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Flavors: Memories at the Northern Hotel - The Golden Belle and TEN

Stella Fong

Susan Carlson remembered the poinsettias and the flocked Christmas tree at the Northern Hotel. When she was a little girl in the early 60s, this iconic hotel held the dreams of sugar plum fairies especially during the holidays. She was always in “anticipation” when she dined there with her great grandmother Emma Evers, grandmother Dorothea Wolfe and mother Bette Lindsey. The thought of going there excited her. Being there made her happy. Thinking about returning, reignited the sensations of anticipation. In time, her daughter Emily, and son Gary joined the event so looked forward to, so anticipated.

Credit Western Heritage Center
Inside the Golden Belle Saloon with red burgundy décor and a nude painting on the back wall, circa 1960. Courtesy of the Western Heritage Center from "Historic Restaurants of Billings" by Stella Fong.

The hotel first opened in 1904, built by P. B. Moss and Henry W. Rowley. A fire started in a dress store below burned the building to the ground in 1940. After design work from Chicago architects Holabird and Root, the establishment came back to life two years later to then close it doors in 2006.

It was at the Golden Belle that Susan remembered being greeted by the handsome maître d’ the moment she stepped into the restaurant. Rick Albert, dressed with coat and tie, worked at the restaurant during the 70s and he was that good looking gentleman who welcomed the ladies “dressed to the nines” as Carlson described. “It was a special place,” she continued, where manners and decorum were important.

Mike Nelson, the current co-owner of the Northern Hotel, believed going to the hotel with his brother and parents taught him the etiquette that helped him land his insurance sales job. The interview for a position in Las Vegas took place in the Golden Belle. This exchange set up by his father led him to getting the job, and spending the next 30 years in Sin City. He eventually entered the hospitality business working at the Imperial Palace, Sam’s Town and New Frontier on the Strip. In 2008, Nelson returned to his boyhood town of Billings to care for aging parents to then purchasing the Northern Hotel in 2009 with his brother Chris.

Credit Stella Fong
TEN's Executive Chef Lisa Rembold and Front of the House Manager Samantha Dyba stand next to the Christmas tree in the dining room with the painting of Belle on the back wall.

Nelson joked about perfecting his manners quickly as a young boy dressed in a sportscoat. After his mother slapped the back of his hand for reaching for the bread basket, he now knows to ask for the bread to be passed. The act of behaving and getting dressed up, created memories and made dining at the Golden Belle all the more memorable.

Both Carlson and Nelson recalled looking into the windows at the Hart Albin Company, a department store on Broadway. After shopping downtown, the highlight was to go to the Golden Belle.

Rick Albert recalled carrying out a flaming sword with meat for the Shish Kebab ritual. In an advertisement for the Golden Belle, the event occurred as follows: “While you and your friends sit there smiling like royalty, the Shish Kebab entourage sweeps into view. The gong sounds, the Northern lights grown dim and the ritual has begun.” Albert hesitantly admitted, “I lit some of those puffy yellow balls on fire.” These fluffy adornments trimmed the bottoms of the velvet curtains. With quick thinking Albers smothered the fire with a napkin.

Fire and action prevailed in the dining room of the Golden Belle as Albert talked of cooking shrimp tableside, lighting up cherries jubilee and flaming the Don Juan, a popular drink made with kahlua. These days, Front of the House Manager of TEN, Samantha Dyba described the SMOKED BLACKBERRY NEGRONI where a smothering cedar plank provided smoke and flavor to the drink.

Credit Lisa Rembold
A gingerbread house replica of the Northern Hotel now in the lobby of the hotel.

TEN was named after Mike and Chris’ father, Thomas Edgar Nelson while Bernie’s Diner paid homage to their mother. Opened in 2013, TEN focused on fine dining while Bernie’s served up breakfast and lunch. The restaurants took the place of the Golden Belle. The bordello red colored space is reminiscent of times long ago. Wood, metal and glass infuse a modern element while black leather and red velvet beckon back to the old days. A more refined painting of Belle hangs on the back wall of the restaurant.

Executive Chef Lisa Rembold, who has been at the helm of the kitchen for over a year, came from Seattle. Her Christmas menu reflects her background with four choices including “Pecan and Dill Crusted Salmon with Wild Rice” to “Beef Tenderloin with Popover, Roasted Grapes and Cranberries”. Her “Pork Loin Steaks with Cherry Plum Sauce,” beckons back to Victorian times but with added flare of a sauce made with dried cherries.

Chef Rembold and Manager Dyba is offering the “12 Days of Christmas” wine and food pairing starting on Christmas Day and running into January. For the first day of Christmas when our love is gifting us a ‘Partridge in a Pear Tree,’ Covey Run Riesling will be paired with “Poached Pear with Partridge Cookie” while on the last day when ‘Twelve Drummers Drumming’ a Drumheller Chardonnay will accompany “12 drummies (wings) with cranberry barbecue.” Through social media and the hotel’s website, one can find out what is on the menu for the twelve days.  

Credit Stella Fong
A gingerbread house replica of the Northern Hotel in construction.

Christmas Menu:
Beef Tenderloin with Popover, Roasted Grapes and Cranberries
Roasted Turkey Leg with Mash and Gravy, and Traditional Stuffing
Pork Loin Steaks with Cherry Plum Sauce
Pecan and Dill Crusted Salmon with Wild Rice

Vegetable Options:
Roasted Acorn Squash with Pomegranate Seeds
Brussels Sprouts
(Cranberry Chutney for each table)

Sweet Potato Pie
Pumpkin Pear Bread Pudding
House made cheesecake with Grand Marnier Berries
Apple Crisp or Cobbler

Credit Stella Fong
A gingerbread house replica of the Northern Hotel in construction.

To create new memories, a gingerbread house replica of the Northern Hotel will be displayed in the lobby. The approximate 4 foot high by 3 foot wide, 120 panel house took about 65 hours of help from Pastry Chef Amy Leonard-Morrow and Line Cook Theroline Sunn.

For Susan Carlson, one of the fondest recollections will be her grandmother sitting next to Rick Albert at the piano while he sang and played. For Mike Nelson who is celebrating seven years in business he hopes to continue to make the Northern Hotel a place of nostalgia and remembrance.


Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.