Here's my confession for the week: I've lived in Seattle for 13 months, and I've never been to a happy hour. I've read plenty of happy hour menus, calculating how much money I might save if I could start my review meals at 5 p.m. And I've lived most of my adult life in states that don't allow promotional liquor discounts - as a restaurant server in North Carolina, we were coached to tell tourists who asked about drink specials that "all our drinks are special" - so I find the phenomenon fascinating. But I haven't yet had an opportunity to bolt from the office before prices shoot up, so I'm uniquely unqualified to assess the city's happy hour scene.
Fortunately, I work with folks who are more motivated to start their drinking sessions in a timely fashion. While Voracious contributors have helped shape all of our top ten lists in this series, this is the first list that belongs entirely to them. I'm looking forward to checking out their suggestions.
While the authorship of this list is peculiar, its arrangement follows the usual drill: The runners-up are randomly ordered, and Erin Thompson did the heavy lifting. Cheers.
10. Zig Zag Cafe
This favorite downtown watering hole on the Pike Street stair climb has never lacked customers. But the less flashy pleasures of an early arrival (5-7 p.m.) are cheap, tasty treats like the olive, almond, and hummus platter ($4). The sautéed calamari ($7) arrives in a neat little pyramid of lemon tomatoes and capers and is neither too briny nor too chewy. It washes down well with an Imperial IPA ($2.75), or whatever other beer is being featured that night. If you step up to the mini-pizza ($8), you should sample the deep wine list ($4 a glass). Most people come for the legendary cocktails (all $4 off), some of which are lit aflame in pyrotechnic displays at the bar.
9. Ivar's Salmon House
Ivar's Salmon House has one of the best outdoor patios in the city. Sitting at the north end of Lake Union, you watch kayakers and sailboats traversing the lake before a striking view of Seattle's downtown. The whole experience is more casual than the harried pace at Ivar's downtown location. But as you enjoy a spring sunset, you suddenly think: "I need to get in another order of fish 'n' chips before happy hour ends!" Relax, because no, you don't. Ivar's doesn't boast the cheapest happy hour in the city, but it has one of the longest: 3:30 p.m. to close every day of the week. And while $4 draft beers aren't exactly a screamin' deal, the price won't go up, so you can have your leisurely fill.
8. La Isla
La Isla doesn't try to compete with the culinary powerhouses nearby, nor the hip new bars known for their specialty cocktail programs. Rather, it's the place to go for rotating seasonal beers, rums, and some of the cheapest happy-hour food this side of the Ballard Bridge. Every day from 3-6 p.m, La Isla's bar offers half-off all appetizers and discounts on drafts and bottled beers. Add to that $4 mojitos and $3 Cuba Libres during late-night happy hour (10 p.m.-midnight), and you've really got yourself a beach party. The appetizer list is a long one, but sure bets include the pez gato sliders ($2.99), camarones ($5.49), and pork empanadillas ($2). The cheap and greasy food at La Isla will be your new best friend when your island state of mind becomes clouded by one too many Dark 'n' Stormies.
7. Pies & Pints
The name says it all: This is a place to sate two of man's basest urges, for fine brews and for heavenly, puff-pastry-encased pot pies. The early happy hour (4-6 p.m.) features $1 off drafts from their nine rotating tap handles, and the later version (10:30 p.m.-close) boasts $1 off wells and $2 PBR. But more important, both make available a uniquely delicious twist on fillings for the homemade dough, including mini-Reubens and spinach feta rolls. And best of all, those same windows offer patrons the option of any pie-and-pint combo for just $9.
22 continues to hold down the title for darkest, loungiest bar on 15th Avenue at night. It's good for cocktails and fine dining with bird-like portions, which serves a discriminate muncher well during happy hour. By day, you can take advantage of its cozy patio to savor reasonable drink specials: draft beers are $1 off, well drinks are $4, and the best bargain is their fine wine glasses for $4, roughly half of the usual price. The "naked" Chicken Wings ($6.50) are exceptional--perfectly fried with creme fraiche and their house hot sauce--and the mini burgers ($5) are a popular compliment to a beer. But above all, it's the truffle fries ($5), shoestring-style and generously drizzled with the oil of the most decadent fungi, that are the best offering for taste, price, and ability to properly accompany alcohol.
Back in the day, there was a narrow bar-cum-restaurant on First and Virginia called The Virginia Inn. This bar sold good drinks and delicious yet minimal food, and turned up the house beats and fuzzed-up guitars just enough to pump a little extra life into the after-work situation called happy hour. Then they closed for remodeling, and the new Virginia Inn that emerged was just like its neighbors: a classy restaurant with an above-average bar. The Diller Room brings that old-school Virginia Inn vibe to the block at First and SAM. Pair up their bacon and gorgonzola salad with a glass of Bombay and a plate of salami to share (all $5 from 4:30-7, M-F). If meat and gin aren't your speed, the Grey Goose martinis and Beecher's cheese plate (again, both $5) are where you live.
Via Tribunali offers one of the best happy-hour deals to be found: $5 cracker-crust Neapolitan pizzas and $3 Peronis. If two of you are meeting at this sleek, dark-wood bar tucked behind All City Coffee, you'll be tempted to order two of each, or perhaps share a half-liter of wine ($8 for house red or white, both of which are more than passable). Call it an Italian take on beers and pie, with the requisite singed-crust entrée a fraction of the usual $11-$16 per-pie price. The choices are minimal: salame (i.e. pepperoni, by Salumi), marinara, margherita (with basil), and--perhaps the tastiest--anchovy, dotted with salty fish you'll pluck off to pop straight into your mouth. The mozzarella is fresh, the tomato sauce made from sweet imported San Marzano fruit. If you can get yourself to a barstool between 4 and 6 p.m. any day of the week (or later, from 10 p.m.-close), the deal is yours.
Sazerac is the Southern-themed bar and restaurant next to the über-trendy Hotel Monaco. Its celebrity sightings have included Adam Lambert, Fergie, and Sean Penn in an intense discussion with Eddie Vedder. But it's the Monday-Saturday happy hour, not the potential for A-list encounters, that draws so many downtown drinkers after work. The house wine and beer list drops to $3. Chow priced at $4 and under includes gussied-up comfort food like mini pulled-pork sandwiches and sweet-potato fries with sea salt.
2. The Hi-Life
Once home to Seattle's finest fire fighters, the Ballard Firehouse revamped into a lovely little restaurant by the name of The Hi-Life in '05. Come by on a weekday and your odds are pretty good it's gonna be happy hour, since the specials appear twice each weekday and from 5-10 p.m.on Tuesdays. That gives you plenty of opportunity to indulge in their $3 wood-fired pizzas, cubanitos, mac-n-cheese, salads, and more. Wash it down with a cool draft beer, well drink or house wine, all just a measly $3 during happy hour, and you could walk away with a full-on buzz to complement your full tummy and wallet.
Don't let its location atop City Center put you off: Palomino looks upscale, but its happy hour (3 p.m.-close, daily) is a splendid steal. The house-wine and draft-beer selections drop down to $4, specialty cocktails like cranberry mojitos and pomegranate martinis hit $5, and appetizers run $8 and under, including Dungeness crab-artichoke dip, potatoes gorgonzola, and gourmet pizzas loaded with prosciutto, rotisserie chicken, and mushrooms. All told, your evening will feel far more lavish than your check indicates.
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