Food & Culture
Best Happy Hours at Restaurants
For half-price wine lists, cheap cocktails and sublime dishes we’d happily pay twice as much to eat.
By Allison Austin Scheff and Sara Dickerman April 8, 2012
A puny dish of sodden calamari, a sad plate of flabby, lukewarm wings, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon—it’s the dreaded not-so-happy hour, wherein a restaurant offers you “bargains” like these if you get there early enough. That’s just not going to cut it.
Our mission: Discover the restaurants with the absolute best food served at happy hour. From half-price wine lists boasting prime bottles to sublime dishes we’d happily pay twice as much to eat, these are Seattle’s very best restaurants in which to sup early (or late). Cheers!
Bastille Café and Bar
Happy hours: Daily, 4:30–6 p.m.; Sun.–Thu., 10 p.m.–midnight
Go here for: Carefully prepared French bistro plates, wine that’s poured with a generous hand, and to soak up the bustling energy of the neighborhood’s stylish Parisian bistro.
Best bites: A plentiful bowl of excellent steamed mussels (shown right), scented with Rockridge cider, ginger and fennel pollen, served with perfectly crisp frites with house-made aioli for $8; delicious falafel with a garlic punch ($6); the outstanding croque monsieur ($6) loaded with ripe Comté cheese and blanketed with Mornay sauce; and Hood Canal Hama Hama oysters (Mon.–Wed., from 4:30 to 6 p.m. only) for $1!
Insider tip: The half-liters of wine ($10 for red or white) are the best bargain on Ballard Ave, and a rotating selection of beers are just $3.
Happy hours: Tue.–Sat., 5–6:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., late-night happy hour, 9–11 p.m.
Go here for: Low light and a jazzy, laid-back vibe, chef Melissa Nyffeler’s uncanny skill with hearty toasts.
Best bites: Dinette’s discounted menu is full of bready comfort food with ramped-up flavors: a warm soft pretzel with beery, cheesy rarebit dip ($5); warm garlic toast laden with lush mashed chickpeas and livened up with a peperonata relish ($6); or the heavenly salty-sweet combination of pink prosciutto and an aromatic fig-anchovy spread, shown left ($5)—all a buck or two off regular dinner prices.
Insider tip: Dinette makes an excellent Bloody Mary, velvety and spiky at the same time (happy-hour martinis are $6.50; well drinks and house wine are $4), while bargain hunters might settle on a $2.50 bottle of Tecate.
South Lake Union
Happy hours: Daily, 4:30–6:30 p.m.
Go here for: Bargain cocktails, seasonal antipasti and, on warmer evenings, a game of bocce ball on the patio (shown above).
Best bites: It’s hard to go wrong with the dozen small antipasti, which are just $5 each—imagine fried green tomatoes with aioli for dipping; little meatballs cooked all day long; prosciutto with arugula and apples. Or opt for one of the refreshing cocktails—perhaps a Cuoco iced tea with tea-infused vodka, Strega and lemonade ($5)—paired with an antipasto.
Insider tip: On Sundays, the restaurant serves a five-course, family-style menu for $30 per person; sides change seasonally, but you can expect handmade pasta, perhaps roasted prime rib to anchor the plate and something sweet to end the meal. Technically, it’s not happy hour, but we think it’s a fitting end to the weekend.
Happy hours: Mon.–Fri., 3–6 p.m.
Go here for: Rubbing elbows with other suits; hearty, rich food; and expert $6 cocktails—behold the full steakhouse experience at a fraction of the cost.
Best bites: If lobster salad on brioche doesn’t get you salivating, check your pulse. They’re $6 for two, and delicious. Also tasty: great tenderloin sliders ($6), expertly prepared drinks.
Insider tip: Ask for your martini to be made with anchovy-stuffed olives, then watch as the bartender makes them to order for your drink, at no extra charge.
Happy hours: Tue.–Fri., 5–6:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.–1 a.m.
Go here for: A secret clubhouse feel, caveman comforts mixed with urban sophistication, meaty platters made to share.
Best bites: At happy hour, the restaurant shaves $1–$2 off the prices on sharable appetizers such as a cheese plate; a scrumptious jar of smooth rabbit and chicken liver mousse with walnut toasts; or the house fromage de tête—a jellied pork terrine whose richness is adeptly cut with mustard-spiked pears. And the snap-crackle-pop delights of the restaurant’s signature salt-and-pepper pork rinds are $1 off, too. La Bête offers $2 off well cocktails, and 50 percent off beer and select wine as well. For late-night hours, the discounts are just for drinks.
