The M&M is the last of the great "cigar
stores" that dotted the Uptown district.The King & Lowry,
the M&M, and the Crown were all-day, all-night drinking parlors
and gambling houses that catered to the off-shift miner with
more money than time.
The term "cigar store" was a discreet but superficial deference to Prohibition. The same customers who had patronized these establishments before Prohibition continued to come to enjoy cigars and the other libations that continued to flow despite the laws against them.
The M&M was opened in 1890 by Sam Martin and William F. Mosby. Miners with a flair for cutting to the chase and coining a nickname, quickly labeled it "The M&M." Like other all-night establishments in Butte, the doors of the M&M have never been locked. Owners either stripped the locks off the doors on opening day or they ceremoniously flushed the keys down the toilet.
The M&M originally featured a bowling alley in the basement, but its main forms of recreation were on the first floor, which was dedicated to eating and drinking, and on the second floor, which was reserved for gambling. Later, the gambling moved downstairs to the back room where poker tables and a Keno cage are still in operation, surrounded by electronic video gambling machines.
Up Main Street a half block from the M&M, the King & Lowry was successful enough to afford Thomas Lowry the luxury and status to build a home amidst the ornate mansions of the city's most wealthy and powerful residents.
The Crown Cigar Store on East Park Street was run by Frances and Joseph Lyden, brothers who took a mysterious Chinese lottery game called Pok Kop Piu operated by Chinese gamblers in their bar and converted it to use numbers instead of Chinese characters. They took the game to Nevada casinos, and it has since spread throughout the country in the form now called Keno.
In its prime, Butte needed nearly 200 bars to accommodate the thirst of Butte's miners for "growlers" (beer in a bucket to go), or a "Shawn O'Farrell" (shot of whiskey with a beer chaser). At least 25 brewery wagons were kept busy stocking the bars from at least three local breweries -- the Tavoli, the Centennial, and the Butte Brewery.
Beat poet Jack Kerouac stopped by for a visit and wrote the following description for Esquire Magazine in March, 1970:
"It was Sunday night, I had hoped the saloons would stay open long enough for me to see them. They never even closed. In a great old-time saloon I had a giant beer. On the wall was a big electric signboard flashing gambling numbers ...What characters in there: old prospectors, gamblers, whores, miners, Indians, cowboys, tobacco-chewing businessmen! Groups of sullen Indians drank rotgut in the john. Hundreds of men played cards in an atmosphere of smoke and spitoons. It was the end of my quest for an ideal bar..."
In the summer of 2004, the renowned German director Wim Wenders came to Butte to make a feature film, Don't Come Knocking, starring Sam Shepherd and Jessica Lange and used the M&M as a set for scenes in the film.
For a taste of what the M&M and other Uptown bars once were like in their prime, try a visit to Butte on St. Patrick's Day when as many as 30,000 gather in a four-by-five-block area to celebrate. It can take as long as 30 minutes to walk through the crowd from the front door to the back of the M&M as revelers crowd the bar for shots of Old Bushmills and Guiness Stout.