When it comes to hockey, I’ve always found that when I can’t get to the First Niagara Center to catch a game, the next best place is a sports bar where I can groan over bad calls by the refs, heckle the opposing team and celebrate each Sabres goal with fellow fans.

That camaraderie can be found in Mitchell’s Tavern on Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda. My fiancé, Patrick, and I visited on a recent Thursday night and found the parking lot crowded as patrons were settling in for the first period of a Sabres-Bruins matchup. It was a bit frustrating to be greeted by loud rap music from the jukebox instead of the play-by-play of Rick Jeanneret over the speakers, but after a few moments of hoping that this was just someone’s last dollar being played, the clanking of sticks hitting the ice finally replaced the music.

Patrons ranged in age from 20-somethings playing darts to older gentlemen conversing in the nearby dining area. In true Buffalo fashion, several younger men paired shorts with their jerseys despite the snow and freezing temperatures. Most revelers split their attention between their companions and the game, but everyone cheered as the bartender tolled a loud bell each time the Sabres scored.

The lounge area was cozy, with room for about a dozen patrons at the bar and a handful of tables lining the wall for another dozen or so patrons to fit comfortably while watching three flat-screens over the bar. A separate dining area holds 12 more tables and two televisions as well as a pool table. Hockey, baseball and other sports memorabilia cover the walls, including a framed, autographed Dominik Hasek jersey. A glance around and it’s clear you’re in Sabres and Yankees country.

The drink prices were great. Patrick was impressed to find free popcorn and Flying Bison Rusty Chain for $3.75 a pint, and I enjoyed my regular well drink of vodka cran for $2.50. Daily specials include $2 pints of select beers and 45 cent wings during Sabres games, two-for-one bottle nights and ladies night each Saturday. Other beers on tap include Labatt Blue, Blue Light, Sam Adams seasonal and Stella Artois.

What was even more eye-catching was the liquor that was seemingly on tap. Jameson, Crown Royal and Jack Daniel’s bottles were all tipped upside-down with their own spouts. This made pouring efficient, allowing the lone bartender to move her way down the line quickly. As the evening progressed, the bartender was serving about 30 people at once with little extra help. No waitress was available in the dining area, so one employee was working the bar, taking orders, delivering checks and busing tables. This is typical for slower days and evenings, and it’s not uncommon to see diners squeeze between stools to place their food orders at the bar.

The real estate given to sports memorabilia and televisions shouts “sports bar,” yet Mitchell’s is not open on Sundays, not even during Bills season. This was disappointing, but it isn’t enough of a deterrent to making this a regular spot to catch other games. Mitchell’s is an affordable, quaint neighborhood hangout that makes newcomers feel welcome.

Mitchell’s Tavern

Where: 734 Sheridan Drive, Town of Tonawanda (874-8907,

Hours: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. Saturday.

Dress: Casual, sports attire.

Prices: Pints of beer are under $4, well drinks are under $3 with $2 drink specials during Sabres games. Food includes roast beef and other American favorites for under $10); seafood $10-$16.

Parking: Large lot next to building.