A Weekend of Celebrations
Private Preview Party The evening of March 15 is dedicated to a private celebration allowing a small group of guests to preview and experience the Northern Hotel before it opens to the public. This is an exclusive event and rooms are being reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis. Guests this evening will enjoy a personal ribbon cutting of their newly renovated room, live entertainment in the ballroom, open bar, hors d’oeuvres prepared by our executive chef, a commemorative gift and chocolates, champagne brunch the following morning and the ability to contribute to the new time capsule. Registration begins at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 15 and the celebration kicks off at 7 p.m. Room rates range from $500 to $900 for the evening. If you wish to join us for this exceptional event, call early to reserve your space: 1.406.867.6766
All photos by Casey Page of The Billings Gazette unless otherwise noted.
Grand openings don’t happen every day. Especially at the Northern Hotel. In honor of this long-awaited event, we’re celebrating the entire weekend. Join us for one night or all three. It’s time to be part of making history. Grand Opening Night Reveal When the Northern Hotel first opened, P.B. Moss swung the doors open wide and welcomed the city to experience the new hotel. In honor of P.B. Moss and his commitment to making the hotel a part of the city, we’re dedicating this day to him, opening our doors and inviting people to see inside. At 6 p.m. on the evening of March 16, the owners, Chris and Mike Nelson, will be outside the hotel to cut the red ribbon and officially open the hotel for business. The community is invited to come inside and enjoy tours of the hotel, hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, open lounge and live entertainment in the ballroom. Dinner seatings at TEN are available at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (not included in room price). Room prices for the grand opening event range from $229 to $399. Check-in will open at 3 p.m. through the door on First Avenue North. To reserve your room, go to www.northernhotel. com and click on ‘reservations’ in the top righthand corner or call 406.867.6767.
Continuing the Grand Opening Reveal Dine in our restaurants, have a drink in the lounge, spend the night or take a guided tour. From 8 a.m. until noon, Lonnie Bell of KGHL AM 790 The Wolf will be broadcasting his notorious classic country show from inside Bernie’s Diner. A special St. Paddy’s Day happy hour will start in the TEN lounge with Irish cocktails from 4 to 6 p.m. Dinner seatings at TEN are available at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (not included in room price). Room prices for the P.B. Moss night range from $159 to $350. To reserve your room, go to www.northernhotel. com and click on ‘reservations’ in the top righthand corner or call 406.867.6767.
From Fires to Presidents the Northern Hotel has Seen it All By Leigh Enselman P.B. Moss and Henry W. Rowley formed the Billings Investment Company in 1901 with the intent of building the most modern hotel in Montana. In 1902 construction of the Northern Hotel began and by February of 1904 the hotel was open for business. The building consisted of three stories, the first being filled with different shops, business offices, and a tavern. The second and third floors were filled with 69 guest rooms, but had no lobby. By 1916 the hotel had been remodeled to include a marble-lined lobby, a tearoom, an atrium, and an additional fourth floor, giving the hotel a total of 200 guest rooms. The hotel’s business was booming until the night of September 11, 1940, when a fire broke out, forcing everyone in the building to be evacuated. The Billings Fire Department put all of their effort into extinguishing the fire, but was not successful until the next 4
evening, leaving the hotel completely destroyed. The Northern Hotel reopened in July 1942 as a ten-story hotel, with 163 rooms and a beautiful lobby; once again it was the most modern hotel in Montana. At this time it was the tallest building in Montana at 129’ 3”. Its popularity grew, and with it, the hotel’s history. During WWII it housed 100 soldiers for several months and opened a “service man’s club.” Also during that period, the Northern was the meeting place for many local organizations and events. The hotel has also been visited by a number of political leaders including President Theodore Roosevelt in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, Democratic presidential contender Adlai Stevenson in 1952, and Vice President and Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon in 1960. On September 12, 1959, the famous
Golden Belle restaurant opened in the Northern, which became the place to meet, eat, and celebrate any event. Many Billings natives have distinct memories of the Golden Belle. A time capsule placed in the hotel during the rebuilding after the fire was discovered when the Northern was being remodeled in the early 1980s. The capsule is reported to have articles from the Gazette about World War II and information about P.B. Moss and H.R. Rowley. The capsule is still in the possession of the hotel. The current owners are planning to hide it back in the hotel walls to be discovered again far into the future. The Northern will add documents detailing the scope of the renovation, the overwhelming community support, and the story of Chris and Mike’s dream to return the Northern to its historic place as the cornerstone of downtown Billings.
