Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A small Westside performance hall moved closer on Wednesday to receiving a conditional use permit to serve beer and wine during shows after members of the City Council unanimously approved the request in a committee hearing.

Westside Theater, located on the aptly named Shakespeare Street, sits in a commercial building that includes four other businesses. The theater has been there for years and has long catered beer and wine from an outside vendor during shows.

Now, it's looking to serve its own drinks.

“Alcohol has been served through a catering company at the theater for years. This request is to serve their own alcohol,” said city planner Zoe Walters. “The number of theater seats isn't increasing. The number of employees will increase by two.”

The proposal is moving through the city as a “tavern” request, though project advocates said the name is misleading.

David Gray with DVG Architects, who designed the adaptive reuse of the building from its past use by Zip Beverages, said the theater has catered beer and wine for years – an offering that won't change. The only difference, he said, is that wine and beer would be sold by the property, not a caterer.

“This is something that's been occurring in that neighborhood for a long time,” said Gray. “We think calling it a tavern is kind of extreme for what they want to do. It's like the Roxy Theater. You have a glass of wine while you watch the show.”

Kelly Bouma, management director of the Westside Theater, said the owner Bear Bait Dance has served as a local arts organization for the past 13 years. It took over the theater's lease in 2022 and had formerly operated on the University of Montana campus.

It now provides dance performances at the theater and rents it out for other performing arts.

“It's exciting to have things like this in our neighborhoods and communities,” said council member Daniel Carlino. “As we look at code reform, we can look at allowing more opportunities like this in Missoula. I hope we can replicate cool ideas like this and make opportunities like this in the future for everyday neighborhoods in Missoula.”