Welcome to the Tiki Central 2.0 Beta. Read the announcement
Celebrating classic and modern Polynesian Pop

Tiki Central / General Tiki

Sip n' Dip, Great Falls, Montana

Pages: 1 17 replies

Has anyone every actually been to the Sip n' Dip, in Great Falls, Montana?

I was tipped off to this Tiki Bar about 5 years ago, and listed it on the Tiki Bar Review pages.

I have done some research in the past few years, and cannot even find and address or phone number for it, let alone any further indiciation as to the level of Tiki present.

Has anyone out there actually seen it with their own eyes???


i have been there it is @ the O'Haire Motor Inn. it is the bar for the hotel. the sip and dip lounge is very unexpected in a place like this. try typing in sip and dip on yahoo.com and you will get a lot of info. the motor inn is interseting too, the bathrooms still have "starburst-laminate in the showers (however, i think they have started renovating some of the rooms. behind the check in counter is cool too, old buttons and lights. the hotel is only 2 stories high. the bar(lounge is on the 2od story. the pool is visible from the dark-tikized bar.

[ Edited by: purple jade on 2003-09-13 19:03 ]


O'Haire Motor Inn
17 7th Street South
Great Falls, Montana 59401
United States
Price Range: 52.5 - 72.5 (US Dollar )
Property Type: Motel


Open 7 days a week, 11:00 am 2:00 am.
Underwater windows offer you a view of those in the pool swimming.
Price Range: $2.00- $1500
Reservations Required? No
Entertainment: See the mermaid swim Friday and Saturday evenings. Pat plays at the piano bar every night Tue-Sat.
Attire: Casual

Underwater windows offer you a view of those in the pool swimming.

Need to bring the Weeki Wachee Kneppers along then!

I got an email from the general manager of the manager of this place. Here's what she said (I asked her if I could post this here and she said yes)

from: "Sandra Johnson-Thares"
The Sip-N-Dip does exist, and you're welcome to come visit anytime.
matter of fact, I might even discount your room!
Sandra Johnson-Thares, CHA
General manager
O'Haire Motor Inn


Gary & I spent the last Friday night of our "Lost in Paradise 2007 Vacation Tour" at the Sip-N-Dip Lounge. An account of our evening is in this post. I thought I'd post more pics and info here.

The bar is the first thing you see when you enter. The backlit yellow undersea mural, red bottomlit bar glasses and blue glow from the two windows into the swimming pool create a dreamy, evocative mood.

Booths on two levels. At the lower right you can see the corner of the piano/organ bar where Pat Spoonheim (Piano Pat) performs 5 nights a week.

Corner booth with black velvet painting.

The ceiling matting has a dark, rich patina from 45 years of use (and stale cigarette smoke). The outrigger is a small plastic lamp.

The Formica tabletops are in awfully good shape for a bar that still allows smoking, so I don't know if they've been replaced over the years, but the same pattern can be seen in photos from the 60's.

Fishbowl, for two or more.


Beautifully garnished drink. I think this one was a Grass Skirt (made with sour apple - a strange flavour for a tropical drink).

Piano Pat has been playing piano and organ at the Sip-N-Dip since 1962. There's a good article about her here.

The swimming pool with its mosaic tile Hawaiian scene is almost unchanged in over 40 years (see photos below).

Windows into the lounge are visible below the water line. In 2004 a crack developed in one of the glass walls and it had to be replaced. Luckily the glass did not break before pool was drained, or the bar would have been flooded. Story here.

The pool building from the outside.

These illuminated signs used to be on the front of the motel (see below).

Our drink server (a dental hygenist student who loved the S-n-D from the moment she first set eyes on it) gave us a reprint of an article about the O'Haire that appeared in Tourist Court Journal in Feb. 1966. It's mostly about the hotel, which had a lot of swanky modern innovations for its day...

...including a helicopter landing pad.

The first year the Sip-n-Dip was open it wasn't Tiki, but had some nautical/maritime elements that survived the transformation, as seen in this picture...

namely, the mural behind the bar, the windows into the pool, and the seahorse pattern tabletops.

I'll reproduce the text of the article in a separate post.

