Best of '98 reflects reasons to stay home
By DAN OKO
I had the rather unreal experience, coming back from a much needed vacation a couple of weeks ago, of bopping through three of the world's major cities, from Nairobi to Amsterdam and then New York.
After nearly 48 hours of travel, concluding an African safari and returning to Missoula's own international airport, I found myself home at last. Still, when I got that standard Missoula, post-vacation question, "Does it feel good to be back?" I had to pause.
Amsterdam, with its legal smoke shops, canals and European style, nearly captured my heart. A few months there, I thought, and I might be willing to trade in my Montana passport for something a little more cosmopolitan. Then in New York, I found myself flipping through the smorgasbord of alternative weeklies thriving there, and dreaming about the fast-paced life culture mavens experience in the Big Apple.
I had been home less than a week when I caught actor Spalding Gray performing his monologue on the University of Montana campus, and it occurred to me that Missoula certainly gets its share of culture.
And listening to Gray, who acknowledged that his neurotic life in the city left him with neither the inclination nor the energy to take a vacation for many, many years, I felt ready once again to be home. As I returned to work and finally read the ballot results from the Independent's Best of contest, it was hard to escape that there are a host of things which make Missoula a great place to live.
You know about them, of course, because they're the reasons you live here too. So without further ado, we present the winners of the fourth annual Best of Missoula. Congratulations to everyone.
After all, who needs canals when you've got a river running through town?
People and Media
History teachers ruled in a couple of first-time categories, with Hellgate's Marty York and UM's Mehrdad Kia taking the honors in Best Teacher-K-12 and Best Professor, respectively, Both categories drew more than 60 nominees a piece. Also ranking were Shevawn Hale, Peggy Purdy and Gary Stein (aka Indy Griz Biz author).
For the umpteenth year in a row, Sen. Conrad Burns and County Commissioner Barbara Evans tussled over the Best Official to Vote Out of Office category. This time, Evans came out on top (or the bottom, depending on how you look at it), though some vitriol was reserved for her co-commissioner Michael Kennedy. Rep. Rick Hill picked up a few anti-votes as well. On the other end, Mayor Mike Kadas walked away with the Best Elected Official designation, with Judge Don Louden, commissioners Evans and Fern Hart, and Gov. Marc Racicot also pulling in some popularity.
KECI anchor Larry Frost posed only a minor challenge to KPAX's Jill Valley, in her quest to dominate Best TV News Anchor FOREVER! And Storm Team leader Jim Harmon made short work of KPAX weatherman Dirk Verdoorn's attempt to wrest the Best Weathercaster title away.
Alas, for the first time in history, Independent editor Dan Oko was unseated from his previously undefeated reign as Best Journalist. The honors this time around go to a Missoulian institution, environmental beat reporter Sherry Devlin (though our own Zach Dundas tied with cops/courts reporter Michael Moore for second place).
Missoula's favorite streetcorner prophet, Red Bex, was declared Best Citizen by an embarrassing margin, though a good 74 local folks were nominated for the award. And beating out countless environmental, health care, human rights and peace organizations, the YWCA took top honors in our first-time recognition of the Best Non-Profit Organization. For more on the Y, see this week's UpFront story.
Best Citizen: Red Bex preaches damnation from Missoula’s downtown street corners. Photo by Jeff Powers
Arts and Entertainment
Once again, this year, Severt Philleo led the pack in both the Best Actor and Best Actress category (tying Andie MacDowell in the latter). As for the readers, it turns out they either don't know what LOCAL means, or they simply don't care. To whit, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler and many, many more Hollywood stars picked up votes. We don't believe for a minute, though, that all of them have ranchettes in the Flathead Valley
The Cutting Crew seems to have done quite the lobbying job this year, picking up votes for Best Museum, Best Public Art and Best Art Exhibit; the Art Museum of Missoula took the first category, with the Caras Park Trout winning the second (though both the Farmers' Market and "dogs" also garnered votes). As for the Wilma Building mural, well, if you can't say something nice....
The Wilma won, but not by much, for Best Movie Theater. The newly non-profit, New Crystal Theatre came in a close second.
If there's a category that defines Missoula, it would have to be Best Festival-Adult, where First Night Missoula edged out the Micro B.R.I.W. festival by one vote. After all, folks here in Western Montana like to get drunk and sober. Also popular was the Festival of the Dead, the Hemp Fest, the Rock Creek Lodge's Testicle Festival and the International Wildlife Film Festival-which just goes to show that there's a party for every stripe of party people.
Though Rick Bass calls the Yaak Valley home, he's considered the favorite non-fiction author in the Garden City. For in-town authors, Bill Kittredge won. For next year, dear readers, note that Dan Baum has moved away, and as far as David Foster Wallace is concerned, he never lived here that we know of....
The three Jims led the pack for Best Novelist: Crumley came in first, followed by Burke and, finally, Welch.
Best Actor and Actress: Severt Philleo’s elegant drag and silky falsetto again earn him raves from the readers. Photo byJeff Powers.
