Bartender nurtures iconic atmosphere

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Frank Schneider, originally from Pittsburgh, moved to Montana for the state’s mountains and rivers. He has worked at Moose’s Saloon for more than seven years. (Kianna Gardner/Daily Inter Lake)

Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell is a lot of things without necessarily meaning to be.

It’s a playground of sawdust and discarded peanut shells for the young and the young at heart. It’s a tried-and-true watering hole that recognizes no socioeconomic status. It’s a Flathead Valley landmark scribbled into the travel plans of tourists.

One patron described it as a holy place. Another described it as his second home.

And from a bar stool at the far south end of the saloon you have a view of Moose’s in its entirety, and can watch as customers from all walks of life discover commonalities over a slice of pizza and a pint. From there, it’s also easy to recognize the experience is one largely influenced by an energetic staff of bartenders, bussers and pizza artisans.

One such employee is Frank Schneider, who is just as unassuming as the bar he tends.

“I don’t care if you’re sitting with Jesus Christ, you have to come up to the bar to order,” Schneider said. “Everyone gets the same treatment, it’s just how we do it here.”

On this particular Wednesday evening, Schneider is sporting a Ducks Unlimited shirt, a pair of bar-tarred shoes and a hat that casts a shadow over his eyes and wiry beard. There is nothing about the 44-year-old Pittsburgh native, either in personality or appearance, that makes you think he has ever tried to be anything other than what he is.

He’s kind but tactfully firm and can be unabashedly boisterous, yet thoughtful. He enjoys hunting, trapping and rafting. His beer of preference is a Miller Light.

Schneider, who lives in Kila, attended college at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where he studied business. He eventually moved to the East Coast, where he worked as an operations manager for several years and a pharmacy representative. Then some 13 years ago, he traded in his clean-shaven face and suit to move to the Flathead Valley.

“I always spent my vacations out here and decided it was time to spend more days doing what I enjoy the most, no matter the cost,” Schneider said. “So I wrapped up what I was doing east and came here with no real plan.”

In fact, his only plan was to acquaint himself with the mountains, lakes and rivers that have attracted so many others to the area. His goal was to find employment that worked with an outdoorsman’s schedule, which he found through odd jobs.

Eventually, he fell into a bartending gig at Moose’s, where he has been now for more than seven years — a time span that actually still qualifies him one of the “new guys,” a title others are sure to remind him of constantly. Other monikers include “transplant,” “Frank the Tank” and “Francis.”

During his time at Moose’s, Schneider has molded himself into the type of bartender he himself admires — one who is friendly, works hard and is quick on their feet. Schneider is all of that and more, despite not having any bartending experience prior to Moose’s Saloon. He says it’s a job he looks forward to every day.

“I get to meet new people all the time and listen to their stories,” Schneider said. “Think about the hundreds of romances, divorces, family gatherings and other things that have happened in this place. When you bartend you kind of get to be a part of that in a weird way.”

As bartender, he is above all, a facilitator of good times.

If you frequent Moose’s, he’ll ask you about your day or your family. He’ll make sure your second drink is in front of you before you’ve swigged back the last of your first — a routine regulars know all too well and leave a pile of bills and quarters in front of them in anticipation of more to come.

If it’s the first time you’ve swung open the old Western-style saloon doors, Schneider will make you feel as though you’re part of something grand. He’ll deliver your first drink in one of Moose’s iconic glass goblets, and all of a sudden, perched under a dim light fixture with sawdust on your shoes, you feel like royalty.

Schneider’s knack for hard work is a virtue that extends beyond the bar.

A few years ago he met his partner Alicia and her two kids, Noah and Makayla. The couple is not married, but he refers to her lovingly as his wife. Then about 16 months ago, his life took another unexpected turn in the form of Henry, a baby boy with Schneider’s curly hair and contagious smile.

“I think like every parent, you want what’s best for your kid and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to give them the best life possible,” Schneider said.

Since that day, the title of “family man” wiggled its way into a lineup of words people use to describe Schneider, and it’s one that is perhaps his favorite to date.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at kgardner@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4439

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