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4/27/2003

Last call

The Associated Press

BUTTE, Mont. — The M&M Cigar Store, a landmark saloon for miners, gamblers and cowboys once described by beat poet Jack Kerouac as the ideal bar, closed for the first time in 113 years — on, ironically, tax day, April 15 — a few hours after the business manager filed for bankruptcy.

“It was not profitable any more,” said Charles Bugni, 78, who had leased the business for nearly three decades.

Last call for drinks was made at 7:17 p.m. and the doors were locked a few minutes after 8 p.m. Many of the patrons were crying. People who tried to take mementos were stopped by a bankruptcy trustee.

The business has been an institution in Uptown Butte for decades, especially as a rallying point during the city’s uninhibited St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

It was the most celebrated bar in a roaring, wide-open Western town filled with bars. Back in the days when Butte’s fabled mines ran 24 hours a day producing the copper that electrified the country, the saloons ran 24 hours a day to serve miners. It was a tradition the M&M never surrendered, even when the mines shut down.

The owners of the M&M, Patricia Lisac, and her mother, Patricia Delmoe, said they have taken great pains to keep Bugni in business and the M&M open, but said Bugni hadn’t paid regular rent since 1997 and owed back taxes.

“The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to close the doors of the M&M,” explained Lisac. She said her late father, Dan Delmoe, poured four decades of his life into the business.

In court papers, Bugni listed debts of $158,000 to various creditors, including $80,000 in back rent. Bugni said the M&M’s customers, however loyal, had simply become too few.

“Look around,” Bugni said, gesturing to the bar that had about 12 customers Tuesday afternoon. “There are no people.”

He characterized the M&M as old-time Butte, dependent on older men for its livelihood. “This isn’t a young man’s joint, and the old-timers are passing away,” he said.

Beat poet Jack Kerouac visited the M&M Bar and described it for Esquire magazine in 1970:

“It was Sunday night, I had hoped the saloons would stay open long enough for me to see them. They never even closed. In a great old-time saloon, I had a giant beer. On the wall was a big electric signboard flashing gambling numbers.

“What characters in there: old prospectors, gamblers, whores, miners, Indians, cowboys, tobacco-chewing businessmen! Groups of sullen Indians drank rotgut in the john. Hundreds of men played cards in an atmosphere of smoke and spittoons. It was the end of my quest for an ideal bar.”