Surprise second place honors go to the Broadway Market, which is considered by many Missoula's best kept secret for pasta, cheese and wine, not to mention that owner Alfredo Cipolato is perhaps the most colorful proprietor in town.
Best Coffee One afternoon I had to restrain my roommate who, instead of his very quiet self, was acting very peculiar, rambling on and on about the "quad-shot mocha" he had consumed hours before at this year's winner Break Espresso. Butterfly Herbs narrowly defeated the Catalyst for second place.
Best Wine List It appears that our voters are not too sure what exactly a wine list is, as most people voted for Worden's Market in this category. People! Listen up! Worden's might have a mighty fine wine selection, but a "wine list" is what restaurants make available to you for consumption during your meal. With that in mind, it would appear that The Depot is this year's winner.
Best Microbrew It was a year of controversy for Missoula's microbrewers in 1998. First, this year's champion, Big Sky Brewing, was hassled by the corporate goons at Moosehead for "infringing" on their brand with Moose Drool. Secondly, this year's third place brewery, Kettlehouse, was hounded by the ATF for its "incendiary" Olde Bongwater ale. Come on Bayern! Just because you came in second doesn't mean you can't garner a slice of the media spotlight!
Best Supermarket Just when you thought that Missoula was safe, lo the Behemoth cometh in the form of the new Super Albertson's on Russell. Maybe the well-lit parking lot and the soft neon din were just enough to mesmerize the two voters it took to put them ahead of Tidyman's for this year's award. Must ... vote ... for ... Albertson's.
Best Fresh Produce The fact that we grow less of our own food at home and rely on technology to provide it for us proves that Americans have evolved from the Agrarian age to the Silicon Age. And when our voters want fresh produce these days they rely on the Good Food Store to provide it for them.
Best Beverage Prices One of the first things I did when I turned 21 was head to Orange Street Food Farm where I had discovered that buying several cases of "beverages" provided one with the same amount of beer as a 16-gallon keg for two cents cheaper on the gallon. Unfortunately, I crashed my bike on my way home sending a few dozen cans of PBR to their doom in the middle of Higgins. That's what you get for thinking too hard.
Health & Beauty
Best Men's Clothing Mass uniformity beat quirky, slightly worn uniformity when the Gap overtook Goodwill in this hotly contested race. Eddie Bauer just barely lost to the Gap, proving that Missoula is urban enough to handle the presence of both stores. Most of Missoula, that is, since Quality Supply and Army Navy also got shout-outs.
Best Women's Clothing Everybody knows girls love shopping! It's true! There were tons of stores nominated, but in the end ladies just prefer the spendy elegance of The Bon. Once again, the Gap was a strong presence and Meridian also proved popular.
Best Thrift Store With a local glut in the second hand market, readers had a hard time choosing their favorite purveyor of distressed rags. However, Goodwill managed to send the others crying back to their vintage bowling shirts. If you have the time to sift through the racks, I highly recommend you check out Bargain Corner, in my opinion the cheapest of the bunch.
Best Lingerie I realize it's shocking, but the winner is Victoria's Secret! Two people voted for (gulp!) Goodwill and a few perverts preferred Fantasy, but I'm with the visionary who put Go Free, Man.
Best Jewelry Folks, this one was ugly. It seems readers couldn't decide whether to disregard their pocketbooks, but I believe it was with value in mind that they selected Rockin Rudy's as the gold-medal winner. Painless Steel came in second, presumably for their selection of body accoutrements. Barney Jette got the bronze.
Best Cosmetics When we want to find the finest in trampy face paint, the majority of us head for The Bon. Basically the only other place that was a contender was Dillard's. Mary Kay, that marauding collective of feminine sensibility, picked up four votes.
Best Bath Accessories Whether it's enormous textured sponges or delicately scented bath beads, voters agree Repose is the cat's ass. Bath & Body Works in the mall was a fave, but both of these places should watch for the increasingly popular Body Basics, home of the "special lotion."
Best Beauty Salon Whew, this category was a real cat fight, but in the end, Studio 2 had the sharpest claws. Sorella's and Tangles received plenty of votes as well. For my money, I visit Travis at Regis, who provides sparkling conversation to go with quality cuts.
Best Barber There were so many different nominations in this category, it's amazing a winner emerged. Main Street gains the title, but Indy distribution guru and all-around overseer Jeff Seaton got a healthy handful of votes too, probably because of his willingness to accept PBRs as payment.
Best Tattoo Parlor Altered Skin and Painless Steel scrapped hard in this very close race, so in my book they're both winners! (However, Painless Steel got more votes.) One gape voted for Jail, ha ha.
Goods & Services
Best Florist I hear they prefer to be known as "floral designers" now. Whatever. I'm sure they've been called a lot worse. But the fact of the matter remains, Bitterroot Flower Shop was once again the runaway favorite in this, um, field. Garden City Floral and The Flower Market also won some votes for Missoula's best "designer."