Planning Makes Perfect Creating the New Northern Hotel After Chris and Mike Nelson purchased the Northern Hotel in January of 2009, the brothers spent a lot of time planning the remodel. Their goal was to restore the historic downtown Billings landmark to its former glory while adding modern features and amenities that would serve the needs of Billings now and in the future. The task became much more difficult and expensive when the Nelsons realized the true scope of the work necessary to meet their goal. Since P.B. Moss rebuilt the hotel in 1942, at least three renovations had been done to the Northern Hotel— each adding its own quirks and complexities to the building. “We knew it was three remodels,” Chris Nelson said, “because when we tore out the ceiling we found three different HVAC systems layered on top of each other.” This quirk not only explained the bizarrely low ceilings, but also the reason that Mike and Chris felt they had no choice but to tear everything back to the concrete (at great expense) and start fresh. “It was painful,” admits Mike Nelson “but it allowed us to start with an open floor plan. It allowed us to dream big.” Four years later and 4,000 tons of debris lighter, those plans and those dreams have taken shape. The new Northern Hotel is a contemporary, high-tech evolution of its prior self. It has been designed to cater to business travelers and pleasure seekers alike.
The first floor features a warm, modern-looking lobby and two restaurants— a casual diner named Bernie’s and a fine dining restaurant named TEN. The state-of-the-art kitchen that supports the restaurants also supports a robust catering service that can deliver up to 1,000 high quality meals to the event spaces on the second floor. “We haven’t cut any corners,” said Chris. “We’ve put about $1 million of equipment in that kitchen.” The second floor contains one of the most sophisticated and flexible event spaces in Montana. It features a 7,500 square foot Grand Ballroom and a series of smaller meeting rooms ranging in size from 300 to 1,200 square feet. All of the event spaces are ‘plumbed’ with the latest wireless and A/V technologies, enabling anything from custom lighting for a bride walking down the aisle to videoconferencing for an international business meeting. “I’m not a technology guy, I just know what I want,” said Mike. “What I wanted was the infrastructure to do really cool things, even things that haven’t been invented yet.” This advanced infrastructure runs throughout the entire building, supporting every aspect of the hotel from heating and plumbing (enough hot water for simultaneous showers in all 160 guest rooms) to the electronic signs that can be individually configured by the hotel staff on an iPad. The result of years of planning and dreaming and hard work is the new
By Alex Johnson
Shadows of painters during the renovation. Northern Hotel. “It’s not going to turn Mike and me into the Hiltons, but it is something that we can be proud of,” said Chris. 5
The Northern Hotel: A Legacy of Love Continuing the Tradition of Historic Preservation in Billings By Karen Gordon When you speak to Mike and Chris Nelson about the Northern Hotel, you can’t help but feel like you’ve come home. They have a deep-seated commitment to family, their hometown of Billings, the people working at the hotel, and of course their guests. Their passion for this massive restoration project comes alive when they talk about the inspiration behind their ambitious undertaking: their late parents, Tom and Bernie Nelson. The Nelson brothers describe their parents as civic-minded, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth people. Tom Nelson was on the Billings Planning Commission and served in the Montana State Legislature for five terms. Bernie Nelson was his work force, campaigning tirelessly and taking care of every detail from addressing envelopes to helping other legislators get the job done. At home she was up at 5 a.m. making their breakfast, packing lunches and get-
