Happiest Hour 

The Oxford Saloon

Who you're drinking with: On a recent Friday morning, bearded men wearing tractor caps and jean jackets and middle-aged ladies with dyed hair. These are the regulars. Ox clientele, however, run the gauntlet. Homeless people hang out here. 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 and black and white photos of 19th century Missoula line the walls. Bundled up men huddle outside puffing cigarettes. From the jukebox, Highway 101 croons "Whiskey, If You Were a Woman." The place reeks of fried food, dirty clothes and history. Regulars lean on the original Oxford bar, installed in 1883 when the saloon first opened a block away. The Ox relocated to its current digs in the early '50s. 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 bartender Geoffrey Price.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JESSICA MAYRER

What you're doing: The bar hosts live poker games nightly at 8 p.m., continuing until the table clears out. The longest poker game in recent history ran more than 39 hours. Fighting under the influence is another Ox pastime. 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 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 editor@missoulanews.com.

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