At Joe's Cellar, a morning happy hour and drinks named for customers keep 'em coming back

Want a meatball?' asks the waitress in the lounge at Joe's Cellar, where happy hour is in full swing. This is the second time she's passed through the large, dark room, and each time she's met with appreciative takers of the substantial orbs.

'You should try one of these,' says Jeff Johnstone, a boat builder and regular at the lounge, reaching for a meatball. 'Sometimes they give out chicken wings, but these are the best. Steve takes them home to his dogs.' He lifts his chin in the direction of Steve Andersen, a fellow regular who has indeed collected the meatballs on several small paper plates that sit on an adjacent table.

'They use good meat; my dogs love 'em,' Andersen says between turns on a video golf game that requires the violent spin of a track ball to tee off.

The bartender, sensing Andersen's commitment to the game's virtual athleticism, places his fresh drink a safe distance away.

'This is 'The Steve,'' she says. 'At least that's what we're calling it tonight.'

'It's Crater Lake vodka, mixed with O.J. and a splash of cranberry juice, for $4.25,' explains Andersen, whose friends are content with drinks named after other people Ñ like Bud.

Happy hour at Joe's Cellar happens each morning from 7 to 10, and is meant to accommodate night-shift workers, such as cabbies and those employed in the neighboring Northwest industrial area.

'We get our standbys in the morning, when it's a dollar off drinks,' says Pam Dunham, the business's bookkeeper. She notes that most of the morning drinkers prefer straight liquor as opposed to the after-5 group, which prefers beer and 'frou-frou' drinks while they shoot pool at one of the lounge's three tables.

'We get a wide variety of people here, but we're really more of a blue-collar bar than anything else,' says Dunham, nursing a post-work drink. 'It's also a place where you can't be an outsider for long. People are really friendly here.'

Bill Hatner, who has owned Joe's Cellar for the last eight years, says that has been the case for as long as he can remember.

'We're like one big family here, and we've also got the best food. You go have a steak over there, and then come have one over here,' he says, gesturing past the wall of video poker games and in the direction of Wildwood, the upscale restaurant about 50 yards away. 'The one you get here will be better and cheaper.'

This statement is met with nods of agreement from Johnstone, Andersen and their happy hour compatriots, for whom Joe's Cellar appears to be the proverbial home away from home.

'I live more than half an hour away from here,' Johnstone says. 'Why would I come all this way if it wasn't the best damn bar in town?

'Just recently Bill asked us, 'What are you boys doin' for the Super Bowl?' When we told him we were watching it at home, he said, 'No, watch it here.' So we did. We brought in a couch and recliners, cooked up 20 pounds of pork ribs in the kitchen and watched the game right here on the big screen. Then after the game we auctioned off the furniture.'

Hatner laughs and shakes his head at the men's antics. 'You could have at least eaten off the menu,' he says.

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