Families and Kids
A new category this year, Missoula's offerings for kids and their parents was pretty darn competitive overall, with two exceptions: Apparently there is just one place to fill that sweet tooth. Everyone hustles to the elbow of Southgate Mall for Gaylord's stylin' homemade confections. And Joint Effort smoked the competition as the Best Toy Store. Kay-Bee Toy & Hobbie hopped and skipped into second as the mainstream representative-you just can't find that perfect Hot Wheels car for your loved one anywhere else.
National behemoths Barns & Noble and Gap Kids won for the Best Kids' Book Store and Best Clothing Store, respectively, though Fact and Fiction gave B&N a run for their money.
Nearly every eating establishment in town was nominated for Best Family Restaurant, but Applebee's Neighborhood Grille and Bar greased a handful of second placers by just a couple votes-evidence that their perpetual cheer pays off.
Bonner Park slid into first as the Best Playground. With the giant sandbox, tons of swings and the huge jungle gym assemblage it's hard to imagine a better one-if those kids would just leave so we'd get a chance to play.
Greenough hiked over Bonner as the Best Public Park by just 10 votes, with Caras weighing in at a distant third.
The kings and queens of midnight have spoken and one thing is certain-there is more to Missoula nightlife than endlessly cruising Higgins Avenue. Running away once again with the Best Local Band title is the Moonlighters, while much to Sherry Jones' chagrin, her beloved Skoi!dats came in second. Cold Beans and Bacon tied Spanker for third (psst-those who voted for the Grateful Dead for Best LOCAL band might want to consider enrolling in a 12-step group). Tarkio nudged out Driftopia as best new band, both only slightly ahead of Jelly and PWT.
Voters mainly nickel and dimed it in the Best Musician category, with a whopping 57 people receiving two votes or less. Inexplicably, Mandy Patinkin was one of them. While John Floridis walked away with the honors, kudos went out as well to Jodi Marshall, Cory Heydon, Rita Hamilton and Charlie Hopkins of Cold Beans and Bacon.
Although Al & Vic's was nipping at its heels, Charlie B's pulled away as Best Dive Bar; with the no nonsense decor, take-no-guff bartenders, drinks of eye popping strength and a perpetual aroma of overflowing ashtrays tossed into a deep fryer, do you really need to ask why? The Silver Dollar and Jay's also made respectable showings in this category. When it comes to slinging drinks, Del Tyler at Al & Vic's polled top honors for the second year in a row. Edward LeClaire, Gisele Estrada, Robin from Jay's, "Difry" from Snowbowl and J.T. from The Old Post also did well.
AmVets pretty much stomped all over Mustang Sally's for best dance club, though one voter's choice for the Senior Citizens Center oughta qualify for honorable mention.
Best Sports Bar goes to the Press Club, though Paradise Falls and the Mo Club also received some mention. One chump voted for Mulligan's, although the logic of paying to enter a strip club to watch sports is a little odd. If you prefer participating in athletics, the UC Gameroom, Iron Horse and Charlie's did almost as well as Palace Billiards for Best Pool Table.
Sports and Recreation
Missoula's always considered itself a sporty town, and, appropriately enough, most athletic-type categories drew heavy balloting.
Mad props to Jason Crebo and Skyla Sisco. The Griz stars doubled, each winning both the Best Male and Female Athlete and Best Griz Player competitions. Sisco, the sizzling hoopstress leading the Grizzer grrls campaign for their umpteenth Big Sky championship, won both her customized Indy certificates by a landslide. Crebo, the punishing linebacker from Helena who left more than a few enemy players cursing their mothers during his career at W-G Stadium, narrowly bested QB Brian Ah Yat and firecracker cager J.R. Camel in his categories.
As for the sports of the people, the Best Gunshop, Golf Course, Bowling Alley and Outdoor Gear columns all filled with eager balloteers, and all featured hot races. Sportsman's Surplus just barely got the Best Gunshop nod over the Axman and Bob Ward's. One joker voted for "a closed one," but that's neither here nor there. Larchmont's victory over Highlands for golf course honors confirms that Missoula linksters are of a populist bent, but Highlands loyalists needn't feel too shabby; the South Hills course picked up more than double the votes of all other competitors.
The bowling alley face-off had our eye from the get-go, seeing as how it was one of the most-heavily balloted and closest competitions. Westside finally managed to shake Liberty and Five Valleys, but it was tight, brother, tight. About 180 votes were cast all together here, proving that bowling is truly a pastime of the masses.
The carabiner-and-backpack set was heard from, too. Bob Ward's and Trailhead fought hard for Best Outdoor Gear Store, but Pipestone came out on top. Hell, there's always some young buck coming up through the ranks, and our guess is this category, so dear to Missoulians hearts, will remain competitive through the years.
People and Media
Best Elected Official
to Vote Out of Office
Best TV News Anchor
Best Radio Station-Talk
Best Radio DJ
Best Internet Provider
Best Web Site
Best Non-Profit Group
Arts and Entertainment
Best Non-Fiction Author
Best Visual Artist
Best Movie Theater
Best Theater Company