Is Nick Checota’s Top Hat Restaurant Still A Music Venue?

by Travis Mateer

When an owner of music venues AND a booking company (called Logjam Presents) decides to cease booking music at one of his venues, isn’t that newsworthy? Especially if that same owner got over a million dollars in Cares Act money to SAVE those venues?

Before we get to what I uncovered yesterday, lets take a look at what the Missoulian reported last year regarding Checota’s Logjam Presents receiving even MORE government largesse in the guise of “Shuttered Venue Operations Grant” money. From the link (emphasis mine):

The largest grant in Montana, at $3,785,303, went to Logjam Presents, which owns Missoula music venues the Top Hat Lounge, the Wilma and KettleHouse Amphitheater. It also books the Rialto in Bozeman and is building another venue there, The Elm.

I started on this line of inquiry after a source, who is VERY knowledgeable about the local music scene, told me NO music is currently booked for the Top Hat. I was shocked and asked the obvious question: why? The speculation offered is that the Top Hat is more profitable as a restaurant than a music venue. Wow.

The first step was to contact Logjam Presents, so that’s what I did, leaving a message when I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. Since I wasn’t optimistic about getting a callback, I went downtown to talk to someone at the Top Hat in person instead.

I explained to the staff who greeted me that I was working on a story about the local music scene. She confirmed for me that there is no music currently planned for the stage. I pointed to the tables on the stage and asked if the dining made more money than the music. The woman said no one hardly sits up there, so she doesn’t think so.

I dropped by a local bar I used to frequent and asked the bartender about why she thinks no music is being planned for the Top Hat, offering first my take that money could be driving the decision. She thought that was a good guess, speculating that in addition to money, the people who like the expensive food now being served under Chectoa’s tenure probably didn’t appreciate the disruption of setting up live music shows.

Hey, I thought, I know someone with that kind of experience, so I gave him a call and got a quick breakdown of what it means to do a “sound check” and the unpredictability of dealing with talent and other variables. Would this disrupt the dining experience of restaurant patrons, I asked? Yes it would, he replied.

It seems the investment in producing good, expensive food (damn it, the food IS good) has won out over the historic role of the Top Hat LOUNGE being a music venue.

If that is Nick Checota’s business decision, fine. But then the question becomes this: does the PUBLIC get any say in recouping the money that went to Checota to preserve the capacity of this building being a fucking MUSIC venue?

Because we don’t have many of those left.

To conclude this post, here is a piece of 2014 ephemera a friend showed me yesterday when I told him I was working on this story. With the Top Hat going dark, I think the only one left standing as a music venue is Monk’s.

This is how Nick Checota rolls, Missoula. Please consider that when choosing your local Cannabis shop and/or going to a show at one of this dude’s dwindling venues.

Like the amphitheater where you still have to piss in a porta-potty.

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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7 Responses to Is Nick Checota’s Top Hat Restaurant Still A Music Venue?

  1. TC says:

    It is a shame that the TopHat has gone away from music. The Garr’s kept the Missoula music scene viable during the “dark” days. They lost money to keep Missoula musically weird. Big names (Robert Cray) played there when Missoula went months without a single named act. They did it because they loved art, live music and their HOME town.
    Now its just about monetizing tourists. The food is ok (like about Gingrich – its what dumb people think a smart person looks/sounds like. Their food is what people “think” is really good). But this is not about food. They are getting rid of music because they now sell weed on site – Get in the Groove ™ man. Selling smoke is way easier (less overhead/hassle) then booking bands. Nick is smart and will always follow the money – once upon a time it was healthcare, then it was music – now its Mary Jane. Stay tuned – bet it will end up crypto

  2. webdoodle says:

    Hey Skink, A comment I made a couple hours ago about this articles topic, was removed. It showed up initially, but I came back to see if there were more comments, and it’s gone.

  3. webdoodle says:

    Please disregard, my script blocker ate it, and I didn’t save a copy. It was low effort anyway, so don’t worry about it.

  4. BOOM! Checota is a parasite, plain and simple. Great work on this one.

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