Happiest Hour: Meet at Katie O'Keefe's? You bet. 

Where you're drinking: There's not a lot in this world more satisfying than watching a friend throw caution to the wind and risk a dance with Lady Luck for the very first time. Maybe satisfying is the wrong word. Edifying? Doesn't matter. The point is, I recently watched a friend bet on horseracing for the first time, the second time and the third time in the span of a Rainier and a half. Given how cheap a Rainier is, our evening broke roughly even with an average night downtown, with a much higher laugh rating.

By virtue of Montana's off-track betting laws, this went down in the only Missoula establishment that allows patrons to wager on the ponies in real time: Katie O'Keefe's. A crisp $20 slid into the magical machine somehow let someone at the Charles Town track in West Virginia know that a rube in Montana liked the sound of Patriot Lady in the ninth. Patriot Lady won. Rube made a couple bucks. Rube puts bucks back into the magical machine and the cycle continued. Meanwhile, rube's girlfriend rolled her eyes and probably started thinking about next month's rent.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALEX SAKIARASSEN
  • photo by Alex Sakiarassen

The excitement was akin to watching someone kick over a stone and discover a penny—nothing to write home about, but hey, free money. And I won't lie: It proved infectious. Half the room—OK, three people—wound up placing wagers. (Thanks for nothing, Western Showdown.)

What you're drinking: Whatever's cheap, or whatever the casino's drink wheel happens to give you a discount on on. Money is for the magical machine, remember?

Who you're drinking with: Folks at the bar and folks at Keno machines. The horserace room (yes, there's a separate horserace room) was vacant on the night in question, but given how contentious the county's decision to abandon live racing at the Missoula fairgrounds was, I'm betting that's not always the case.

Where to go: Katie O'Keefe's is tucked away in Stephens Center. It's one of those hidden gems locals like to keep hidden. So don't tell 'em we sent you.

Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, email editor@missoulanews.com.

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