The Seattle Steakhouse Happy-Hour Tour

Which downtown meat purveyor takes its specials most seriously?

Steakhouses with downtown locations are forced to reckon with Seattle's insistence on happy-hour pricing, no matter how much the phenomenon might befuddle the corporate team back in Orlando. That means carnivores can spend like paupers, but eat like kings.

Appetizers plastered with blue cheese and columnar tanks of vodka stocked with artfully arranged pineapple wedges are standard features of nearly every downtown Seattle steakhouse happy hour, as music editor Chris Kornelis and I discovered. But that doesn't mean all happy hours are the same.

In addition to providing the prices for well martinis and the best discount dishes, we rated each steakhouse on the criteria which matter most to the happy-hour crowd. Restaurants which made physical and conceptual room for bargain-seekers rated five out of five check marks on the "How seriously does the restaurant take happy hour?" scale. Restaurants which allowed us to luxuriate in opulent surroundings and gave us a sense of the service we might receive if we returned for Chateaubriand topped out on the "How rich do you feel at happy hour?" index, which runs from oil potentate (five dollar signs) down to working journalist (one). HANNA RASKIN

THE BROOKLYN

1212 Second Ave., 224-7000, thebrooklyn.com

Happy hours: 4–6 p.m. Sun.–Fri., 3–6 p.m. Sat.

Must-order dish: Oyster of the day, $1.50

House martini: Bombay gin, $6

How seriously the restaurant takes happy hour: √ √ √ √ √

How rich you feel at happy hour: $$$

In a phrase: Great for the occasional fill-up before the symphony.

Chris Kornelis: It should be said that cheap oysters and martinis are a solid happy-hour offering, and if they stopped there, we wouldn't have any complaints. If you're looking for an occasional venue—perhaps before taking in a show at Benaroya Hall next door—it's perfect. If you care more about food than drink when happy-houring, you'd better really like oysters.

Hanna Raskin: I really like oysters, so I won't belabor the chewy frog legs (which score points for protein creativity) or the balls of mush sold as crab tater tots. And since I have season tickets to the symphony, I refuse to risk getting banished from The Brooklyn for sharing my opinion of its godawful steak bites.

THE CAPITAL GRILLE

1301 Fourth Ave., 382-0900, thecapitalgrille.com

Happy hours: 3–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri.

Must-order dish: Cheeseburgers, $6

House martini: Martin Miller's gin, $6

How seriously the restaurant takes happy hour: √ √ √

How rich you feel at happy hour: $$

In a phrase: The Capital Grille talks the talk, but happy-hourites should walk the walk to another steakhouse.

HR: The Capital Grille's website prominently quotes a Boston Globe critic who wrote "We've never been happier in our lives" than when dining at the chain owned by Darden. Putting that poor guy's personal circumstances aside, I'd be more likely to agree with The Washington Post's assessment that the steakhouse appeals to "women who are at ease around men who blow a lot of smoke." The highfalutin shtick at Capital Grille amounts to a bunch of hot air. Our bartender painstakingly stuffed our martini olives with anchovies and cheese, which succeeded in making them taste terrible. Ooh-la-la lobster in a too-creamy salad was served on buns which hadn't spent enough time in the microwave to cover their freezer tracks.

CK: If Capital Grille's full-priced food tastes anything like this, then their cross-country expansion is as curious as the room's trying-too-hard taxidermy.

 

EL GAUCHO

2505 First Ave., 728-1337, elgaucho.com

Happy hours: 5–11 p.m. Sun.–Mon., 5–7 p.m. Tues.–Fri.

Must-order dish: Steak sandwich, $14

House martini: Seagram's gin, $10

How seriously the restaurant takes happy hour: √ √ √ √ √

How rich you feel at happy hour: $$$$$+

In a phrase: The best dinner-replacement happy hour in the city is also its most economical.

CK: I've been to more happy hours than I can count, and El Gaucho's is far and away the best in terms of giving diners the full experience of their restaurant at a price the rest of us can afford. I've seen McCormick's "suspend" happy hour for the evening when they used the bar as overflow for the dining room, whereas I recently saw El Gaucho's staff bring more tables and chairs to accommodate their happy-hour customers. While they don't have a happy-hour menu, there's a reduced-price bar menu, which means you're getting the same generously cut sirloin sandwich ($14) for half-price.

HR: I've eaten a real meal at El Gaucho and found the experience just plain odd. To me the room looks like a flimsy onscreen set for Ricky Ricardo's nightclub. But at happy hour you can laugh at it, as opposed to when you're paying $65 for a New York strip and everyone's laughing at you. I loved El Gaucho's happy hour, and would go back any Monday.

 

MCCORMICK & SCHMICK'S

1103 First Ave., 623-5500, mccormickandschmicks.com

Happy hours: Daily 3–6 p.m.; also 10 p.m.–midnight Mon.–Sat. & 9–11 p.m. Sun.

Must-order dish: Burger and fries, $3.95

House martini: McCormick's gin, $8.50

How seriously the restaurant takes happy hour: √ √

How rich you feel at happy hour: $

In a phrase: It'll do.

CK: The first place I ever had happy hour in Seattle is still the room to which I compare all the rest. But I'll never forgive them for ditching the $1.99 half-pound cheeseburger and steak fries, and its loss is likely why we encountered such a slim crowd. Now it's just another bar with kinda-cheap snacks and not-very-special drink specials. And what's with all the Sounders and Bud Lite signs? It used to feel halfway classy!

HR: McCormick & Schmick's was on the bubble when we drew up our list of downtown steakhouses, but made the cut because two last names and an ampersand are usually synonymous with decent red meat. The bar, however, feels more like a campus pub than a genteel urban steakhouse.

