Great Falls watering hole, Sip and Dip, runs dry

It’s all sip and no dip these days at a funky Great Falls bar. And it will be December before mermaids return.

The pool at the O’Haire Motor Inn, 17 7th St. S., is being repaired after a substantial crack in one of its glass walls caused some anxious hours at the Sip-N-Dip Lounge, where patrons can peer into the pool through a large glass wall.

By JAMES E. LARCOMBE Tribune Business Editor

If the glass had given way, many of the 22,000 gallons of pool water would have gushed into the bar.

"That was a big concern," said Sandy Thares, general manager at the O’Haire. "I’m thankful it happened while the lounge was open."

The crack was spotted on a Sunday afternoon in October. Workers immediately began draining the pool and notified the fire department that a pumper truck might be needed.

"It was a pretty stressful four hours, to say the least," Thares said.

Since then, triple-pane glass has been installed to replace the double-pane glass that has served as the pool wall since the inn opened in 1962. The pool closure is allowing time to install rubber coating in much of the pool area.

"The mermaids will be back in by Stroll night, if it kills me," said Thares, referring to the annual downtown Christmas stroll, which is set for Dec. 3.

Mermaids frolicking in the pool are one of the prime attractions of the Sip-N-Dip. The tiki bar has swum in a national spotlight on several occasions.

It was featured in the April 2003 issue of GQ magazine, topping a list of "10 Bars Worth Flying For." See:

In 2002, it became a temporary hangout for crews and stars of the movie "Northfork," some of which was filmed in Great Falls. Actress Daryl Hannah, one of the movie’s stars, slipped into a mermaid outfit and swam in the pool, reprising her watery role in "Splash," a 1997 romantic comedy featuring Tom Hanks.

Hannah and actor Nick Nolte signed the bar’s pool wall, but the autographs are history.

"The crack went right through their signatures," Thares said.

A sign in the bar says the actors have been invited back for more autographs, but no commitments have been received.

Thares said some of the old glass is being fashioned into mermaid figurines and paperweights that will be sold. She hopes sales will help cover her $1,000 insurance deductible.

The bar’s pool view and other quirks have drawn patrons from afar for years. The recent pool closure has been a letdown for some.

"People come in, and when they find out we don’t have the mermaid, they take off," said Donnie Johnson, the bar manager. "It’s a big attraction."

Not all is lost at the Sip-N-Dip. For Pat Sponheim, queen of the lounge’s piano bar, it’s business as usual.

"We still have Pat," said Johnson. "Pat keeps them coming back, even without the pool."


Reach Larcombe at [email protected] or at (406) 791-1463 or (800) 438-6600.

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