Very Happy Hour

What better way to kick off the weekend than by dangling upside down while a barmaid pours a kamikaze shot down your throat?

How about standing before a chanting crowd, while your significant other pushes a lime through one pants hole and out the other without the use of his or her hands?

All in a typical Friday at Baja Tilly's Cantina in Tempe. These people take happy hour seriously, laughing the workweek away as DJ Jerry Rascon keeps spirits high through a series of "adult games" and raffles in between sets of cumbia, hip-hop, funk and Tejano.

"I'll do anything to keep up a good atmosphere," Rascon says, walking around the bar, handing out raffle tickets and searching for contestants to participate in yet another "adult game."

The mood is so festive by 6:45 p.m. that eight couples are cavorting on the dance floor.

Rascon's goal is to keep that mood going after happy hour until house band Str8up takes the stage at 9 p.m. He will then alternate with the band throughout the evening.

And many regulars will stay 'til the bar shuts down at 1 a.m.

The crowd is predominantly Latino, ranging from twentysomething singles looking for a love connection to married grandparents who've been partying at "Tilly's" for years.

Billing itself as "Arizona's original Latino nightclub," Baja Tilly's even boasts its own celebrity.

Dina Lopez, 21, one of three female singers for Str8up, made it to the final 57 contestants on American Idol earlier this year, a fact the regulars never fail to slip into a conversation.

"I get so much love here, it's like playing at my cousin's wedding," Lopez says after a spirited song in which she danced through the crowd with a cordless microphone.

"It's like a big, Mexican family."

The crowd may be brown, but everybody is welcome, regardless of race or ethnicity.

"This is my first time here and I feel right at home," says Robbie Allison, a twentysomething white guy who could play John Ritter in a movie. "There's no bad karma here."

After all, there is no better welcome wagon than the "marlin," the device in which they strap your ankles and hang you upside down like a game fish while pouring a shot of kamikaze in your mouth.

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Carlos Miller