KRTV: Remembering "Piano Pat"

by Colter Anstaett and David Sherman

“Piano Pat” Sponheim, the iconic Great Falls entertainer who passed away on Tuesday, is being remembered for bringing joy to the world via her music over the course of more than five decades. She had been behind the keyboard belting out favorites at the Sip ‘N Dip Lounge in downtown Great Falls since 1963.

The O’Haire Motor Inn, where the Sip ‘N Dip is located, shared the news on Wednesday evening: “It is with tremendously sad hearts that we tell you that our beloved Piano Pat passed away peacefully last night. We loved her very, very much. Our hearts are broken. Rest In Peace beautiful music girl.”

Pat was loved and cheered on for decades by locals and tourists alike at the unique tiki-themed lounge; she was known worldwide, being featured in scores of newspaper articles, television and news features, and travel sites and videos. The website Punch noted last year: “Covering everything from classics from the songbook of Frank Sinatra to crowd favorites like ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘I Love This Bar,’ Pat plays and sings with the kind of self-possessed confidence only a nightclub veteran can pull off.”

Pat was one of the reasons that the Sip ‘N Dip was named by GQ magazine in 2003 as the “#1 bar on earth worth flying for” – coupled with the near-equally iconic mermaids behind the bar.

In a feature for CBS Sunday Morning in 2013, Pat said she was OK with her celebrity status, although a bit puzzled: “I just kind of have to laugh. The signing autographs, doing this and doing that, I have to take so many pictures every night. People want their picture taken with me. I don’t know why,” she said.

Among those paying tribute to Pat is Paulette Wright, the owner of Mrs. Wright’s Pastys in Great Falls, who said, “She would be one of the biggest legends that I know of in Great Falls.”

Wright is one of several business owners in Great Falls who put messages about Pat on their marquees on Thursday. Wright’s message said “Piano Pat will be forever missed. I love this bar” – a reference to one of Pat’s most popular songs.

“I remembered being at the Sip ‘N Dip several times. Piano Pat was always a joy. When we brought family in town , we had to go see Piano Pat. We bought her CDs. She sang several (songs), like ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘I Love This Bar.’ That was one of my favorites watching her sing, so that’s what I put on my sign,” said Wright.

The owner of the O’Haire Motor Inn, where the Sip ‘n Dip is located, put lyrics from the song “Sweet Caroline” on her marquee but said she was too emotional for an interview on Thursday. Other businesses owners declined interviews, saying they wanted this story to be about Pat and not about them.

Montana’s U.S. Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester, governor Greg Gianforte and former governor Steve Bullock all posted to social media on Thursday to honor Pat.

As for the next generation of music at the famous tiki bar? “Boy. Yeah, she would be a hard one to replace,” said Wright.