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Happy Hour Scene: Nick's Place

Certain bars have this game -- a machine, really -- that has a mechanical arm with a punching bag on the end, and when a person puts in money, the bag swings down, waiting to be belted. Usually it's a group of three of four guys playing, standing around the machine, and after one of them hits the bag, they all yell and wait to see the score.

That's what was going on the last time we were at Nick's Place, the "Italian Sports Bar and Pizzeria" on Westheimer between Fondren and Gessner roads. Some guys were punching away behind our table, causing our waiter to shake his head. "I've seen a few guys get [a score of] 900," he said. "But that's usually with a running start."

The waiter told us that along with a motorcycle accident, his years of riding bulls had left his shoulders damaged and weak. Still, he said, "I can get an 800 standing flat-footed."

The sound of another punch rang out behind us, causing our waiter to walk over to the group and say something in a very elegant fashion. Then he tried to jump-kick the bag.

The whole experience left us so enamored with Nick's that even though that last visit was late at night, the bar seemed like the perfect place for a drink when we were itching for a happy hour far away from downtown.

Unfortunately, the happy hour at Nick's goes from 5 to 7 p.m., so unless you live near the bar or get off work at 4 o'clock, you probably won't get much of the $3 well drinks and calls that are $.50 cheaper than normal. Nick's also has all-day specials, but those prices aren't that great, either. On Tuesdays, for example, it's $2.50 for Natural Light, Pabst Blue Ribbon and 16-ounce Lone Star. Mondays bring $15.60 buckets of beer.

By the time we got there Wednesday night -- that day's special is $3 Italian beers -- the place was dead, with about half a dozen people drinking at the bar and a few groups eating at tables. Waiters told us that once March Madness fires up, Nick's will stay packed, and during UFC fights, a waiter added, it's standing room only. But on Wednesday, we were watching woman's tennis.

Other than that match between Gisela Dulko and Ana Ivanovic, which we'd happily take over any UFC fight, the draw for the night was the $6.99 all-you-can-eat spaghetti and meat sauce. (There's a different all-you-can-eat special at Nick's each weeknight.) After our order of spaghetti arrived, we asked our waiter if anyone ever finishes more than one plate, and he said that two is common but three is for a select few. His personal best, he added, was four plates in one day.

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Then he told us about the Thursday-night special: all-you-can-eat macaroni and cheese for $5.99. It's called the Penn St. Mac & Cheese, named after a dish that Nick's owner had at a bar during a trip to that school's campus in Pennsylvania. The hook is that you can add any topping you want, and the waiter, for instance, loves his with jalapenos and chili.

"It's enough to make you want to take a walk with a bong," he said as he walked off. We didn't see him again for awhile.

Our spaghetti limit turned out to be one plate, and by the time we finished and had a few more beers, Nick's was starting to fill up with the late-night crowd. Tennis was still on the television, and a waiter danced with a woman in the middle of the restaurant while the theme to The Godfather drifted from the speakers.

Another satisfying visit to Nick's.

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