Every city near a body of water has its characteristic boat. New York City has the Staten Island Ferry, Venice has the gondola and everywhere else has amphibious war vessels rebranded as ducks. This summer, Missoula will be introduced to what may become its own signature watercraft: the River Pub.
The River Pub is the creation of longtime Missoula outfitters Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures and combines two of the town’s favorite pastimes: sidling up to the bar and floating the Clark Fork.
“It’s basically a new way of rafting and enjoying the river,” outfitter Wayne Fairchild says.
In a city that’s always searching for new ways to get buzzed, it’s a wonder the river pub didn’t already exist. The 20-foot raft is modeled closely off one put to similar use on the Rogue River in Oregon and will feature bench seating for up to 12 people, an overhead canopy and a tabletop. Fairchild and a friend, Travis Booher, designed the pub frame and had it fabricated locally.
Fairchild likens the river-pubbing experience to the Thirst Gear beer-bike trolley, founded in 2014, which revelers pedal between downtown establishments. While the Rogue River’s Paddled Pub starts and ends at the same brewery, Fairchild says Missoula offers more flexible itineraries. Lewis and Clark can tailor put-in and take-out locations to any number of destinations, including Silver Park for Osprey Games or Washington-Grizzly Stadium for concerts. Lewis and Clark plans to charge $550 for trips of up to four hours.
His company has been offering in-town floats for decades, but Fairchild says he anticipates that the more relaxed environment of the River Pub, where a guide takes care of the rowing, will appeal to a wider audience. In addition to BYOB floats, the pub can serve as a venue for brunch, dinner or moonlight serenades.
The River Pub is still awaiting finishing touches, which Fairchild describes as he sits under its canopy on a rainy May morning. Seat cushions and a tabletop should arrive soon. He also plans to install a stereo system and some paddleboards for guests to try out once they’re on the water.
Fairchild took the raft on a test run down the Clark Fork last month. One of the photos of the trip posted to the company’s Facebook page shows the pub barreling toward Brennan’s Wave as a passenger waves to a group of surfers waiting for it to pass. Come June, the sight could be a familiar one.