by Laura Lopuch
Flowers jump out of the wooden box on the window. The squat brown building is barely tall enough for the wooden screen door. The door’s handle is worn smooth from years of hands. Looking from the outside, you would never guess this small walk-in hoagie shop is one of Bozeman, Montana’s most popular restaurants.
Welcome to Pickle Barrel.
The small space is crowded with a bench cut from half a log, a drinks cooler, a soda machine, shelves overflowing with shirts and sweatshirts for sale, a bulletin board tacked full of local announcements, and a waist-high barrel in the corner. The place feels homey—a place where it’s natural for the guy behind the counter to joke with you, like he’s your little brother back from college. The four or five employees are college-aged. They work back-to-back, as their hands flash over lettuce and tomatoes, quick banter flowing. A guy operates the huge grill, which takes up an entire wall.
Don’t be fooled by how the barrel in the corner is squeezed in. It’s important. Open the lid and floating pickles greet you. For every half sandwich you buy, you get to fish out a free pickle. Put a pickle barrel in the corner and… see where the name came from?
The menu is hand-written on a hanging chalkboard over the counter. Colors of chalk vary depending on the sandwiches, which start at $5.85.
The whole sandwiches are enormous. A hungry teenage boy trying to eat a whole sandwich would find himself in an epic battle to finish. It’s a challenge to fit your mouth over one end, which is the width of a football. A favorite sandwich is the Bobcat Special, named after the local university’s mascot. It’s loaded with turkey, roast beef, Monterey Jack and provolone cheeses, lettuce, tomato, onions, and mayo.
Three people walk in and the small space turns tiny. On a busy day, people loiter outside on the sidewalk, waiting for their order to be called. When you order, don’t grab your wallet. You pay when you get your sandwich and the wait won’t be long. If you like, you can hang out in the front area, next to the barrel, and watch your sandwich being made.
This was the first Pickle Barrel. It opened in the 1970’s, conveniently across the street from Montana State University. Twenty years later, another shop opened in historic downtown Bozeman. Across Montana, there are other Pickle Barrels, but this one on West College is the real deal. People who graduated from Montana State University twenty years ago still come back to get their favorite sandwich to make their Bozeman visit complete.
For more information visit: www.picklebarrelmt.com
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