ting dinner in the crock pot before she headed off for a 10-hour work day at the radio station, all the while with a smile on her face that lit up a room. When Tom and Bernie “retired” they went to work for Chris managing his Hart-Albin and Montana Bank buildings in Billings. Tom quickly became an advocate for Downtown Billings. He was passionate about fixing up the city and rallied for a tax increment that would have a positive impact on the revitalization and urban renewal of the downtown area. This meant Chris, as a landowner, needed to vote in favor of a tax increase. He saw his father’s vision and even though it cost him, jumped on board. Bernie was a volunteer and the president of the non-profit organization for the Moss Mansion. She was an active board member, winning numerous awards for her work to facilitate historic and cultural preservation in the
community. Tom and Bernie were both heavily involved in the Downtown Billings Association and “talked Billings” to anyone who would listen. They knew everyone in town. This was the magic of Tom and Bernie—they made an impact. The boys’ parents’ deep love of downtown Billings is in part what encouraged the brothers to invest in the area and the people here. Everywhere they go they are approached by someone who has a “Tom and Bernie” story. They acknowledge this street credibility is what has given them such a warm welcome in bringing the Northern back. Otherwise Mike and Chris say they would have been considered “some Las Vegas hotel guy and a Bozeman investor.” Instead the brothers are proud that the headlines read “Northern Hotel Comes Back to Billings Hands.” It wasn’t enough just to continue the family legacy of historical renovation. Chris and Mike wanted to honor their
By naming the two restaurants after them, Mike and Chris Nelson are proud to honor their late parents Bernie and Tom. parents by naming the hotel’s two restaurants after them. TEN (for Thomas Edgar Nelson) felt clever and perfect for their dad. “It could stand for 10 on a scale of 1-10 or the temperature of all of our food,” Mike jokes. Bernie’s Diner was a branded image of their downto-earth mom. They describe her as a diner kind of person who every morning would take time to sit with her coffee, cigarette and toast and enjoy the only moment she had to herself. The diner is meant to provide a place to relax and enjoy the time. “The Northern is a legacy of love for us. It’s a project to honor the community and our parents. The hotel keeps their memory alive in the community they cared so much about. It seems fitting to continue this tradition of historic preservation for them,” said Chris Nelson.
A Place to Come Together Business, Birthdays, and Bachelor Parties By Alex Johnson The Northern Hotel has always played an important role in the Billings community. Since it opened in 1904, the Northern Hotel has been a comfortable place where people came to conduct business—cattlemen coming into Billings to trade livestock, local businesses
conducting meetings, petroleum executives networking over drinks. In fact, the petroleum industry felt so at home in the Northern that in 1959, the Billings Petroleum Club signed an agreement with the Northern to build a two-story addition to the hotel in exchange for a 15-year lease to use the basement and
ground floor as their headquarters. “The Petroleum Club wanted to be at the Northern even if it meant building a whole new space,” said Chris Nelson, co-owner of the hotel. “That’s how much they wanted to be here and that’s the spirit that we wanted to bring back to the hotel and to downtown Billings.”
lived in Montana and wanted to celebrate something over a good meal, you did it at the Northern,” said Mike. “We are hoping to restore that tradition with TEN, our fine dining restaurant, and Bernie’s, our more casual diner.” “Billings is a special place,” said Chris, “the people here are incredibly friendly and down-toearth. We want the Northern to reflect that and to continue its legacy as a place where people can come together. Twenty years from now we want people to say ‘that’s where I had my wedding,’ ‘that’s where I finished my first business deal,’ ‘that’s where I interviewed for my first job’.”
