Looking for the best hotel in Billings, Montana? In some cities that’s a 3-way or 5-way battle, but in Montana’s largest city that would be The Northern Hotel, conveniently located downtown.
This is Montana though, so don’t expect white glove service and a bath butler. They bill the property as “unpretentious luxury” and that sums it up pretty accurately from my experience there.
The Northern Hotel has a long heritage in its name and location, but what sits there now doesn’t have much in common with the original. The original building from 1903 burned down in 1939, then a newer version replaced it in 1941. By the time the Bush II recession hit, The Northern Hotel had already been in a long period of decline. The new owner, who was a career hotel manager, bought it with some investors during a foreclosure sale in 2009, after it was already devoid of life for several years.
“When the hotel closed, staffers were told they didn’t have job anymore and to go home, the place was closing,” says owner Mike Nelson. “There were still dirty dishes in the kitchen, all the place settings were still set up in the restaurant dining room.”
During that recessionary period nobody was lending though, so it took years to get enough financing to do the reconstruction, the building sitting empty that whole time. Eventually, after 13 months of work–and the removal of 4,000 tons of material, including asbestos–the revamped Northern Hotel came to life once more, in 2013. “We used all Billings companies and got a lot of local support.” Nelson says, “and we’re still trying to use ‘made in Montana’ products whenever possible.” Some of the stone used here is from a destroyed Billings utility building, timbers around the fireplace are from a cabin in Red Lodge, made to look like railroad ties.
If you come in a car you’re driving, you’ll be greeted at the front and offered complimentary valet parking. This is the only hotel in Billings with a valet stand out front and it might just be the only one in the whole state. Fresh are at the entrance of lobby, with staffers waiting at a reception desk off to the right.
Presenting a 40s-era lobby wouldn’t have made much sense now, so instead there’s a sort of “modern western” theme with faux animal hides, a gas fireplace with a row of flames, and red banquettes in velvet around columns. Metal tables are in the shape of cut logs. Nelson modeled the leather banquettes on the ones in his favorite childhood TV show Bonanza.
There are two restaurants on the main floor: a casual diner called Bernie’s (named after owner’s mom) that serves locally roasted coffee and locally brewed beer.
Then there’s the more formal outlet with a full bar, TEN. (This name comes from the father’s initials.) Back when the original Northern Hotel was at its peak, the bar here was the place in town to strike a business deal. TEN is on the path to becoming that spot again, an elegant and serious-looking dining room has a main room, a private dining room that can serve up to 25 in privacy, and a spacious bar area. There’s an emphasis on what you’d expect in this kind of place: big Montana steaks, flown-in seafood, and pasta–but also local trout and a few salads.
If it’s winter and there’s a blizzard going on, you’re going to be very happy to have these restaurants on site to have an option for all three meals and a drink if you want. There are plenty of other choices within walking distance though. I had a good burger and an amazing breakfast nearby. I also got to experience the Billings Brew Trail, a walkable tour of local breweries and a cider house. Yum!
Elevators lead to carpeted hallways with an antler motif, then again a mix of modern and traditional western. The latter mostly come from the art on the walls depicting Montana scenes, plus a studded leather padded headboard. They’re relatively subtle touches that provides a nice sense of place.
The 160 Rooms are well-equipped with good lighting, ample charging outlets, and controls that don’t require an instruction manual. There’s a real desk with an ergonomic chair for getting some work done on the included WiFi. Robes, slippers, safes, and cable TV are standard.
Well-equipped bathrooms come withe Tarocco vegetble-based toiletries. The towels are fluffy, the beds are quite comfortable, and rooms have “piles of pillows” listed in their amenities.
Suites have an extra living room area with leather armchairs and an additional TV.
There’s a small fitness center on site, a boutique with some nice Montana souvenirs and apparel, and different meeting rooms for corporate functions.
Northern Hotel staffers were cheerful and helpful during my visit, plus there are some nice extras like a lobby coffee station and a complimentary airport shuttle to get you to your flight.
Rates usually start between $115 and $150 depending on the season, a bargain for the best hotel in town. See more information, packages, and rates at the hotel website. They usually offer several package deals, but you can also check rates online at Hotels.com.
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who was a guest of the Northern Hotel around the TBEX travel bloggers conference. As always, all opinions are his own.