How To Build Business With A 'Whirly-Bird' Pad

by Robert P. Hammond

(Tourist Court Journal, Vol. 29, No. 5, February 1966)

With a lifetime in the construction industry and twelve years' experience operating a motel, Edgar O'Haire knew exactly what to do when he decided to build a 75-room motel in Great Falls, Montana, and the structure he created provides a living guidebook for others contemplating building or remodeling. The traveling men chatting in motel lobbies say he put into the O'Haire motel more things that they want than most and prove they mean it by giving him a year around occupancy rate of better than 90%.

O'Haire became a motel owner accidentally. He was strictly a contractor until one winter he decided to build a motel to keep his crew busy over the slack season, planning to run it as a sideline with a hired manager. From this venture, he gained such a good opinion of the motel business that he decided to build a new motel in Great Falls, Mont., which he would run himself. The experience he had gained in both the construction and motel businesses convinced him he was particularly qualified for the venture. O'Haire had kept comment cards in
the rooms of his Shelby Motel and these gave him a lot of ideas. Guests wrote about their likes and dislikes, and he amplified these thoughts through conversations with them.

"In planning the Great Falls motel, I used two guidelines," O'Haire said, "my experience in operating the Shelby motel and my own taste and preferences. I figured that most people would like what I like and it seems to be true. For instance, I want to be able to go to the bar or the cafe, or swimming or to a meeting without having to put on a raincoat or chasing through a snowbank. This is an advantage that hotels have over most motels. I wanted my motel to have it, too. But I also wanted to include the best features of the motels." O'Haire Manor is owned by a corporation founded by O'Haire in which he owns 60% of the stock and the balance is owned by 400 investors. "The big advantage of motels over hotels is the availability of parking, so ample parking was a must. I planned the layout so that the rooms would be as close to the garages as possible, too. None of our rooms is more than 70 feet from its parking space.

"Convenient parking is one of our biggest sales features but, strangely, it is where many try to economize. Building on expensive land (as we did with a downtown location), many shortsighted operators keep adding rooms at the expense of the parking lot, which gets smaller and smaller. The parking problem then gets larger and larger. In our case, instead of having 50% parking like most downtown motels, we have two for one. We can accommodate 150 cars, more than half in covered storage.

"This gives us a really exclusive feature in Great Falls because the only public parking garage in town recently was torn down. The fact that our garage is covered and heated as well as convenient makes this one of our chief sales tools. The upper floors are open on the inside end, but there is 14,000 feet of radiant heating in the downstairs garage floor and the rising heat warms the slab above. In the winter, we've often got the only dry parking lot in town. Think what this means to our guests. In the dead of winter, when the business is the slimmest and when it's 40 degrees below zero outside, they can put their cars inside and keep them warm and dry. How many people do you think are going to want to leave their car outside in the snow and ice, or even in unheated garages, when they know we have this facility available for them?

"That's our whole philosophy - make life as comfortable and convenient as possible for our guests. That's why I insisted that a bar and restaurant were musts. Some of the chains disagree, but I don't think I could get along without them. I've had guests tell me that if it wasn't for the bar and cafe they wouldn't stay here no matter how nice the rooms were because they say, 'When we're away from home, we're lonesome. We don't want to sit in a room all by ourselves. We want to go out where we can see people and activity, and the nice thing here is that we can do it without even putting on a hat and coat'."

Tied in with the O'Haire bar, and affording a part of its entertainment, is the indoor swimming pool. A large window behind the bartender's back looks right into the tank so the guests at the counter or the tables can watch the swimmers. The tank is both heated and covered, another item O'Haire considers a major feature.

"I feel that the investment the average motel makes for a swimming pool to use in the summer isn't really justified in this area. After all, our tourist season lasts only 60 days. But an indoor pool helps us create business in the winter when we need it most. It brings families taking winter holidays or weekends, so our pool is pulling business all year around and working 365 days a year instead of 60. We feature it in our advertising, saying, 'Come and spend the weekend and bring the family. While you do your Christmas shopping, let the kids swim in the pool. Let our swimming pool be your baby sitter.' I think it's a real success. It doesn't bring a lot of people but it brings a family or two a day and in the winter this is significant."

Carrying the convenience features into the more exotic realm, O'Haire also installed a helicopter landing pad on the roof of the motel. It proved more practical than it sounds. "At the time I got the idea, we had several helicopter pilots from the missile base living here," O'Haire said. "The building is structurally strong enough to hold the pad so I asked the government to make a survey as to its suitability (the guide slope has to be flat with a minimum of obstructions). Everything seemed alright, so they gave us the approval and we built the pad. After that, these fellows in the missile program used to fly in and out of here two and three times every day. They'd even come in for awhile to get a drink or stop by on their way someplace to get cigarettes. They are all gone now, but we still have use for the helicopter pad. Several nearby farmers have helicopters and they make this their headquarters. Even if they just come in for a day's shopping and don't stay here we're glad to let them use the landing area because it is good advertising for the motel.

