Visitors will strike it rich in a spirited Montana neighborhood.
In 1864, when four discouraged prospectors finally found traces of gold up a tributary of Ten Mile Creek in western Montana, they dubbed the spot Last Chance Gulch. As news of their discovery spread, Helena blossomed into a gritty mining camp of dusty (often muddy) streets and rowdy saloons.
But now scruffy miners have been replaced by well-dressed state office workers, and Last Chance Gulch is an urbane city-center avenue that evolves from a two-lane street lined with handsome brick storefronts to a three-block pedestrian mall surrounded by 19th-century stone edifices. Area code is 406.
Open the intricately carved screen door to Toi’s Thai and breathe in the scent of lemongrass. Toi Areya serves excellent red chicken curry, yum yei (beef salad), and thickly tangled pad thai in an intimate dining room decorated with mother-of-pearl hand fans. 423 N. Last Chance Gulch, 443-6656.
Five high-ceilinged galleries in the Holter Museum of Art exhibit works by such con- temporary Western artists as Deborah Butterfield and Bill Stockton. Founded in 1987, the museum underwent a $2 million expansion five years ago that added 6,000 square feet to the 1914 building. 12 E. Lawrence St., 442-6400, www.holtermuseum.org.
Just up the street, the twin spires of the Cathedral of Saint Helena rise 230 feet. The Gothic cathedral, with its white marble altars, hand-carved oak woodwork, and columns with gilt capitals, was built in 1908 with funds given by a miner who struck it rich. 530 N. Ewing St., 442-5825, www.sthelenas.org.
At its new location, the Turman Larison Contemporary carries pho-tography, sculptures, and paintings such as Doug Turman’s bold abstracts and whimsical watercolors called Love Notes. 337 N. Last Chance Gulch, 443-0340, www.turmangallery.com.
Since 1922, Helenans of all ages have savored hand-dipped chocolates and sipped cherry phosphates in the green booths of the Parrot Confectionery. Fine feathered psittacines perch on shelves and roost on walls, while a virtual circus parade of miniature elephants marches above the counters. The shop also features a 1950s era jukebox, a classic soda fountain, and more than 100 types of sweets. 42 N. Last Chance Gulch, 442-1470. www.parrotchocolate.com
Photography by Lynn Donaldson
This article was first published in May 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.