Friday, February 18, 2011

Happiest Hour: The Oxford Saloon

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 3:00 PM

Yep, we're looking to get in a little trouble tonight. That's why we dedicate this week's Happiest Hour to Missoula's oldest dive bar: The Oxford Saloon.

Who you’re drinking with: On a recent Friday morning, bearded men wearing tractor caps and jean jackets along with a smattering of middle-aged ladies with dyed hair. These are the regulars. Ox clientele, however, run the gamut. Homeless people hang out when the temperature plummets, warming themselves over a pint of domestic beer. As lunchtime approaches, business people pile in. At 2 a.m., when other joints close, inebriated bar-goers flood the saloon, soaking up the evening’s booze with fried food that’s served 24 hours a day.

Ambiance: Antique weapons line the wall above the pockmarked wooden bar across from black and white photos of 19th century Missoula. Bundled up men huddle outside puffing on cigarettes. From the jukebox, Highway 101 croons “Whiskey, if you were a Woman.” The place reeks of fried food, dirty clothes and history. In fact, regulars this morning are leaning on the original Oxford bar, installed in 1883, when the saloon first opened a block away at the corner of Higgins and Broadway. The Ox relocated in the early '50s to its current digs. Legend has it that during the move patrons helped carry the bar down the street, all the while keeping their drinks on the bar. “Technically, (the Ox) never closed,” says Geoffrey Price, Ox cook and bartender.

What you’re doing: The bar hosts epic live poker games nightly at 8 p.m., continuing until the table clears out. According to Price, the longest poker game in recent history ran more than 39 hours. Fighting under the influence is another Ox pastime, though less common. The bar has a reputation for being a bit rough. Price has the scars to prove it. About a year ago, one of his coworkers, a woman he was dating, stabbed him in the sternum with his own kitchen knife. (They were at another bar when it happened, but she had been drinking at the Ox prior to the stabbing). Just a few months before that, two guys jumped Price outside the bar’s back door. “My head got used as a jackhammer,” he says.

What you’re drinking: The Ox offers a full bar. Ice House and PBR are the favorites. Pints sell for $1.75. "The Blaster,” made with Red Bull and Jagermeister for $5, is popular, too.

What you’re eating: J.J.’s chicken fried steak. Since 1996, the Ox has cooked up 206,817 servings of the deep-fried dish.

How to find it: 337 N. Higgins Street at Pine.

Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, e-mail

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