Insider tip: The early shift is a good time to get a jump on the restaurant’s burgers (no longer exclusively served at happy hour), which are irresistibly sloppy, especially with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, bacon and Gruyère.
Happy hours: Sun.–Thurs., 5–7 p.m. and 9–10 p.m.
Go here for: Different delights for different happy hours, a spacious and conversational bar, a chance to taste new spices, fruits and herbs.
Best bites: For the early shift, the bar offers a bar-snack version of one of its seasonal thalis (sampler platters). The $5 plate might include delicious dips, freshly made flatbread, Sichuan pepper eggs and delicious fried mussels with lovage. At the late happy hour, $6 gets you the Naanwich, one of the most coveted sandwiches in town: herbaceous falafel or tandoori chicken nestled in a slipper of freshly baked flatbread alongside a crispy cabbage slaw.
Insider tip: During happy hours, Poppy offers several happy-hour cocktails for $6—a nifty $4 off the normal rate. It’s not just a deal, it’s a chance to discover a new flavor, such as the calamondin citrus, which was featured on one of the restaurant’s winter menus—a cross in flavor between tangerines and lime, made more delicious with rum, spice and ice.
Elliott’s Oyster House
Downtown Seattle waterfront
Happy hours: Monday-Friday, 3–6 p.m.
Go here for: Oysters, oysters and more oysters, of course! And $6 martinis.
Best bites: A couple of dozen (at least!) perfectly shucked, chef’s choice oysters, which start at $.75 each at 3 p.m., rise to $1.25 at 4 p.m., and are still a relative bargain at $1.75 each at 5 p.m. (Oysters usually cost between $2 and $3 a pop in restaurants around town.) Also tasty: tender fried oysters ($4 for three) and the oyster shooters, made with house-made Bloody Mary mix and pepper vodka ($3 each).
Insider tip: The house wines from California are a bargain at $4, but a gin martini ($6) makes a much better pairing. Or pony up for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc ($8), also an ideal pairing.
Happy hours: Daily, 4–6 p.m. and 11 p.m.–1 a.m.
Go here for: A backstage peep at this Capitol Hill margarita palace before the crowds rush in; great margaritas and tasty Mexi-snacks.
Best bites: Sopes—little corn boats filled with spicy stewed chicken tinga, shown left ($5), grilled pork tacos al pastor ($5) with a sweet kiss of pineapple and best of all, the house ceviche tostada ($5), served with avocado and as fresh and cold as the $5 margaritas with which you can wash them down.
Insider tip: Happy-hour bargains are not offered in the main dining areas (though they will make an exception if you have a minor in tow, or if the bar and patio are already full), so sit at the bar or wander around to the festive patio in the back.
Happy hours: Tue.–Sat., 5–6:30 p.m.
Go here for: A sense of happy-hour generosity, mellow Django-inspired music, home-style grace and discounted drinks, from bubbly to cocktails.
Best bites: A mere $2.50 gets you not just a gougère or two, but a whole basket of the French cheese puffs, still warm. A lush Spanish-style potato omelet, aka tortilla Española (shown left) ($3.50), is served in a fat wedge with a dollop of house-made aioli on the side. And this winter, the $5 chicken appetizer—made from the delicious nugget of meat known as a sot-l’y-laisse” (“a fool who leaves it”) was graced with chips and sweet, crunchy persimmon chutney. Drink prices range from $2 schooners of draft beer to a $6 sidecar or glass of sparkling wine.
Insider tip: Pair offers a rare Saturday happy hour. Oh, and that bowlful of crunchy bar snacks the bartender has slid your way, gratis? A delicious combination of salty roasted chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and fava beans.
Happy hours: Daily, 3–7 p.m.
Go here for: A long happy-hour window; an easygoing, mixed-use crowd (families, students and solo techies); an early dinner with knockout Vietnamese flavors.
What to order: Cucumber salad with shiso leaf and fried shallots ($3), a little puff pastry filled with pork and vegetable pâté ($4) and, best of all, seasonal seafood selections, such as a stack of halibut collars—crispy skinned, with supple flesh in a super-gingery, peppered sauce ($9). A limited collection of discounted cocktails, beers and wine, including $6 cocktails, such as a pretty Moscow Mule served in a copper cup.
Insider tip: You can never go wrong with pho at Ba Bar, the younger sibling of Monsoon. At happy hour, the redolent noodle soup is knocked down from $9 to $7.
Urban Enoteca CLOSED
Happy hours: Wed.–Fri., 4–6 p.m.
