Step through the oversized double glass doors into the lobby of The Northern Hotel and the noise of bustling downtown Billings stops. There’s a cool hush whispered by the sleek contemporary style and the innovative restoration of a treasured landmark in Montana’s largest city (population 115,165).
In the lobby, a dramatic fireplace that sets the scene for a different kind of experience that might be had in a bigger city. The elegant marble floor, the friendly staff, the ethereal large format photography of horses running or moody landscapes add up to an ambience that hints of a Montana experience that is a bit out of the ordinary.
“Going to a hotel is like going to a movie in the theater,” explains owner Mike Nelson, “[as a guest] you suspend disbelief and wait for the show.” He brings this perspective after a career spent in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas.
At The Northern, it’s possible to be transported during a stay. Guest rooms echo the sleek lines of the lobby, enhanced by black and white landscape photographs to add space where square-footage does not. Two restaurants, Bernie’s Diner and TEN offer varied menus that range from Angus beef burgers and handcut French fries to the sophisticated combination of handcrafted cocktails and creative continental cuisine.
“We wanted this experience to be able to stand up to the experience of any big city,” Nelson emphasizes.
Brought back from complete disrepair and foreclosure by Mike Nelson and his brother, Chris Nelson, Billings natives, the hotel has regained its place as a downtown pillar. Located on Broadway and First streets, it opened in 1904 by ambitious local businessmen, P.B. Moss and Henry W. Rowley. Standing three-stories high with 69 guest rooms, it quickly became an upscale destination and Montana’s most modern hotel. Because of its popularity as a prominent social center, in 1916, The Northern was upgraded with a marble-lined lobby, a tearoom, an atrium and a fourth floor with additional hotel rooms. The hotel thrived until a devastating fire in 1940.
Reopening in 1942, with restored glory and a claim as the tallest building in Billings. It’s historic guestbook lists prominent politicians who visited the Magic City: President Theodore Roosevelt, President Woodrow Wilson, Democratic presidential contender Adlai Stephenson, Vice President and Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon.
As a landmark for commerce, the Billings Petroleum Club was headquartered here from 1960 forward and in 1959, the famous Golden Belle restaurant opened in the Northern Hotel. The restaurant was noted for refinement and a flair for elegance.
Anchoring today’s Northern Hotel is the cosmopolitan restaurant known as TEN. Bucking the unfortunate tradition that hotel food is typically bad, Nelson, brought in ace chef, Tim Freeman to reinforce the 4-star quality of the hotel and bring inventive cuisine to locals and visitors alike.
With a list of impressive accomplishments that run the gamut of sous chef at Spago with acclaimed celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck to opening a chain of restaurants in Russia to a stint in the White House (during the Clinton administration). In the last decade he has lived in six different countries and visited more that 50. Freeman brought international touches to the TEN menu. “As the menu evolves, it we will offer cosmopolitan food with a global influence, but still using Montana ingredients,” explains Chef Freeman.
Staying grounded in Montana means utilizing fresh ingredients without being too fussy. The result is a hotel and restaurant experience with a metropolitan veneer. Though Billings is far from the lights of San Francisco, NYC or Los Angeles, you can still get that city fix you crave.
19 North Broadway
Billings, MT 59101
Thank you the Big Sky Journal where the original version of this article appeared.