How can you not want to take a stroll down Last Chance Gulch on a warm and breezy summer evening? How can you not want to at any time, really, because is Last Chance Gulch not the best street name ever? It is the beyond-bucolic main drag of Helena, Montana’s historic downtown, and the name derives from the fact Helena’s founders were planning to move on if they didn’t find gold in their last-ditch effort at prospecting. Luckily they hit pay dirt and the rest his history.
When I arrived in Montana’s capital just before sunset I hastily checked in at the Holiday Inn, jettisoned my bags and set out on foot with one mission in mind. Yes I wanted to soak up the history, and get a feel for the place on this lovely pedestrianized thoroughfare, but foremost in my mind was procuring an ice cream cone.
I’d read about The Big Dipper in my pre-trip googlings and knew it to be a local institution, selling homemade ice cream since 1995. Luckily I didn’t have far to go and I knew that I getting close when I spotted the queue that wended its way out the door. This gave me time to choose from among the twenty or so luscious flavours.
When I reached the counter, I was confident in my choice: Mocha Chip. I took my prize out into the night and enjoyed it during my twilight wander back to the hotel. Lo and behold I found myself back there the following evening, sampling a Huckleberry cone, the region’s quintessential flavour.
In my world, sugar enhances almost any experience. So, when I asked Kal Poole, the Managing Director of the Grandstreet Theater, about his favourite establishment on Last Chance Gulch, and he enthusiastically described The Parrot Confectionery (with a hint of reverie giving rise to the suspicion I was dealing with a fellow addict,) I instantly knew that first-hand “research” was in order.
A substantial display case full of all sorts of confections, obscured by a congregation of eager customers, greets visitors entering The Parrot. Patiently hovering in the background as the customers were served, I spied one tantalizing treat after another from the huge array of candies and chocolates made in-house, and the visually stimulating jars of vibrant penny candy lining the surface of the candy counter. When I reached the front, the crowd had thinned and I confessed to the friendly gal behind the counter that this was my first time and I was overwhelmed by choice. I explained that I might never again have a chance to return and therefore the angst of deciding what to get weighed heavily on me. I broke the ice by introducing myself and requesting permission to take photos.
This obviously wasn’t Amanda’s first confectionery indecision rodeo, and we chatted about my general preferences, deciding that I would forgo penny candy and focus on the goodies made at The Parrot. Emphasis would be put on Turkish Delight because it’s unusual and a favourite of mine, while mints would have to wait and take a gamble on my returning to Helena someday. Chocolate is mandatory. Because chocolate. After this meeting of the minds I surrendered the sweets selection duties to Amanda while I indulged my shutterbug proclivities.
A Helena haunt since 1922, The Parrot is also a vintage soda fountain and lunch counter, serving the full gamut of sodas, phosphates, shakes, malts, and sundaes, as well as secret-recipe Parrot Chili (though the formula is confidential, rest assured it contains no actual parrots) that is highly sought after.
Having presented me with my expertly chosen selection of sweets, Amanda had one more surprise in store. Perhaps because of my obvious and charming (at least I like to think so) enthusiasm, she encouraged me to go take a look in the back room of the shop where the candy is made!
At this point I will wrap up the commentary and let the photos transport you to the sugary wonderland that the Parrot Confectionery’s kitchen. As their tagline states, it “Talks for Itself!”
Acknowledgements and Disclosure: Thanks, obviously, to Amanda at The Parrot for her help and kindness, and to Mike Mergenthaler for treating me to huckleberry ice cream. This trip was hosted by the Helena CVB.