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J.W. Heist Steakhouse


Where do you go for steak in Bozeman? There are many options, and rightly so. This is cattle country, and our fair city used to be quite the agricultural cow town. But as everyone knows, Bozeman has been experiencing remarkable growth for many years. With that growth comes a new dining option: J.W. Heist Steakhouse, in the heart of downtown Bozeman.

Opened on January 3 by co-owners Michael Ochsner and Brent Evje, Heist is located at 27 East Main Street, and describes itself as offering timeless fare such as prime beef, fresh seafood, classic cocktails, and an award-winning wine list. Ochsner and Evje wanted to create a unique, sophisticated restaurant that pays homage to Montana’s ranching history while providing Bozeman with a classic American steakhouse.

Patrons will find the entrance to Heist tucked inside a black-walled vestibule, and are greeted by a large Hereford oil painting upon entering the 5,600-square foot space. Locally-crafted leather and velvet banquettes line the brick walls, which used to enclose the dearly departed Crossroads Kitchen Supply store. Local art from Montana Trails Gallery and Tierney Fine Art adorn these walls, depicting Montana imagery like landscapes, wildlife, trappers, rodeos, and Yellowstone (all for sale on consignment). The antique Brunswick bar is center stage, showcasing a bowtied bartender expertly spinning cocktail shakers. Subtle jazz plays in the background, completing the warm, loungey vibe.

Heist’s décor comes courtesy of William Peace of Peace Design, with eclectic touches like bronze Western sculptures, a mounted red hartebeest head on the east-facing wall, and a stained-glass gate salvaged from a terminal at JFK International Airport. “Most of the light fixtures and hardware are from the old Waldorf Astoria in New York,” said Ochsner. Heist used locally-milled wood for its floors and trim, as well as basalt from nearby Paradise Valley for the hearth.

The upscale menu does not disappoint, boasting a range of traditional starters, soup and salad options, composed dishes, and a worthy selection of steaks, which can be upgraded with such choices as fire-grilled mushrooms or penta crumbles (a bleu cheese variety), and steak sauces like green peppercorn or bearnaise. “The Argentinian-style grill is ideal for a fire-driven steakhouse,” explained John Thayer, Heist’s executive chef. “We chose fire because of its versatility and character, and also because it can proliferate into the rest of the menu in some way.” There is no chicken option to be found, but yes, a vegetarian can eat at Heist. Stay tuned.

The other night, a pair of diners occupied a cozy booth for two, starting with a French Mediterranean rosé. The crab cake was just the right balance of briny and rich. One of the pair enjoyed the chopped salad and pasta primavera, a creamy tagliatelle with seared vegetables and hints of fresh basil. The other chose the 8-ounce Coulotte, mashed potatoes with snipped chives, and grilled broccolini. The essence of the white oak was palpable, but did not override the perfect flavor and velvety texture of the steak, which was cooked well-done as requested with no shaming from the server. When it came time for dessert, the Baked Alaska Flambé was the obvious choice. With its huckleberry, pistachio, and flaming kirsch, this particular confection thrilled the taste buds while entertaining the neighbors.

So what inspired this refined, old-timey yet new, and elegant steakhouse? After Evje and Ochsner met through the restaurant industry, they purchased Plonk Wine in 2009. That same year, Boodles, a beloved Bozeman restaurant/bar, was destroyed in a natural gas explosion. Both Evje and Ochsner found that they missed the atmosphere of Boodles, and started planning a new establishment that they hoped would evoke a similar experience. “We were going for an authentic ambiance and a space that feels like it’s been here for a long time,” explained Ochsner, “and Boodles had that. It had a timeless feeling, like it could have been there for 80 years and you wouldn’t have known it.”

Evje’s proud heritage is also an influence. His great-grandfather, J.W. Heist, was born in Electric, Montana, in 1896 and was raised on a ranch in Cinnabar Basin outside Yellowstone Park. J.W. worked the ranch until he and his wife Alma relocated to Manhattan to raise Polled Hereford bulls. He passed in 1993, leaving a rare legacy in the new steakhouse that bears his name.

The next time you’re off to see a concert at the Rialto, a show at the Ellen, a symphony at the Willson, or just want a superior dining experience, make a reservation at Heist. You’ll leave feeling satiated, gratified, and like you were just in an historic steakhouse in Montana’s old west.