 

METROPOLITAN GRILL

820 Second Ave., 624-3287, metropolitangrill.com

Happy hours: 3–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri.

Must-order dish: Beef dip sandwiches au jus, $4

House martini: Beefeater gin, $9

How seriously the restaurant takes happy hour: √ √ √

How rich you feel at happy hour: $$$$

In a phrase: The venerable Met doesn't discount its drinks much during happy hour, but doesn't scrimp on food quality or service either.

HR: We had to ask for a bar menu when we visited The Met, since servers don't automatically assume every casually dressed patron in the restaurant's windowed streetside barroom is cruising for a happy-hour deal. But the steakhouse has a few marquee food deals for guests who ante up the cost of a drink (if you're a Manny's fan, pints are on special for $4—i.e., more in line with how that beer's priced at all hours at most other bars). The $6 bacon-wrapped tenderloin skewers, sitting sauced and pretty atop a heap of wavy fried onions, are clearly the product of a kitchen with highly trained cooks. Still, maybe it's my pro-horseradish bias, but I liked the tender beef sandwiches even more.

CK: My, um, beef with a lot of happy hours is the carb-heavy menus, so the bacon-wrapped tenderloin skewers really scratched me where I itch. And The Met offers three sliders for $4 compared to two for $6 at Ruth's Chris. I may have preferred Ruth's sliders, but for the money, I gotta go with The Met's.

 

MORTON'S THE STEAKHOUSE

1511 Sixth Ave., 223-0550, mortons.com

Happy hours: 4:45–6:30 p.m. Sun.–Fri.; also 9–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs. & 9–11 p.m. Fri.

Must-order dish: Petite filet-mignon sandwiches, $7

House martini: Gordon's gin, $8

How seriously the restaurant takes happy hour: √

How rich you feel at happy hour: $$

In a phrase: Housed in an underground bunker, Morton's has a dungeon feel, but captives probably get fed faster.

HR: Happy hour at Morton's has the makings of a great video game: Players would have to walk down stairs and through darkened corridors before securing a happy-hour menu from a bartender who seems not to have heard of the daily event. Everything about Morton's is weird, including the inexplicably long time it takes for the kitchen to fill an order for French fries with a splotch of blue cheese (30 minutes after we started counting.) The filet-mignon sandwiches on toasted sesame-seed buns are really good, though. The meat is beefy and the bread tastes fresh.

CK: The red carpet, valet, and solid, perpetually closed doors have always made this the most intimidating restaurant in town. Now I know it's just the most pretentious. Seriously, why does a place that views itself as the heir to some kind of steak-and-martini legacy carry Gordon's gin? Why did my presence at the bar feel like an imposition? And why was everyone whispering?

 

RUTH'S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE

727 Pine St., 624-8524, ruthschris.com

Happy hours: 4–6 p.m. Mon.–Sun.; also 9–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat. & 9–10 p.m. Sun.

Must-order dish: Prime-rib sliders, $6

House martini: Bombay gin, $5

How seriously the restaurant takes happy hour: √ √ √ √

How rich you feel at happy hour: $$$$

In a phrase: The perfect place to pre-funk before a show at the Paramount.

CK: The $6 prime-rib sliders are delicious, but a bit on the spendy side for happy hour (you only get two). But $5 martinis balance the affordability scale. They also don't skimp on service: The only time my table has been visited by a manager during happy hour was at Ruth's. I'm a sucker for joints that make their happy-hour customers feel as welcome as those paying full price.

HR: Ruth's Chris is located in the Grand Hyatt, and whether it's the adjoining hotel or the bar's proximity to the street, the room doesn't feel as much like a refuge as some of the more baronial steakhouses do. Cultivating nostalgia isn't high on Ruth's Chris' list. Instead, it's all about five-buck cocktails (including a Jim Beam Manhattan) and good service. Not a bad choice if you're at that end of downtown.

 

SULLIVAN'S STEAKHOUSE

621 Union St., 494-4442, sullivanssteakhouse.com

Happy hours: Daily 10 p.m.–close; also 3–7 p.m. Mon.–Wed. & Fri., 3 p.m.–close Thurs.

Must-order dish: Blue-cheese chips, $5

House martini: "The Knockout," $6 on Thursdays

How seriously the restaurant takes happy hour: √ √ √ √ √

How rich you feel at happy hour: $$$

In a phrase: If you need a piano player and servers in fishnet tights to get you in the happy-hour mood, you need Sullivan's.

HR: "Everyone in town knows you come to Sullivan's on Thursdays," the restaurant's general manager, Ann Thibert, told me, and the crowd we encountered confirmed she wasn't kidding. While other steakhouse bars are scarily quiet at 5 p.m., that hour finds Sullivan's pianist banging out tunes from the American songbook and a platoon of long-legged, black-clad servers gearing up for the week's biggest night. "Seattle is a very happy-hour place, so we adapt to our local market," Thibert explains. But Sullivan's also provides a brilliant introduction to national steakhouse trends: Its signature martini is made with pineapple-infused vodka and its discounted apps come draped in blue cheese.

CK: Anytime I have to ask for a bar's happy-hour offering, I feel like I'm asking for a favor. The waitress here made it seem like I was asking for a kidney. I had to pry the drink specials out of her. It turned out she had a more important job than attending to customers' needs, though.

HR: Right. After we placed our order, she hopped to squeezing vodka out of pineapple chunks. Pomp-wise, that's the modern steakhouse equivalent of rolling out a butcher cart, which works out well since we're slaves to fancy. Cheers.

hraskin@seattleweekly.com ckornelis@seattleweekly.com

 
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