What used to be three racquetball courts is now a taproom and grill at Broadwater Hot Springs and Fitness.
John Rosa and brothers Chris and Scott Johnson bought the athletic club in 2015 and have spent the last two years adding a restaurant and renovating the majority of the space.
“There’s not any other hot springs in town,” Chris Johnson said. “From that perspective it’s real easy to see that this facility needed to take another direction. It didn’t survive as an athletic club.”
Now customers can pay a day-use fee for any of the pools, sauna and steam room and the fitness center. The new taproom has a garage door that opens up into the pool area to allow people to easily go back and forth to order food and drinks. Since all beer and wine is served in plastic cups, people are allowed to have drinks while they’re in the pool.
The Springs Taproom and Grill menu includes pizza, burgers and other bar food. There are 19 beers on tap with three rotating. People can also choose from three tap wines.
The interior of the restaurant has tables made from the floor of the racquetball court, reclaimed wood, old railroad tracks and ties and photos of the historic Hotel Broadwater and Natatorium.
Built in 1888 and 1889 by Charles Broadwater, the hotel and natatorium were luxurious and designed to draw wealthy patrons from across the country. The indoor pool was fed by more than one million gallons of water each day and was the largest in the world at the time, according to the website Helena As She Was (helenahistory.org). But Broadwater was unable to attract enough people to keep the hotel and natatorium open. After his death in 1892, several owners tried to keep the place going but were unsuccessful. An earthquake in 1935 damaged the pool and the hotel was closed permanently in 1941. It was finally demolished in 1974.
Broadwater Hot Springs and Fitness opened as an athletic club in 1978 using the same water source as the historic hotel and natatorium.
Today the restaurant immediately connects to the springs pool, which is a freeform pool designed for soaking. The owners are nearly finished building a stage for live music at one end of the springs pool. While all of the water feeding the hot springs comes out at about 150 degrees, the springs pool is kept between 97 and 102 degrees. Salt is added to all of the water to reduce the amount of chlorine needed. The hot tub nearby is kept between 101 and 104 degrees. A second soaking pool, which will eventually be updated to a freeform shape, is adjacent to the springs pool and is kept at the same temperature. A third pool, designed for recreation, is the only one where pool toys are allowed. It’s slightly cooler at 89 to 93 degrees and goes from three to 10 feet deep.
There’s space on both sides of the property to eventually expand, adding additional pools or lodging so people from out of town don’t have to drive into Helena to find a place to stay.
“We’ll have to see how the community responds to what we’ve done so far,” Chris Johnson said. “There’s lots of land around this building.”