When the helicopters come in and light, everyone in town knows it and thinks about the O'Haire motel."

Because Montana is a country of great extremes in temperature, O'Haire stressed climate control in the rooms. Hot water circulates through coils in the winter and in the summer, chilled water is sent through. Each guest can regulate the climate in his own room by setting the Minneapolis Honeywell automatic thermostat. All rooms are heated or cooled by American-Standard Remotaire units, Type 30, and a 60-ton Carrier chiller. Natural gas is the fuel used for heating. Combined with the automatic heat and air conditioning is another feature unusual in a motel of this size - every window is insulating glass (Thermopane). In spite of the tremendous extra expense of installing insulated windows, O'Haire feels it was really worth the difference. There is much less draft in the rooms so they are more comfortable, and the double panes with the air space between saves a lot of time and effort in cleaning since they are not soiled by condensate. The insulating glass also diminishes outside traffic noise, O'Haire said, and eliminating this, too, has been a fetish with him.

The cores of all the concrete blocks are filled with sand to provide a maximum deadening of sound transmission as well as provide additional fireproofing. O'Haire has made this an important advertising feature. During the November elections, he ran a photograph in the local newspaper showing a workman pouring sand into the concrete blocks and under it put a headline, "Especially good for politicians . . . the loser in the election could go behind this sand-filled wall and cry away the blues without fear of being heard. This is true of all the walls which separate rooms in the new 75-room O'Haire Manor."

Another sound conditioning feature overlooked by many without a knowledge of construction, O'Haire said, is control of water noises. The O'Haire Manor uses oversize piping so that there is no noisy rush of water when someone takes a shower. Reducing valves cut the pressure back to about 40 lbs. and further cut down on the water noise possibility. As O'Haire put it, "I know from experience that pipe noise can be really annoying." Water is heated by a group of five Day and Night fast recovery water heaters. Water is softened by a Bruner water softener with a capacity of 400,000 grains per generation.

Even the furniture in the rooms was designed and built by O'Haire. He made solid racks with plenty of room to hold big suitcases. He also filled the room with many other conveniences. For instance, each room has not one telephone, but two. It not only has television and hi-fidelity radio, but there is an extra high-fi speaker in the bathroom so the guest can enjoy the music while he takes his bath, or can listen to the news in the morning while he shaves. There are complete push-button controls alongside the bed where he can control the television, radio and lights. All baths are equipped with American-Standard fixtures. All washbasins are extra large, and toilets are wall-hung for cleanliness and ease of housekeeping. Each bath has both a tub and shower. Each room even has an ironing board for convenient touch-up pressing.

O'Haire did a great deal of research on motel sites before building. He decided downtown was best in spite of higher land costs. "A downtown location has several advantages, in my opinion," O'Haire said. "It is handy for your guests as long as you have ample parking and we do. It is a competitive advantage which can be critical when the competition is really tough. Statistics indicate occupancy is
usually best in the downtown locations and that they are the last to suffer when travel slacks off. In addition, the insurance companies consider downtown sites as better risks because they have maximum fire and police protection."

Insurance costs figured prominently in O' Haire's planning and the building was constructed with fire safety, soundproofing and minimum maintenance in mind. The major material is concrete block (Treasure-lite) but decorative brick covers some exterior areas, and the front of the motel is faced with "Montana Travertine," a stone with warm colors, quarried in Yellowstone Park. Across the entire front, above the stone, a metal grill highpoints the decor and again exemplifies the help O'Haire got from his own knowledge of construction. He had seen similar grills on motels in California, liked them and got quotes on them. He decided the bids were all too high and that he would make it himself. So he ordered the raw material, worked out a pattern, built the dies and jigs and made his own for a fraction of the quoted prices.

Along the side street, the motel has a half-block-long wall. O'Haire wanted some bright colors to relieve the monotony of the wall expanse. He selected a series of twelve panels, each representing a sign of the zodiac and with the help of his wife, also planned the design and the color scheme.

