Montana Public Radio

Fire Destroys Butte's Historic M&M Cigar Store Building

May 7, 2021

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A fire gutted the historic M&M Cigar Store in Butte early Friday, taking with it 131 years of the Mining City's history.

“It’s a total loss. No question,” said Jim Merrifield, a battalion chief with the Butte-Silver Bow Fire Department. No one was injured and the cause of the fire is under investigation.

The fire was reported at 3 a.m., and responding firefighters said there were 12-foot (3.6-meter) flames coming from the roof.

A 2019 photo of the M&M bar sign in Butte, MT.
Credit Josh Burnham

“There was smoke in every orifice of the building,” Merrifield said. "The fire was on the roof and spread throughout the building through the duct work.”

Firefighters initially had the blaze under control. But it restarted at around 9 a.m., sending more smoke into the sky and causing further damage.

“It smelled like history disappearing,” David McCumber, editor of The Montana Standard, wrote in a column.

Firefighters worked to save the bar's iconic neon sign Friday afternoon while a backhoe was being brought in to knock down the rest of the building for safety reasons.

“Safety is the No. 1 priority,’’ Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher said. “But that sign is so important to this community, we’re going to do what we can to save it.’’

Also Friday afternoon, owner Selina Pankovich posted on the bar's Facebook page: “The show must go on. I’m at a loss for words right now, but that phrase keeps playing in my head,” she wrote. “Thank you for all the support. I know this loss is shared by the entire community and together we will bring the M&M back once again.”

Comments of support came from Oregon, Texas, Chicago and Ireland.

The building's name comes from the initials of the two men, Sam Martin and William Mosby, who opened the first bar in Butte in 1890.

The bar, which had a string of owners, was famous for staying open around the clock, catering to miners getting off work and serving large breakfasts at all hours, according to a description on a National Register of Historic Places plaque outside the building.

During Prohibition, the bar changed its name and officially became a cigar store. Cigars were sold in the front of the building while liquor continued to be served in an illegal speakeasy in the back, according to the plaque.

McCumber eulogized the bar, writing: “We loved you, M&M Cigar Store, with your tin ceiling and your great grub and your no-nonsense vibe, from the St. Paddy’s Day crush to a lifesaving bartender pouring out the first patron’s 6 a.m. eye-opener."

“You allowed all of us to feel like a part of the passing show, one more butt on a stool in a 140-year parade of them, from down and almost out to senators and governors, treated the same," he wrote.

Butte-Silver Bow County Sheriff Ed Lester said the building was simply a “legendary place.”

“Everyone from Butte has stories about what happened at the M&M,” he told The Montana Standard on Friday morning. “You could have a few drinks, gamble, watch a fight and have the world’s best ham and cheese omelet — all in one place.”