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The remodeled Northern Hotel will be able to support business meetings of any size or type in its 12,000 square feet of high-tech event space. “If you need a room for a keynote address to 500 people, we can do that,” said Mike Nelson, Chris’s brother and the co-owner and manager of the hotel. “If you want a board room with a fireplace for eight people or a small business suite to conduct job interviews in, we can do those things too.” In 1959, the Golden Belle restaurant and bar opened in the Northern Hotel. For many years the Golden Belle was the scene for Montanans’ special occasions—birthdays, anniversaries, reunions. “If you
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Now the Last Best Place Has the Best Technology Here Comes the Bride, the Business Traveler and the Class of 1987 By Karen Gordon Have you ever attended a wedding where you couldn’t hear the softly spoken wedding vows, then during the reception had to yell over the band simply to have a conversation with the person seated right next to you? Those days are gone as the Northern Hotel introduces guests to the most modern technological amenities available in a five-state region. The goal of the owners of the newly remodeled hotel was for things to appear to be magic, but if the technology was harder to operate than an ATM they didn’t want it. Step inside the Northern and let us show you how it’s done. It’s the most important day of a couple’s life. The Northern’s Grand Ballroom awaits the wedding ceremony of the century. With the swipe of a finger the room comes alive with the bride’s favorite color. With color-selectable theatrical lighting available through a touch screen interface, the entire ballroom can be washed in the guests’ choice of colors. Spotlights highlight the bride and groom during the ceremony, not to mention the toast makers, first dance and band during the reception. The state-of-the-art sound system with 52 self-powered ceiling speakers provides a conversational sound level throughout the room so all wedding guests
from Grandma Betty to Uncle Bob hear every tear-jerking moment. During the reception, the ceiling speakers supplement the dance-floor speakers. While the bridesmaids are doing the chicken dance, the mother of the bride can get to know her new in-laws without shouting over the band. Business meetings and conferences shine here too. Two 13-foot wide, highdefinition video screens are located in the main ballrooms to display video and business presentations. Additional monitors are available for the visually impaired. Two boardrooms are outfitted with 60-inch Polycom HD videoconferencing capabilities and HD 6.1 channel surround sound. With a wet bar or a fireplace, boardroom meetings are high tech and breaks are phenomenal. When was the last time you stayed in a hotel that offered 50 channels of custom content, in addition to 130 channels of satellite HD programming, on the newest model LCD/LED flatscreen TVs? How about a suite with two televisions? Yeah, we didn’t think so. Hello March Madness! The technology advancements at the Northern span from the event spaces, to the guest rooms, right down to the door locks. Yes, door locks. Guest room doors use a combination of radio frequency
identification (RFID) and near-field communication (NFC) to eliminate the mag stripe cards used by many hotels. This technology provides the highest level of security and convenience for guests. Imagine getting up at 4 a.m. to catch an early morning flight, traveling cross country through airports, experiencing flight delays and arriving at your destination much later than planned only to be faced with an early morning meeting. Frequent business travelers know this drill all too well. Now imagine checking into your hotel via your Smartphone on the cab ride from the airport, bypassing the front desk and using your mobile phone to unlock your room. Welcome, weary travelers, to the Northern. (Editor’s Note: While the NFC software has not yet been released, the Northern has the infrastructure in place for this capability and will be implementing it in the near future.) The technology is here to make any event memorable, if not magical. With 12,000 square feet of meeting space for group events from 10 to 700 participants, there isn’t a business meeting, fundraising benefit, reunion or wedding the Northern can’t accommodate with ease.
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Welcome to Your Dream Room, the Room You Wish You Had at Home By Leigh Enselman The luxury hotel you have been waiting for has finally come back to Billings. Every detail of the new Northern Hotel, from the bed sheets to the height of the shower head, was picked with the guest in mind and to ensure you have the best night’s sleep of your life. “What do you do in a hotel room?” Hotel Manager Alexandra Reichert asks. “You work at the desk or sit on the bed and you sleep—you need to be able to get a good night’s sleep in your hotel room. How a bed looks and feels is one of the most important things in a hotel room.” To provide the best night’s sleep in
Billings, the Northern Hotel has filled all rooms with the most comfortable beds around. The Serta Elite 2100 Plush mattress is the “perfect sleeper,” according to Alexandra. “The beds are firm enough that you won’t sink into them but soft enough to feel comfortable,” Alexandra explains, having tested them out herself, “and the pillows are fluffy and give you enough support so that your head doesn’t sink directly to the mattress.” All of the beds are also fitted with “cool and crisp” sheets—you’ll be able to feel how clean they are. Attached bathrooms continue this feel of luxury where you will find beauti-
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channels of satellite HD programming on the latest model LCD/LED TVs or listen to one of the 80 different music channels provided for your listening pleasure. The Northern prides itself on luxury amenities in addition to those listed above, they include USB ports in the desk and nightstand lamps, modern VOIP telephones with HD sound, black-out draperies in the rooms (for those who may want to catnap during the day), dry cleaning and laundry service, 24-hour room service and whisper-quiet air conditioning and heater systems that make your stay a delight.