Designed particularly for the convenience of the management and the employees is a custom-built room status board. This is located at the reception desk and portrays, in colored lights, the room occupancy and condition. This, too, is O'Haire's own development. Because he felt the commercial models then available did not have enough information, he designed his own with the extra data he wanted. This included repeating the light sequence outside the individual rooms. Blue is for holdover; amber shows the room is cleaned up ready to rent; green shows that it is rented; red that it is a check-out with the room in an incomplete status. When the maid is working in a room, she plugs in a jack which flashes a light on the office board so that the desk knows exactly where she is and how long she's in any one room. Also, through the color of the light, the maid knows the status of the room without calling the desk or disturbing the guest.

"We had some real trouble getting the electronics worked out on this system," O'Haire said. "The first three circuits were easy but the fourth one really threw us. I took the thing to experts all over trying to get the mechanism figured out without much luck. Finally, a friend of mine (a telephone man) sat down and in about three minutes drew out a sketch and put in the relay with a couple of other gadgets that simplified the whole procedure."

Reviewing his operation of his "model motel," O'Haire feels there aren't many major changes he would make if he built again although he is always modifying and improving, particularly the recreation areas. He feels the theories embodied in O'Haire Manor have been proved in practice and doesn't hesitate to recommend them to others.


I made a detour to Great Falls on a recent trip to Glacier National Park. Stayed at the O'Haire Motor Inn (loved the push button bedside lighting controls and the built-in ironing board), had an amazing steak at the 1940s era Eddie's Supper Club, and had drinks (pretty nasty tasting) at the Sip 'n Dip. It was packed full mostly with a college crowd on the Friday night I went, so the atmosphere left much to be desired. I could hardly hear Piano Pat's songs, but I requested "Fly Me To The Moon" and she played it. The mermaids (two this night as they were training a new mermaid) were the highlight of the evening, but all the pictures I took of them were blurry (perhaps because I was on my 5th or 6th drink of the evening).

Here's some pics of the Sip 'n Dip. I will be posting pictures of Eddie's and other places in Great Falls on my blog soon here.

Their "Mai Tai" with plenty of pineapple.

I enjoyed bourbon and soda a bit more.


Wow! I now want to go to Montana badly! I love everything! The decor, the pool, the piano player!

Our honeymoon is coming up in April, if they have a honeymoon suite, I'm tempted...


Great pics and info Jab, and SDT!

I started this thread when I was putting Tiki Road Trip I together, and even then I could not dig up anything on this place, on the web, on TC, or elsewhere.

Now, so many of us (myself included) have visited Sip-n-Dip, and there is a wealth of material available, both here on TC, and in many other places.



JT, I thought of you when I was there so I recorded my tasting notes of the Mai Tai on my phone. You can see in the picture of the Mai Tai that I had a splendid view of the mermaids from where I was sitting at the gorgeous turquoise colored bar.


JT, I thought of you when I was there so I recorded my tasting notes of the Mai Tai on my phone. You can see in the picture of the Mai Tai that I had a splendid view of the mermaids from where I was sitting at the gorgeous turquoise colored bar.

I will be heading there in about 10 days, and i'm really looking forward to it. Anyone have any recommendations for the sip n dip? Or for great falls in general?

Weird, the wife is in Great Falls today and tomorrow for work. Maybe she can make a detour on the way back to the airport.

Wow. Great place. I'll be posting some pics later.


If you get a chance check out Fort Benton, it is not too far from Great Falls. Have fun and please post some pictures. Last time I was there was 15 years ago.

I figured that I should finally get on posting some photos from our visit to the Sip n Dip last year. My wife and I went to Yellowstone National Park last August, and Great Falls was the halfway point on the way down. We stayed overnight at the O'Haire because of the Sip n Dip, but it's a fine little motel in its own right with a great staff, cute retro rooms, and complimentary rubber duckies. Sadly it was mid-week so there was no performance by Piano Pat. There were, however, mermaids!

Tucking into a fishbowl...

Obligatory shot of the ceiling...

Twirling mermaid...

Almost getting through this drink...

Nice black velvet painting...

Some more cute decor...

My favourite shot, which really sums up a lot about the place...

The staff of the bar was nice enough, but the locals gave us a bit of a stink-eye. We did strike up a conversation with another couple tourists, so that balanced it out. Unfortunately they weren't selling the fishbowl glass this time around, and were out of t-shirts, so I had to settle with the logo shot glass they ordered from a promotional merchandise catalogue.

Pages: 1 17 replies