Best Hotel So your old battle-ax of a mother-in-law is coming town and you don't know where to stash her? My vote would be the basement. But enough about me. You folks opted for the DoubleTree as your favorite in-law storage facility, trailed rather predictably by Holiday Inn.
Best Bed & Breakfast It's recent remodel didn't keep Goldsmith's Bed & Breakfast from once again grabbing the gold as the Garden City's favorite B&B. As for some of the other suggestions we received-um, I don't think "B&B" stands for what you think it does. Look it up.
Best Antiques Missoula has a wealth of places to go cruising for hidden treasures-Antique Mall first among them. They nudged last year's contender, Third Street Antiques, into second place this time around. For our part, we voted for The Rolling Stones.
Best Tobacconist Nonsmokers be damned. Missoulians overwhelmingly sided with Bell Pipe & Tobacco Shoppe when it came to taking a bit o' smoke, with Worden's Market and the minimally named Cigarette Store pulling up the rear. I can hear them mewling for help already, them little clean-air advocates.
Best Tailor Heading up the Blowout Department this year was Custom Fashions, which tore ahead of other nominees and left their bobbins spinning, much like last year. Angelo's, for the record, was one of the few viable competitors.
Best Bookstore Fact & Fiction mounted a strong attack on standing champ Barnes & Noble, but, in the end, the chain store kept its top rank. The Book Exchange and The Bird's Nest also made respectable showings in the minds of local bibliophiles.
Best CD Selection Try to act surprised when we tell you that Rockin Rudy's swept the survey among music fans. There was much to be said for Ear Candy and Budget Tapes and CDs, too, each of which got plenty of votes among those who dig the rock 'n' roll music.
Best Shoe Store/Shoe Repair If anything exciting has ever happened that was in any way remotely connected to shoes, it was definitely this race. By the margin of one measly vote, Hide and Sole edged out Ogg's as your favorite place for footwear. Conversely, the contest among cobblers was somewhat less contentious, with Grizzly Boot kicking Lloyd's and Hide and Sole into submission as 'Zoola's favorite shoe repair shop.
Best Department Store Did you know that Missoula's The Bon is the longest-running department store this side of the Mississippi River? True story. It's been in business since 1865, mostly as Missoula Mercantile, but it's been around long enough to become something of an institution. Which is probably why they ran away with this year's Best Department Store award, leaving several mall and Reserve Street establishments in the dust.
Best Sporting Goods Did you vote for skis? Granola bars? Those fingerless gloves like the ones Bob Cratchett wore in A Christmas Carol? Well, we were looking for sporting stores, you quislings, not gear, and Bob Ward and Sons greased by Sportsman's Surplus as the best place to grab the goods. Sheesh.
Best Store for Home Electronics Tons of stores out Reserve Street way got mentions under this heading, but Future Shop walked away with the title. And, for the eight people who voted for Radio Shack, I have a question: Do they still make those orange, donut-shaped transistor radios that I had when I was a kid? And if I pay you, will you go in there and buy one for me?
Best Store for Home Appliances Vann's inaugurates this brand-new category by taking the prize as your favorite place for meeting those washing, drying, baking, spinning, slicing and dicing needs. 'Nuff said.
Best Hardware Store Quality Supply made a strong showing among Missoula's handyfolks, but in the end, Tremper Center's Ace Hardware cinched the deal, as usual. And one person voted for Fantasy Video here, and I think I know who it is. Go home, Mom, you're drunk!
Best Car Dealers-New/Used Jolly Wholesale retained the mantle as the best shills in the business. Fast on their tracks, though, was Bitterroot Motors, which got their own honors as Missoula's best new car dealership.
Best Auto Repair Always trust your car to the men who quote William Wordsworth in their ads. Kent Bros. kept an iron grip on their long-standing claim to being the Garden City's favorite garage. Auto Clinic puttered across the finish line minutes later to claim second place.
Best Furniture Wagners Home Furnishings took the gold as the best folks for filling your apartment, but The Living Room wasn't lacking for spunk this year, taking a nice, shiny silver.
Best Financial Institution Mighty franchises collided, as corporate banks battled to the death. But none of them won. In Fact, none even came close. The home-grown Missoula Federal Credit Union won the vast majority of votes this year. Millenium paranoiacs were also at work, though, since the matress and the mason jar in the yard both made a fair showing.
Best Travel Agency This town wasn't big enough for the two of them. In a close match last year's winner, Budget Travel, was unseated by the upstarts at Wide World of travel, making them your new preferred place to go, when you want to go outta town.
Best Pawn Shop Damn the tuxedos, full speed ahead. When you're going low-rent, you gotta do it right, and this year, like many others, you said that Liquid Assets is the best place to go for hocking and such.
Best Toy Store The difficult-to-say Pufferbellys rallied close to the top, but ut was beaten out by the difficult-to-say-with-a-straigth-face Joint Effort, which retains its years-long reign as the kingdom of fun. And then of course there was Fantasy Video making its foreseeable strong showing. You crazy kids