2934 Adams Avenue, North Park
Happy Hour: Noon–6pm, Tuesday–Friday
Looking a little bit like it was pinched from the set of Lonesome Dove, the cantina has a happy hour so long it stretches through the afternoon like the vast expanse of a Mexican desert — noon–6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. That’s 25 percent of an entire day devoted to $5 margaritas and $6 taco plates made with good, smoky carne asada. The drinks are humble but delicious affairs, served on the rocks and made with good tequila. On nice days, the patio is perfect. Otherwise, sit inside and drink like a desperado.
1243 University Avenue, Hillcrest
Happy Hour: 4–7pm, Tuesday–Friday; 11am–4pm, Saturday–Sunday; Closed Mondays
Despite the fact that the service can get sloppy, Steals beats everybody else in town for accessibility and variety in wine. The have 30+ wines by the glass every day, and they sell so much of it that it doesn’t just sit around getting ruined by prolonged ullage. Happy hour (Tuesday through Friday, 4–7) is also pretty liberal, with $5 cask wine, half-priced food, $3 beers, and $2 off wines by the glass. Weekend happy hour is 11–4, and that means $5 pints of mimosa so you can get wrecked on OJ and bubbly, if that’s your thing. Because, hey, it’s the weekend!
3365 India Street, Mission Hills
Happy Hour: 2–7pm, daily
Whiskey is food. Fact. This is known to anyone who has ever spent a day (or two...or three) where naught but whiskey sustained him. And for the sake of whiskey as food, Aero Club has to be on this list. Over the past 65 years, this old school bar has been a favorite of pilots, bikers, truckers, and hipsters at one point or another. They have 600+ whiskeys behind the bar and enough patina and character to impress the stodgiest drinker who eschews posh, new watering holes that try to pass off interior design in place of history. The Aero Club has soul that only comes from decades upon decades of long nights beneath neon lights. And every day from 2-7 they offer $3 wells, $3 beers, and $4.50 call drinks.
1017 Rosecrans Street, Point Loma
(No longer in business.)
Red’s Espresso Eatery
Happy Hour: 3–6pm and 9–11pm, daily
Hands down one of the kookiest spots around, Red’s is so quirky you can’t help but love it. Their wine prices are already low, and two daily happy hours (3-6 early and 9-11 late night) slash $2 off the price of each glass. The munchable pork cracklins that come out of the kitchen are $4, and a new-ish bar menu has catfish or meatloaf sliders on it, 3 for $15. Point Loma isn’t exactly rife with low-key hangout spots, but Red’s is one of them.
1417 University Avenue, Hillcrest
Happy Hour: 5–7pm and 9:30pm–close, daily
This place is a great mix of upscale and, for lack of a better word, “conventional” sushi spots. Chef Akinori is a talented guy and his sushi creations approach brilliancy when he’s firing on all cylinders. That said, it’s not just a spot for smug sushi aficionados to geek out over bluefin toro, and you don’t have to spend $70 on an omakase menu to enjoy Aki’s menu. In fact, during “crazy happy hour” (every day from 5:30–7:00) sake, white wine, and edamame are just $1, California rolls are $4, and salmon sashimi is $7, among other deals. For the late-night happy hour (9:30–close), sake bombs start at $2, and an order of the ultimate Japanese bar snack takoyaki (octopus fritters) is $3.
More from the 2013 Happy Hour issue: Silver linings of a down economy | That transcendental space between drinking too early and drinking too much