Go here for: A hidden (almost literally) gem of a modern/rustic luxe space (complete with roaring fireplace in the tasting-room lounge) and Washington wine and spirit tasting.
Best bites: Items in the “bites” section are half-price during happy hour, and one could make a meal alone from the candied bacon with pomegranate shown right ($3), superfresh, silken, house-marinated Italian Castelvetrano olives, served in a cute little glass with a spring lid ($3) and fingerling potatoes roasted in duck fat with aioli ($4). Glasses of selected wines, $6. Happy hour is mostly food; drink specials are typically wine.
Insider tip: A mixed-use restaurant, tasting room and event space, the bar recently received its liquor license and serves a large selection of local spirits.
Happy hours: Daily, 5–6:30 p.m.
Go here for: A fun, festive group of regulars munching really cheap (and tasty) food.
Best bites: The menu changes fairly often, but that just makes happy hour here more fun. The kitchen at Betty is tight, and the food—pork tacos with sensational mole, bowls of fresh, steamed clams—is always good. The best part: Everything’s just $4. Well, except for the great fries ($3) and the oysters ($1.50 each). Wines by the glass, usually $8–$9, are $6 during happy hour.
Insider tip: We’ve tried ’em all, and Betty makes the best rib-eye steak frites in town, really! So if you’re in the mood to spend a little more ($26), don’t hesitate.
Happy hours: Daily, 5–7 p.m. and 10 p.m.–close
Go here for: A happy hour that’s as chic and sophisticated as the main event; bright-eyed service, yummy cheap wine.
Best bites: Some happy hours feel like they’re done on autopilot, but not here. The menu, like everything at the restaurant, changes with the season, but $3 might buy a glass of cherry-bright Sicilian wine and a crackling house-made flatbread slathered with a rich cauliflower-sesame spread. Five dollars could produce a grappa (shown left)sour capped with a bitters-dabbed orange slice, or a rotating seasonal salad.
Insider tip: The “happy” wines are cheap and good, and if you’re in the mood to linger longer, the restaurant lops $5 off any wine bottle during its happy hour.
Happy hours: Tue.–Sat., 3–6 p.m.; and “last hour”: Tue.–Thu., 9:45–10:45 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 10:45–11:45 p.m.
Go here for: Wine and cheese, preferably on the porch.
Best bites: The cheese selection and presentation at this charmer of a wine bar is exceptional. Not only will you be introduced to small cheese producers from Europe and the states, the cheeses are handled with exceptional care (none of that freezing cold cheese, presliced, and served shivering on a plate). During happy hour, three cheeses arrive with toast, pickles and other fun accompaniments for $10; cask wines are $5 per glass.
Insider tip: In the fairer months, there’s nothing finer than stopping by for a nightcap (there’s a limited selection of sherry and port) under the stars (and the heat lamps!). A little cheese and wine to stretch an evening can be a fine thing, indeed.
The Blue Glass
Happy hours: Mon.–Sat.,4:30–6 p.m.
Go here for: A grown-up, laid-back neighborhood restaurant with global twists on comfort food.
Best bites: The pickled egg shown above ($1.50)—a modern take on the old-time bar grub staple—is a rainbow of pink, purple and yellow on a plate when cut into quarters. Pulled-pork mole verde tacos ($3), the mound of gooey poutine, with chicken gravy and shredded fresh mozzarella cheese ($6) and chicken wings glazed in a pomegranate gastrique ($5) do a good job of soaking up the $5 glasses of wine or the $5.50 Luna Azul margarita, made from scratch.
Insider tip: Stay for dinner. We always do for the grown-up version of the corn dog—a lightly breaded, delicate wild boar sausage injected with hollandaise sauce and served with “tater tots”—pillows of heaven that are essentially fried potato gnocchi with bacon bits. Position yourself in über-friendly, burly-voiced bartender Nathan Reynold’s section to ensure great service.
Happy hours: Sun.–Thu., 3–11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 3–6 p.m. and 10–11 p.m.
Go here for: Oysters, an always lively scene and really good Vietnamese fare.
Best bites: On the $5 menu, we love the beef carpaccio with fried shrimp “cracklings” and herbs, and the addictive la lot (wild betel) leaf-wrapped flank steak. For $7, you can have the salt-and-pepper chicken wings or the pork belly with pickled shallots; $9 buys clay-pot clams with shrimp sausage. Hungry yet?
Insider tip: Happy-hour prices are applicable with drink purchase only, so take the opportunity to try the Sparkling Nightshade, bubbly with a touch of lime, a spot of gin and itty-bitty basil seeds that dance in the glass ($7).