Ellen Gray | Flannery happy to have a job at the 'Office'

YOU COULD SAY that fame has turned the tables on Kate Flannery.

Not so long ago, the Philly-born actress wouldn't quit her waitressing job until NBC picked up "The Office" for a second season.

"My boss said to me on my last day, 'We were going to get you a cake, but you'll be back,' " Flannery recalled during a recent NBC party in Pasadena, Calif., hours after learning the show had already been picked up for a fourth season.

"I've had a lot of almosts in my career," she said.

"The Office," though, isn't one of them, and so on the afternoon of this month's Golden Globes, before heading off to the show, Flannery, who plays the "Office" lush, Meredith, returned to her old restaurant - as a customer.

"We used to have to keep track of all the stars in the book, because publicists would call to find out who was in the restaurant," she said. "And they put me in the book!"

They also "write down what you eat, so you have to be careful. If you want to order, like, the butterscotch sundae and a side of fries," people will know.

Still, "there's no such thing as bad press, right?"

She's learning.

Flannery is currently writing an "Office" blog for TVGuide.com ("Depending on how late I get to it - because there's a deadline, of course - sometimes I sound a little drunk").

And these days, with Hollywood rolling out the red carpet for the "Office" gang everywhere from the Emmys to the SAG Awards - where the show won Sunday for best comedy ensemble - the Archbishop Carroll and University of the Arts grad is also getting a crash course in Awards Shows 101.

Last year, the ex-waitress was on the hook for her own Golden Globes gown.

"I actually bought a $15 dress, because we found out two days before [that she'd be going]. Vintage dress. Fifteen. One-five. And everybody kept saying, 'What a beautiful dress,' and I kept saying, 'Fifteen bucks!' I couldn't stop saying it," Flannery said.

By the Emmys, she'd been promoted to a borrowed Sue Wong gown and Harry Winston diamonds.

But the big guns came out at this month's Globes, where the Platinum Guild was lending jewelry to the "Office" women.

"The drunk from 'The Office' got the million-dollar necklace!" said Flannery, still sounding amazed.

"I had a copper-colored dress and they said, 'I've got just the thing,' and put this thing around my neck. I had to sign my life away - I had to sleep with it," she said.

"The weirdest thing is that I didn't expect to get this amazing necklace, and my boyfriend and I, we went shopping for a refrigerator at Sears in Woodland Hills, and I had this million-dollar necklace in my bag," Flannery said. "If anyone knew, they'd conk me over the head."

(The necklace went back the next day.)

High-end jewelry's not the only evidence of Flannery's newfound fame.

Home in Philly for Christmas, Flannery ran into some "Office" fans in the lobby of the Four Seasons, where she was meeting an aunt.

"A wedding party got so excited that they were screaming, 'Meredith!' They called me over. I took pictures with the bridesmaids and the bride and groom. And the bride's name was Jenna, which freaked me out, because" of Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam on the show.

They weren't the only ones thrilled by the encounter.

"It's really exciting to me," too, Flannery said. "I'm not 20, and I get it - these things don't last forever. It's nice to enjoy it while it's here." *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.