Bozeman’s Kimpton Armory Hotel
Acoustic music and a pleasant wave of heat envelop me as I step through the glass doors, gently departing from the bustle of Bozeman’s eclectic downtown. “Welcome to our living room,” an employee says from the slate-gray counter on my left. As I walk up to meet her, the lobby area reveals subtle yet high-end furnishings: wooden-paneled ceilings cap the earthy tones of the walls, accentuated by the texture of leather-upholstered couches and live-edge table slabs. The lobby of the Kimpton Armory Hotel radiates the sophistication of Bozeman’s architectural taste.
Cory Lawrence, who leads the hotel’s ownership group, wanted to breathe new life into the old Armory—to create a historic landmark in downtown Bozeman that would embody the energy of the college town while preserving the rich history of the building. The original Armory opened in 1941, stood only two stories tall, and was built to house the 163rd Infantry Regiment of the Montana National Guard during World War II. Now, with nine floors, it is the tallest building downtown.
Designed by Fred F. Willson, the architect who devised the Rialto Theater, Ellen Theatre, Baxter Hotel, and other local attractions, the Armory was influenced by the Art Deco theme of the era. As a result, the building walks a fine line between historic and modern; with an abundance of geometric shapes and bold colors, it’s simultaneously soft, refined, and cozy.
The Soul of a Place
Born in Helena, Cory spent his formative years in Buffalo, Wyoming, where he met his future wife and work partner, Carrie. From early in their lives, they knew they loved the Northern Rockies and hoped to one day start a family in Bozeman.
Once they made it to Bozeman, they began working for Off the Beaten Path, an adventure travel company focused on helping voyagers discover the world. They shared the firm’s belief that travel is “the confluence of journey and destination, where the heart of the traveler meets the soul of the place.”
The idea of connecting with a place’s soul is what initially inspired the Lawrences to transform the Armory into a hotel. With 122 guestrooms, the Kimpton Armory Hotel is a way station and base of adventure for travelers to the area.
However, by its design and operating approach, the Armory is intended to be much more. From the start of the project, the Lawrences knew they wanted to incorporate local food, drink, and atmosphere into the space, creating a pathway for hotel guests to meaningfully connect with Bozeman, and for locals to share in what the hotel, meeting spaces, and restaurant and bars have to offer.
“The place is geared for locals as much as visitors from out of the area,” Cory says. “It is intended to be welcoming to anyone who walks through its doors.”
The Armory is home to a fine-dining restaurant called Fielding’s in honor of Fred Fielding Willson, as well as a cocktail bar in the basement called Tune Up and a bar restaurant called Sky Shed. Sky Shed towers above the rooftops in downtown Bozeman, looking out onto the white-capped Bridgers and exposing a seemingly bird’s-eye view of the valley. All three spaces are open for Bozeman residents to enjoy.
Building on Sturdy Bones
Despite the involvement of Kimpton, a globally recognized hotel and restaurant corporation, as the California-based operating partner, the Lawrences did everything in their power to keep the history and ambience of the building consistent with the Bozeman lifestyle. The Armory Hotel is founded upon several pillars: history and culture, food, live music, and of course, the great outdoors.
Although the new hotel stands many stories higher than the old Armory, about 98 percent of the pre-existing building remains after renovation. In Cory’s words, the building’s “sturdy bones” are what allowed them to keep a hefty portion of the pre-existing structure. The entire lobby area, Fielding’s, Armory Music Hall, and three of the guest rooms all live within the old concrete structure, which, in 1941, was complete with 18-inch concrete walls, a soundproof music room for the National Guard band, a rifle range, and maple block floors sturdy enough to support military trucks.
Today’s new additions align with the original Art Deco style. The Lawrences tracked down Willson’s old sketches in the MSU archives, which inspired the pattern on the hotel’s front doors.
The land that the Armory stands upon was owned by Montana pioneer and Bozeman businessman Nelson Story’s family back in the early 1900s. It was later dedicated to the Armory effort by Story’s son, Nelson Story Jr., and his wife, Etha Story.
As a nod to Etha and the Story family, as well as in recognition of the history of Bozeman and the “Valley of the Flowers,” the Lawrences opted to soften the architecturally masculine space with art depicting Etha with flowers and natural landscapes.
Ultimately the Lawrences wanted to make the Armory a space for Bozeman, where the community touch could be felt by all. From the locally commissioned artwork adorning the walls, to the farm-fresh protein and plants dominating the menus, the Armory is a reflection of Bozeman’s vibrant, inviting culture.
The Armory Burger, among other ground beef delicacies, originates from Wickens Ranch, while B Bar Ranch provides the other beef cuts. The Armory procures additional meat and cheeses from Amaltheia Organic Dairy and Montana Natural Lamb. To showcase their burger patties, burger buns and sour dough bread are sourced from On the Rise Bakery. Finally, their natural, high-grade produce items come from Quality Foods Distributing.
To minimize the hotel’s effect on the landfill, the Armory utilizes Happy Trash Can, a curbside pickup composting service from Belgrade.
Along with thoughtfully sourcing foodstuff s and sustainably disposing of scraps, the Armory serves Montana beers from Outlaw Brewing, Julius Lehrkind Brewing, Bozeman Brewing Company, MAP Brewing, Polar Brewing, Bayern Brewing, Lockhorn Cider Company, Western Cider, and KettleHouse Brewing, just to name a few.
“Bozeman has a discerning palate,” Cory says. He knew the community would seek a wide variety of high-quality, locally sourced foods and drinks—so the Armory delivered.
The Lawrences intentionally created a fine-dining restaurant and two high-end yet inclusive, bars within the Armory’s walls. Carrie believes that the restaurant is just as important as the hotel; and Kimpton’s initiative to provide exceptional food and cocktails in their hotels paired well with the Lawrences’ vision for the Armory.
When describing what goes on behind the scenes at Fielding’s, Executive Chef Mark Musial says, “Nothing is simple about a roast chicken.” He gives intricate care and time to each item on the menu, paying close attention to every ingredient. Musial believes that using local meats and produce is what creates the contemporary nature of Bozeman’s cuisine.
In order to get the full experience of the Armory, Musial says that one should begin in Sky Shed for appetizers and bubbles, enjoy a delicious meal at Fielding’s, and then head down to Tune Up for more drinks and music. “Then spend the night while you’re at it,” he jokes.
The Armory Hotel, though impacted by corporate funding, is rooted in Bozeman. With the support of the community, the space will certainly become a local attraction. Located in the heart of Bozeman, at the heart of the downtown area, the Kimpton Armory Hotel stands welcoming and excited to host local residents and travelers alike.