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The (re)opening of the historic Northern Hotel means so much to us in downtown Billings. It has been dark and quiet on that very important corner for a very long time which obviously has had significant impacts on the businesses surrounding it. So, from a business standpoint – this is a tremendous shot in the arm in that immediate area. From a hotel inventory and amenities standpoint, the Northern Hotel offers a state -of-the-art experience from hotel stay to dining experience to conference facilities. It complements the offerings we already have nearby and allows us to accommodate more numbers in our
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city, and deliver an overall better experience. Here’s the kicker…from a personal standpoint, we as a community couldn’t be more proud to have our beloved Northern back, and she’s beautiful. To have it owned and cared for by locals Chris and Mike Nelson, honoring their parents, Tom and Bernie Nelson, with the spaces built the way they have, is just a real source of pride for our community. We are feeling like things are exactly the way they are supposed to be now that the Northern Hotel is back. Congratulations to Mike and Chris Nelson, to the new staff, and to the Northern Hotel!
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Fine Dining Restaurant and Lounge at the Northern Hotel By Karen Gordon The Northern Hotel is steeped in tradition and history that now includes the Nelson family. TEN, the Northern’s fine dining restaurant and lounge, is named after the owners’ late father Thomas Edgar Nelson. Locals who remember the Golden Belle, the historic hotel’s fine dining restaurant for decades, will recall this as the place to meet, greet and enjoy great food and drinks. TEN’s softly lit, spacious red lounge promises to be the new hot spot to unwind after work or a long day of travel. The TEN dining experience will incorporate local Montana flavors in a modern American style. Try the mouthwatering bison short ribs, pasta with rosemary meatballs or fried asparagus and pickled egg salad—served old school. Feel like having a steak? While TEN isn’t your typical steakhouse, the menu will feature a succulent cowboy
cut ribeye (served bone-in with a bottle of red). Menu items will be prepared using local products when available and in season. For exceptional service and masterfully prepared food, continue the tradition at TEN!
TEN Supervisor Jason Appleby and his experienced team continue the Northern tradition of exceptional meals and impeccable service. 17
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Comfort Food at its Finest By Karen Gordon Lighthearted and fun—just like the restaurant’s namesake Bernice Nelson—Bernie’s Diner offers the ultimate in comfort food as well as unique dishes and a soda fountain. Comfortable couches and roomy chairs for reading or chatting give a warm and cozy Montana welcome for breakfast or lunch. It’s the perfect gathering place for hotel guests, local patrons and visitors who have come to town to shop or attend a MetraPark Arena event. An old-fashioned lunch counter boasts the freshest ingredients for home-style cooking with modern diner influences. Start your day with a traditional omelet or hearty biscuits and gravy or step outside the box and try a breakfast burrito stuffed with braised bison, Captain Crunch challah French toast or sweet potato hash. Yum! Lunchtime fare includes; homemade pastrami, Monte Cristo
sandwiches, pork belly salad and burgers served on locally made bread. How about a classic handdipped milkshake, flavored soda or old-fashioned sundae? Bernie’s will treat your taste buds to both the familiar (like Bernie used to make) and the contemporary.
