Opened in 1930, Matt’s Place features beautiful old murals of the mountains on the wall, a short curved counter and an ancient, bright red, waist high Coke machine – the kind in which the green glass bottles tinkle when you pry open the top to fetch one. The soda fountain behind the counter is fully equipped with wands for blending milk shakes, dispensers for syrup, and tall seltzer spouts; the menu features a root beer float, ice cream sodas, malted milks, and nut sundaes, plus “hot Silex coffee.” To eat, there is the Montana classic, a pork chop sandwich, and all sorts of hamburgers, including a Wimpy special (two patties on one bun), a hamburger with an egg on top, and a nutburger with ground peanuts mixed with mayonnaise and piled onto the meat.
The menu may be proletarian but the ambiance is as polite as a tea room. In the back kitchen, hamburgers sizzle slowly on a grill, and at the counter a few stools away from us, a quartet of elderly Butte ladies, fresh from an afternoon at the beauty parlor with immaculately coiffed white hair in tidy waves and tightly sprung curls atop their noggins, converse in gentle tones as they each pack away a pork chop sandwich, loaded, with heaps of French fried potatoes on the side.
“Poor Grace, she just can’t seem to get ahead,” one reflects, gripping her hefty sandwich by its wax paper wrapper in one hand while drawing a French fry through a puddle of ketchup with the other.
The lady on the next stool blots her lips with a napkin and agrees. “Her washing machine can’t be ten years old, and it’s broken already.”
A third customer, the oldest of the quartet, simply shakes her head and tsk tsks in agreement, but is too focused on her meal to say anything just now. She carefully pours a second helping of her milk shake into a glass from its icy silver beaker. She uses two unsteady hands to do the job, then two to lift the full glass to her lips. It is a strawberry milk shake; she takes a hearty draught, unfazed by her age weakened grip, sets the glass down, smiling with a little milk shake moustache. She and her three comrades and their loaded pork chop sandwiches and pink milk shakes in Butte, Montana, are a sweet counter scene we won’t forget.