Happiest Hour 

Best Bet Casino

Ambiance: Three Dog Night's "One is the Loneliest Number" plays on the radio inside the dimly lit Brooks Street casino. A college football game flickers on two televisions that hang above roughly a dozen blinking poker and keno machines. Pictures of cowboys and their horses hang on the walls.

What you're doing: Playing poker with a handful of regulars. This game is among the only ones in town where people call in sick when they can't make it, according to Best Bet owner Sandy Jones. On a recent afternoon, Jones presides over the game from inside a cozy room off to the side of the main casino. It's a low-stakes game and, Jones says, a wholesome one. "I probably have the only poker game in town that has a cuss jar," she says. "If they use the F-bomb, it's a buck."

Who you're playing with: Don "the Colonel" Manning, who, at 79-years-old, is the old-timer at the table today. He plays alongside a few other men. Manning calls the daily games more of a social event rather than a cutthroat competition. "Even women play," he adds.

What you're eating: Not your typical casino fare. The Best Bet offers family-style meals that jibe with Jones' wholesome attitude. This afternoon the menu includes minestrone simmering in a crock pot next to a bowl of miniature candies and a plate of banana bread. Meals are free to gamblers. This evening, they're having spaghetti for dinner. Saturday night is pizza night.

What you're drinking: Beverages are also free for gamers. Jones concedes that Best Bet's alcohol selection, featuring box wine and Blue Moon, Bud or Miller Light, isn't the most diverse. But Best Bet isn't really a hard-drinking bar, she says. "Pepsi is the drink of choice around here."

How to find it: 3620 Brooks St., at the corner of Dore Lane.

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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