Denis Leidholt did more than rebuild his casino in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed three buildings on Miles City’s Main Street in 2009.
He raised up a building that captures the history of Miles City, in more ways than one.
The building itself was designed to fit in with the old brick structures on Main Street — right down to what looks like a bricked-over window on the east side of the casino, but which was intentionally created to give the building an antique feel.
Leidholt also salvaged cast-iron columns from the original building and used them throughout the establishment, and he used salvaged bricks to decorate the front bar. The big steel door from a walk-in safe, which was the only thing standing in the middle of the bar after the fire, is set into one of the walls, now strictly for ornament.
Along the top of the walls in the casino room itself, Leidholt’s designer, Bruce Larsen of Billings, created a series of historical scenes from Miles City, Butte and other parts of the state, finely detailed silhouettes cut into black stainless steel.
As the crowning touch, he brought a huge collection of ornamental Jim Beam whiskey bottles back to Miles City from Red Lodge, where it had been for 35 years. In specially made display cases lining the walls of the bar, the casino and the stairwell leading to the second floor, 650 of the brightly colored ornamental bottles are on display, grouped by theme — hunting, fishing, politics, automotive, states, cities, birds, trains and more.
Leidholt, who owns the Cellar Casino with his brother, Duane, said they were just on the verge of having their final meeting on the building’s interior design when he heard that the Jim Beam collection was available.
Pius Meier, the former owner of Natali’s Cafe and Lounge in Red Lodge, had called Leidholt’s architect, Jim Bos of A&E Architects in Billings, to tell him about the collection. A Miles City construction contractor originally had the Jim Beam bottles on display at the Olive Hotel there, a few blocks down Main Street from the Cellar Casino.
After the Olive changed hands in the late 1970s, the contractor took the collection with him when he retired to Red Lodge and the bottles ended up at Natali’s. Meier said he retired in 1996 and sold the business to a man who opened a pizza restaurant. The pizzeria displayed the collection for a couple of years, Meier said, but after that the bottles ended in Meier’s “huge, huge basement.”
Meier tried selling the bottles at a few Jim Beam collector conventions and later on eBay, but everyone wanted just one bottle or a few at most, and Meier wasn’t interested in piece-mealing the collection.
A reluctant Leidholt went to Red Lodge with his wife, thinking there was no way, at that late date, of incorporating the bottles into his new casino. But all it took was one look.
“We said, ‘These are too cool. We’ve got to do it,’” Leidholt said.
The collection totals 1,174 bottles, including a small number of Lionstone whiskey bottles depicting historical figures from the American West. Leidholt said they cherry-picked the best of the entire collection and put the rest in storage.
Larsen, owner of the Big Idea Co. in Billings, designed the metal brackets that hold the bottles inside the display cases. But the brackets had to be bent to cradle the bottles, no two of which have identical shapes.
That meant it was a four-man job putting the 650 bottles on display: One person bent the brackets and another ferried each bracket and bottle to two other people who were on scaffolding to put each bottle in its place. The job took two solid weeks, complicated by trying to fit bottles by theme and in such a way that they looked good together.
“It became like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” Leidholt said.
Larsen designed the stainless-steel silhouettes, which he calls “scenery valances,” by using photographs to make computer images, which were converted to CAD files (for computer-aided design) by Shepherd Stainless Inc. The company then used fine lasers to create the steel silhouettes.
The valances include images of Denton Field in Miles City, the water tower, the original Cellar Casino building, cowboy scenes and even a representation of Mere Image, a 1970s rock band that was based in Miles City and toured regionally. It featured Leidholt on drums.
The rebuilt casino opened in June and Leidholt hopes to have the kitchen open soon. Leidholt had a lot of fun designing the new building, but mostly he is proud to have rebuilt at all in the wake of the devastating fire, which claimed three historic buildings and nine businesses on the 700 block of Main Street.
Leidholt, a native of Miles City, said he and his brother didn’t want to walk away from Main Street.
“We knew if we didn’t rebuild on that spot, it was probably the beginning of the end,” he said
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