February 9, 2017

Lydia's: A Montana Tradition

by Barbara Pepper-Rotness, Library Technician

Last fall after spending the day in Butte, my husband and I wanted to find a quick bite to eat before heading back to Helena. It was getting darker and there were fewer and fewer cars as we headed away from downtown Butte, past the car dealerships and the airport. I was ready to turn around but just at that moment, I saw a lonely sign in front of a nondescript, anonymous looking building. The sign indicated that this was Lydia’s: A Montana Tradition. I’d heard of Lydia’s as, well, a Montana tradition and an Italian restaurant. So, of course, we had to try it. Once inside, the décor - lush-textured walls and seating, the mirrors, the colors and subdued lighting, the sunken floor with tables that accommodated many groups and yet, gave the feeling of one big group – resembled a 1960s lounge club. And, as we settled into our cozy section, our waiter brought over dishes filled with food. We hadn’t ordered anything and already we had food! A platter of salami and cheese, a little dish of green onions, a casserole of sweet potato salad, a saucer of anchovies, a basket of breadsticks, a small bowl of salad for each of us with a selection of home-made dressings, a dish of beets, and a plate of sliced red bell peppers. Wow, I didn’t even need to order an entrée. But, with that kind of a start, I was curious to see what other goodies we might receive. With our substantial main selections came more of these little treats – a dish of ravioli, a bowl of spaghetti, and of all things, a plate of French fries. It was quite the meal – delicious, hearty, different, relaxing, and fun.

Back in Helena, I had to learn more about this wonderfully unique experience called Lydia’s and its history. Originally located in Meaderville, Lydia Michelotti’s restaurant was called the Savoy Club before moving to the Flats in 1946. The current building was constructed in 1964 next to the older [1946] building and the restaurant has carried on the Meaderville-style dinner tradition. As Lydia’s brother, Dave, once commented, “We serve a Meaderville dinner today with chicken, steak and raviolis the same way they did in the old days. The sad thing is today when you say Meaderville no one knows what you are talking about” [1].

"What you can see from the headframe?" - Issue #1 Copper Commando
(view from Leonard Mine headframe of Meaderville, Butte, Montana)
Catalog #: Lot 019 B14

Meaderville was known as the Italian-American neighborhood of Butte and was renowned world-wide for its supper clubs that served sumptuous, multi-course meals. Lydia Micheletti grew up in this neighborhood - alternately nicknamed “Little Monte Carlo” (for its open gambling) and “the Night Club Mecca of the Rockies” [2] - and became a dishwasher in one of its restaurants as a young girl to help her family. She later worked under Ted Traparish at the Rocky Mountain Café, where she honed her cooking skills.

The star of the Meaderville night club restaurants, the Rocky Mountain Café on Main Street was considered one of the world’s top restaurants. In fact, an editor of the New York Evening Post wrote in his column, “This may be one of the three or four great restaurants in the world.” [3]. This editor was not the only writer enamored of the Rocky Mountain Café. Many high-profile newspapers and magazines, such as Reader’s Digest and National Geographic, provided the public with a glimpse of this amazing place and enticed them with statements like, “The Best Steak inside me”.  And, the September 1953 issue of Good Housekeeping contained a full-page article entitled, ‘A Big Night in Butte” by Dorothy Kilgallin. In it, she details her the contents of her lavish meal, beginning with the appetizers. “There were olives, stuffed celery, mushrooms, salami, an assortment of cheeses, sardines in oil, crab meat in Russian dressing, shrimp in hot sauce, artichoke hearts, pimientos, pickles, anchovies, a jar of Russian caviar and a big salad with Roquefort dressing…Then the steaks came.”  She ends the article with this perfect statement, “Even after seeing the prices in big black letters I went out feeling as if I had accepted charity.” In 1961, Teddy retired and the restaurant closed before expansion of the Berkeley Pit claimed all of Meaderville. [4]

Rocky Mountain Café flyer [5]

After learning the trade from master chef and host Teddy Traparish; and skilled with re-creating the recipes her mother brought from Italy, Lydia opened her own restaurant and it has been a mainstay in Butte since. As Lydia’s website states, “Meaderville and its many supper clubs are now part of Butte’s colorful history, but Lydia’s proudly carries on the ‘Meaderville-Story’ through our Italian-American dinners.” [6]

Cited works
[1] Kearney, Pat. Butte Voices: Mining, Neighborhoods, People. Skyhigh Communications, 1998, pp. 296-98.
[2] Kearney, Pat. Butte Voices: Mining, Neighborhoods, People. Skyhigh Communications, 1998, p. 214.
[3] Tribune Staff Writer. “’One of World’s Top Restaurants’ Near Butte: Few Dining Spots in U.S. have Won More Praise.” Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT), 26 April 1953, page 13
[4] Excerpts Concerning Montana’s Famous Restauranteur Teddy Traparish, 1888-1971. Compiled by Edward Craney. [Butte, MT: Edward Craney[, 1971?.
[5] Excerpts Concerning Montana’s Famous Restauranteur Teddy Traparish, 1888-1971. Compiled by Edward Craney. [Butte, MT: Edward Craney[, 1971?.
[6] Lydia’s Supper Club, http://www.lydiassupperclub.com/. Accessed 7 February 2017. 

1 comment:

  1. You can see the ornate back bar from the Rocky Mountain Cafe if you stop by Headframe Spirits on Montana Street in Butte. If you do visit Lydia's check out the preserved stained glass windows from old Butte buildings. The glass is used as decor in the restaurant. They are a history lesson in themselves. The Leonard mine noted in the article was source for the rare copper sulfide mineral, Covalite (also spelled covelite), which many believe has medicinal properties.

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