Monday, August 4, 2008

America, You’re Beautiful!—Part 4: Bozeman, MT, and The Leaf & Bean Coffee House

The look on the street is Carrie Bradshaw in country boots. No need to pack a blow-dryer; the Keep it Wild philosophy extends from nature to hair, which is also left untamed—Travel & Leisure Online

The visitor’s guide describes Bozeman, Montana, as “a charming town. In a John Wayne—Norman Rockwell—Bob Marley sort of way.” No where is this more apparent than in the heart of Bozeman’s historic downtown, along Main Street, near its intersection with Wilson Avenue. This area features a relaxed funky atmosphere, an exciting commingling of southern wild west and northern yuppy vogue.

A cross between Louisville’s bohemian Bardstown Road and Victoria’s attractive Government Street, Main Street of downtown Bozeman is a memorable walk. Lamps adorned with colorful bouquets of local flowers line the downtown street. Most of the buildings are heritage-style brick facades with original signage. Among the galleries (like the Beatnik), antique stores and movie theatre, I spotted several music shops, like Cactus Records, which sells international and local music and equipment. Main Street is an attractive retail corridor that houses more than 100 shops and restaurants, including those selling sporting goods, clothing, furniture, kitchen equipment, and technology. Remember, Montana has no sales tax.
The street provides wonderful and affordable choices in eating. Interesting places include the Montana Fish Company (which sells fresh fish flown in daily and take-out sushi rolled every morning), Ted’s Montana Grill (with attractive alfresco eating and great people-watching), The Pickle Barrel Sandwich Shop (world-renowned gourmet sandwiches), and Burger Bob’s. Ted's Montana Grill specializes in comfort food and introduces customers to the many health benefits of eating bison. This upscale Montana-style bar and grill chain opened in Bozeman just this year (being the first in Montana) after establishing over fifty Montana-style eateries in 19 states nationwide (the first restaurant being launched in 2002 in Columbus, Ohio). The one in Bozeman is located in the historic Baxter Hotel. The Crystal Bar, popular with the college crowd, is a lively place in the evening, usually jam-packed and loud. It offers a rooftop lounge with a view (through chicken wire).

Just west of Cactus Records, is the Leaf and Bean, a coffee house. My good friend in Kentucky had highly recommended a coffee house with lots of character and great coffee on Main Street. When I walked inside, I knew this was the place. A quick scan along the brick walls lined with original paintings, and funky shelf-displays of local art (from handmade coffee sleeves to jewelry) told me that this was no ordinary coffee shop. The place was hopping with patrons enjoying lively banter by the door; others huddled over their computers in the back corner or whispered in intimate conversation beneath the local art. I sidled to the front counter, which showcased a savory selection of in-house baked pastries, light lunches and cookies along with alternatives to coffee beverages, and ordered a regular coffee with hazelnut syrup. A bright mural by Edward Hemingway (Ernest Hemingway’s grandson) animated the wall behind the barista. Edward Hemingway had lived in Bozeman and had painted the mural for the previous owner.

Located on 35 West Main Street, the Leaf and Bean offers a rich selection of freshly air-roasted coffees, gourmet espresso beverages and exotic teas from all parts of the world. Its bohemian coffee-house atmosphere, together with friendly service makes this java retreat addictive. Open seven days of the week, the Leaf and Bean hosts life entertainment several nights a week. According to Big Mike, a Bozeman blogger, there is also an open mike night, sponsored by the university (MSU) English Club. On a lively forum on, sparked by the possibility of the arrival of a Starbucks in Bozeman, I had to agree with the person from Olympia, WA (a coffee capital of the world) who said, “I grew up in Bozeman. The Leaf and Bean prepares and serves coffee the way coffee is meant to be prepared and served. Feel lucky, it's one of the finest establishments in the West.”

Originally established in 1977, with a rich history of ownership (it was once owned by actress Glenn Close), the Leaf and Bean is currently run by Kate Wiggins, who enjoyed the culture of the place and wanted to preserve it. “I like that no two days are alike. It keeps me on my toes!” Hailing from a small town in North Carolina, Kate came to Bozeman because of her love of the mountains. Bozeman is “a great town with lots of great places to play.”

And Main Street, Bozeman, is a great place to start.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

What travellers are going to know these hidden places, Nina? Perhaps it's good that few know of them.

sfgirl said...

A wise comment, Jean-luc. Seems like a few people know about the Leaf & Bean, though...people from my friend in Kentucky to the two gals I met at the the Leaf &
bean who were doing a road trip, documenting neat coffee houses from coast to coast (Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon). You can check out some of the other coffee houses they visited at Brooke and Christina's website,

Annie said...

you are classic!! found you in blog log.. am going to love reading your blog! see you online my dear.

blackburn1 said...

Leaf and Bean sounds like a great place to go, and interesting that there's celebrity status attached to a place one would think is so out of the way. Maybe that's the attraction.

I got a chuckle out of the Fresh Fish Co. Who would expect seafood in... Montana. :)

sfgirl said...

HAR! Yeah, Blackburn, I thought the very same thing! Montana, eh?... Apparently, the sushi is quite good!

Hey, Annie! Glad to see you on bloglog. Look forward to more comments and seeing you online here and there. I'll have to check your writing blog too! :)

You spoke about reviewing and revamping blogs... you or someone else may like to check out the blog Karen Mason created for my book, Darwin's Paradox ( Let me know what you think. I am very pleased with its look, layout, and usability.

Alice Flynn said...

I've performed in the Leaf & Bean several times, singing Irish music. Born and raised in Montana, I moved to Bozeman in 1970 as a freshman at Montana State University, where I earned my degree in fine art.
I remember the beginning of the Leaf & Bean in the 1970's... two young women started it in a very small room on the second floor of the old brick building across from the Baxter, facing Wilson Ave. They sold to the owner who moved it to Main, next to Cactus Records. It's great that all the owners have preserved this coffee shop and its character. - Alice Flynn