Buffalo Block in the Big Sky: Project Spotlight

The old Rex Hotel is a century-old building on Billings’ historic Montana Avenue downtown. Built in 1910, the Rex building is a remnant of the true Old West. The hotel played host to celebrities like Will James, Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane. During the prohibition era, the hotel bar officially switched over to a restaurant, all the while continuing to serve alcohol through its “floating bar” that changed locations nightly.

In 1975, with business slow, the Rex was scheduled for teardown, but a local stepped in and bought the building just in time. Through several owners and renovations, the building has stood the test of time and has been transformed into a casual fine dining restaurant: Buffalo Block Prime Steakhouse.

In 1900, the buffalo block was developed – a cheap, water-resistant, and nearly-indestructible brick that prevented the usual problems of uneven paving, mud, and odor in the streets. Montana Avenue and the town of Billings, in addition to settlements across the country, were paved with the new buffalo blocks.

The new owners of the old Rex Hotel unearthed many buffalo blocks on the old patio and scattered throughout the building in the remodel process. According to the owners, “Buffalo Block” was a fitting name that captured the century of history tied to the hotel.

Comtech Audio Theater Security partnered with Buffalo Block to retrofit this incredible building filled with rich history into a modern-day space for a “vibrant, new experience in local fine dining.” Working to keep the architecture and style true to its roots, Comtech provided audio solutions to the restaurant, conference/event room, and outdoor patio, featuring high-end brands like Klipsch, Elan, and Seura.

“Crystal clear audio and the ability to project throughout the restaurant with no dead spaces is a big deal,” says Mitch Fox, GM of Buffalo Block.

Goals for the Project

Buffalo Block Steakhouse reached out to Comtech Audio Theater Security looking for a sound system with superior quality to match the classy feel of the new restaurant. The sound solutions would need to integrate into the historic building seamlessly and offer an unparalleled sound experience for customers, as well as give Buffalo Block a wide range of flexibility.

The project consisted of three main areas within the establishment: the restaurant area for casual fine dining, an upstairs conference room and small kitchen that could be used for meetings and events, and an outdoor patio meant to draw people in and encourage gathering.

“With the type of restaurant we have, being able to have high-quality sound for our guests is part & parcel to what we do,” says Fox.

Buffalo Block wanted an audio-video system for the conference area that was flexible enough to meet the needs of their range in clientele. The sound system for the restaurant required different zones and the flexibility to adapt audio for time of day, day of the week, and any group needs for those renting the restaurant space. The outdoor patio is a gym, and the sound needed to match.

The goal for the project was that the audio solutions installed by Comtech, like all other aspects of the restaurant, would fit the brand and bring a unique experience to patrons.

A partnership with Comtech made sense – a local Billings-based company with an appreciation for the history of the town and a desire to see the city grow in its unique culinary offerings. Comtech’s reputation for high-end audio and video solutions lead to the partnership at Buffalo Block.

The Comtech Solution

Comtech rose to the challenge of outfitting the historic hotel-turned-restaurant with cutting-edge sound (and a little video). The attached Klipsch rendering shows the thorough coverage of audio for all zones within the building and on the patio, ensuring no dead zones throughout the space.

Inside the restaurant, Comtech created an audio matrixing system so that each area of the restaurant could vary their sound offerings. Flexibility was key in order to meet the specific requests of groups renting out all or part of the restaurant. This solution also enabled the Buffalo Block to offer different audio experiences for people in the bar area versus the dining area, all the while masking the clinking of the chefs in the kitchen and the chattering of other guests.

For the conference & event room upstairs, Comtech created an audio-video matrixing solution, enabling Buffalo Block to use the space for a conference room or a private party. With this system, the room can play video and audio from anywhere in the restaurant to that room, or from the room to anywhere in the restaurant.

The conference area solution also featured a signature piece – a high-end television mirror by Seura. Buffalo Block requested a television option that wouldn’t interfere with the interior design of the room. The Seura TV Mirror beautifully fits the feel of the space and transforms to a TV when needed.

On the lovely Montana Avenue patio, Buffalo Block asked for incredible and welcoming sound quality. Comtech installed two Klipsch subwoofers along with 8 landscape speakers. The quality of the installed sound system drowns out any traffic noises from the road while drawing in patio gatherers to enjoy a cocktail while nestling by the fire. The outdoor sound system truly amplifies the restaurant experience.

Project Installation

With the new restaurant’s launch date quickly approaching, Comtech completed prewiring in one month (May – June 2019) and equipment installations from June to October 2019.

The biggest challenge for Comtech was working within the parameters of the remodel of the historical building, trying to seamlessly blend the old-world charm with new-age technology.

“We didn’t want to take too much away from the historic feel of the building,” says Oli Tripp, Owner and Installation Specialist at Comtech Audio Theater Security. “We had to find a way to put cables, wires, and speakers where we needed them without affecting the historic architecture of the space.”

With over 40 speakers installed alongside other supporting equipment, Buffalo Block is well-equipped to offer customers a sound experience that parallels the “woodfire, Old West, classic steakhouse kind of experience” they promise.

Customer Reaction

Mitch Fox, General Manager of Buffalo Block Prime Steakhouse, says that the sound system Comtech provided allows the restaurant to offer the desired customer experience – high end, seamless, and special.

Fox especially loves the way the patio turned out, a space with 24 tables that seats roughly 96 people. “The music sets the mood and the ambience makes a big difference,” he says. Montanans love enjoying the outdoors, and this patio space with beautiful audio capabilities invites guests to gather around, sip a cocktail, and enjoy the company of family and friends.

Inside the restaurant, Buffalo Block usually features 50s and 60s vocal jazz music that fits the Buffalo Block brand. The restaurant is pleased with Comtech’s sound solution that brings an enjoyable experience to guests while drowning out the noises that could detract from the dining experience.

Buffalo Block Prime Steakhouse is a Billings restaurant rich in history with a bright future. Comtech is proud to have partnered in bringing this space to life!