Claim to fame: Probably the fact that it’s a Maui-themed casino located in Missoula and connected to a Mexican restaurant. You just don’t see that combo very often.
Atmosphere: Very cabana-at-midnight, if that cabana had an abundance of video poker machines. The walls are airbrushed to look like rolling waves in the middle of the night, and the ceiling is dotted with tiny lights meant to look like stars. Thatch overhangs line the rows of gaming machines, and a cluster of Keno machines ring a palm tree in the center of the casino. Even the bamboo-accented bar has little beach trinkets—is that a turquoise seahorse?—along the wall. Naturally, the bartenders wear Hawaiian shirts.
Surf report: If you’re ranking a beach on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a syringe-infested Jersey shore (with or without Snooki) and 10 being a private spot on Bora Bora, Maui Nites feels like a solid 4, maybe 4.5. It goes out of its way to not feel like just another casino, and receives bonus points for the friendliest staff this side of a Sandals Resort. Downgraded for not actually being on the water.
What you’re drinking: Beer and wine only. Unfortunately, the lineup doesn’t feature a single local brew. It should also be mentioned that the absence of fruity drinks with umbrellas hurts the overall island vibe.
Who you’re drinking with: Gamblers.
What you’re eating: Fiesta en Jalisco connects to Maui Nites and offers a full menu of authentic Mexican cuisine. Absolutely everybody—bartenders, regulars at the bar, wait staff in the restaurant—swears by the enormous carne asada burrito ($11.95). “That thing is lunch and dinner,” beams bartender Jesse Lund.
How to find it: Look for the large sign at 3701 Brooks Street, on the south side of town.
Happiest Hour is a new column that celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.