dr martens patent Doc Harper’s martini bar set to make a splash downtown
Customers at Doc Harper’s in downtown Billings will see the inspiration for the new business once they walk in the door.
It’s in the framed photo of a distinguished man in a blue suit, brightened by an overhead spotlight. That’s Robert “Doc” Harper, a longtime Sidney country doctor who delivered 3,000 babies in Eastern Montana and performed countless surgeries over four decades of practice.
He also loved a good martini and good conversation and spent a decade of retirement in Billings until his death in 1994, said his son, bar owner Bruce Harper. Now Doc is the face of Billings’ newest martini bar at 116 N. Broadway, a bustling downtown spot.
“I never dreamed that I would be using him as a marketing tool,” Bruce Harper, 72, said last week, gazing at the portrait.
Doc Harper’s will open this week at 116 N. Broadway after five months of renovations. It’s one of downtown’s first new businesses of 2015, and merchants are looking forward to more developments after a busy 2014.
Harper, a West End attorney, made a big investment: about $125,000 to $150,000 to renovate the former zPizza space. In August, he successfully lobbied the Billings City Council to approve an all purpose liquor license for the 1,500 square foot spot.
Now, Harper is joining a busy Broadway Avenue where businesses are excited to gain more foot traffic.
Across the street are the Montana Brew Pub and Hooligan’s sports bar, two popular downtown hot spots. Those two are bookended by the Crystal Lounge to the south
and Bin 119 restaurant and lounge to the north. The Stampede country western bar, which is undergoing a change in ownership, is a block away.
Nearby establishments are welcoming their new neighbor.
“If it’s downtown, it’s bringing people downtown. We all have different focuses,” said Sean Graves, co owner of Hooligan’s and the brew pub.
The west side of that Broadway block was barren and uninviting a decade ago, and Graves said he’s happy to see more activity there now.
“I like to paint the picture that the magic is on Broadway,” he said.
Harper said he hopes to create a relaxed atmosphere for the after work crowd. Doc Harper’s seats about 50 on the main floor on cushioned booths and chairs and another 30 upstairs.
“You meet the big city expectation long and narrow and intimate,
” Harper said. to midnight, Monday through Saturday.
Two flat screen TVs will be on mute to catch the game or news, but Harper’s focus is creating a gathering place for people to meet and socialize downtown. He and his wife, Barbara, will be there most nights greeting people, he said.
“We’re going to be hands on,” Harper said.
The signature martini is a Doc’s Preferred, a favorite of both generations of Harpers: Grey Goose vodka, hold the vermouth, with a pimento olive and onion on a stick.
Another specialty is Barb’s Grapefruitini, named for Harper’s wife. It’s a sweet mix of vodka, grapefruit juice, Kinky Liquer and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Doc Harper’s also has a row of bronzed mugs for Moscow mules, a ginger flavored beverage that has enjoyed a recent revival.
The menu includes 14 specialty cocktails and a wide assortment of wines. Doc Harper’s also serves locally brewed beer from Uberbrew, Angry Hank’s, Carter’s and Canyon Creek Brewery. A small hors d’oeurve menu is available. Navy (“Part of Navy life was bringing drinks to the shore,” he cracked), but he’s hired experienced talent to run the place.
Doc Harper’s has 11 employees, including manager Tony Vega, who’s spent about 15 years in the business.
“It’s a prime location. I really think it’s going to bring a good energy,” Vega said.
Opening day has not been announced and was bumped back from last week so the bar’s credit card system would be ready, Harper said.
Elsewhere downtown, more new developments are expected this year. Missoula’s Big Dipper Ice Cream is planning to open a new store in February at the corner of Broadway and Second Avenue North. That same month, Gallery Interiors is moving into the Kress building at the former Bottega store, which is moving to Shiloh Crossing.
The Pita Pit is also opening early this year a second restaurant at 2813 Second Ave. N.
Harper, who previously worked in a downtown office at the First Interstate Bank building, said he’s excited about the activity in the middle of his return.