Jessica Oe, Bernie’s Supervisor will welcome you to a fun, unequal dining experience beginning with a cup of coffee. 19
Meet the Chef: Eric Stenberg The Man Behind the Curtain at Bernie’s and TEN By Karen Gordon Eric Stenberg, executive chef and food & beverage director for the Northern Hotel restaurants (Bernie’s and TEN), has a passion and vision for his food born out of family, tradition and community. This couldn’t be a better match for Mike and Chris Nelson whose historic hotel renovation project was driven by these very qualities. Eric recalls that he felt this connection as the Nelson brothers expressed how proud their parents would be to see what they have accomplished with the hotel and how much fun their mom, Bernie, would have playing in the kitchen of a restaurant named after her. Foodies get your taste buds ready! Here’s a look at the man behind your food who couldn’t be more excited about bringing the tradition of the Northern back to the community with some creative new twists.
also feel that food is fundamental to our existence. I wanted to learn how our food system supports our daily lives and transfer that knowledge to people in a great dining experience.
sustainable food movement in the restaurant scene there. I also spent time in the French region of Alsace learning about sausage making and le charcuterie.
Who have been your major inﬂuences? ES: First and foremost are my parents who supported my dreams to be a chef. Of course my mentor in Portland, Greg Higgins, who educated me on how to simply prepare good, sound food using local food and supporting those who produce it.
Deﬁne your style of cooking. ES: Keeping food simple. Using too many ingredients can cloud the natural ability of the food to be itself. Cooking from scratch and utilizing local products when available is best.
What is your background and training? ES: I started working for a Greek family in Portland when I was 12 at their bar and eventually in their Steakhouse. I cooked off and on throughout high school, went to college and then decided I wanted to go What made you decide to to Culinary School in San Francisco. While in school I worked everywhere become a chef? Eric Stenberg: I used to spend a possible to learn more about food. I lot of time on my mother’s hip while moved back to Portland and worked she cooked for our family, so food was for my mentor, Mr. Higgins, where I pretty close to me most of the time. I was fortunate to be a part of the initial 20
What is your trademark/signature dish? ES: One of my favorites to prepare is le cassoulet, a French dish with confit duck leg, house-made kielbasa, smoky bacon with white beans and root vegetables. What are your source(s) of inspiration for your menus? ES: I like to develop recipes based upon the season. Matching food is fun because at the end of the process you are proud to be able to combine flavors without one being the dominant component. A couple of sources of inspiration, my great grandmother
who loved to pickle everything she got her hands on and my mother who made sure that we ate healthy. Of course growing up in Portland with James Beard, who lived right over the hill from us, to this day is still very inspiring. (Editorâ€™s note: James Beard was an American chef and food writer who was instrumental in the establishment of a gourmet American food identity. He brought French cooking to the tables of Americans in the 1950s.)
Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director Eric Stemberg adds a new and exciting ďŹ‚avor to Billings cuisine.
pubs in Portland, and we had an 11 ton What is your idea of a great meal wood burning oven we cooked everything or dining experience? in. I instructed staff to place the pig in at ES: A great meal starts with service. the end of the night without adding wood They say many things leave lasting impres- so it would slow cook. I received an early sions, service is right there. What I mean morning call on my wedding day that the by that is being able to sit, relax and enjoy pig did not survive due to someone throwthe flavors of the food someone has taken ing a few pieces of wood on the fire and the time to prepare. A great dining experi- shutting the door! Thankfully, my mentor ence ensures you are well taken care of. saved the day by providing us with a variety of grilled meats! Tell me about some of your worst kitchen disasters. What kitchen successes are you most ES: I have had many minor ones over proud of? the years but the one that stands out is ES: I feel very proud that I have been more personal. I had slaughtered my own able to teach some folks that being a chef pig for my wedding day. To set the scene, is personally rewarding. Seeing young we were getting married in a peach ormen and women start in the dish pit and chard. I worked at one of the first brewbecome sous chefs and chefs of their own
establishments is truly rewarding. What is your favorite meal at home? ES: We eat Swedish meatballs at our house a lot. It has been a family staple for years, and it is a fun family activity to get the kids involved. The flavors are simple and good. Why did you choose the Northern to continue the next phase of your career? ES: When I started having conversations with Mike Nelson it felt real. Mike and his brother Chris want to bring back to Billings a great piece of history. Their vision is honest, and I want to see them succeed and have the community enjoy the experience. 21
Congratulations Mike and Chris
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