If Wall Street hadn’t collapsed, happy hour may never have exploded the way it has. All these bars and eateries wouldn’t have needed our business so bad.
As it is, suddenly I can afford to go to Mr. A’s. Suddenly, I’m getting a free buffet at the 94th Aero Squadron. At Candelas Coronado I can get a totally scrumptious four-cheese soup for $4.50.
Talk about silver linings!
Plus HH creates an atmosphere of generosity. Each side’s getting a deal. Good feelings all round.
What if happy hour brought world peace? Seriously, after a $1 Stone Pale Ale today at First Bar downtown, I felt pretty peaceful.
Here are some favorites.
2540 Congress Street, Old Town
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
25Forty Bistro and Bakehouse
Happy hour: 3–6:30pm, daily
A chic black-and-white place that’s the opposite of all the florid Mexican places of Old Town, and being on Congress, not Tourist-Trap San Diego Avenue, you’ve got to want to come here. But there’s incentive in the banner slung right in front. “Happy Hour: Fifty percent off all drinks and listed food items.” You can eat outside by the fire pit or inside by the chalkboard map of the world.
And here’s where you know you’re dealing with an interesting guy. The map shows where all of the house wines come from. It has places like Mauritania, Morocco. The guy has African wines!
Things you can have on happy hour include items like kale (with sugar-coated cashews, raisins and soy) for $10. So that’d be $5. Bratwurst plate, $4; pissaladière, $2; and hey, bangers and mash with gravy and onions for $5. And a glass of house wine, $3.50. Wow. Such a deal. And all so beautifully presented. Black cloth napkins, heavy modern cutlery. I got in and out for $8.50 plus tax for an interesting bangers and mash plate plus a glass of wine. That’s insane. But beautiful. And interesting fusion stuff. The chef-owner, Mark Pelliccia lived in Italy, been through Europe, Japan, Mexico, so his concoctions are super-interesting. Even the $4 ones.
Happy hour: 4–6pm, daily
We’re talking one of those places you either know or you don’t. The Corner is upstairs in the old Carnation Milk Factory, down by the ballpark. Hip, dark, with lots of cozy corners, and a pretty cool bar scene. Two brothers, Davin and Cooper, used to live in the co-op here. Famous for their parties. After it sold, and Cooper had lived in Miami for a while, they started this up. Miami comes through in things like the pulled pork burger. Nights, it gets crazy with the condoïsta social-media crowd.
Deals are in the small bites. During happy hour they’re all $2 off. So, four mini corn dogs sell for $2.50. Eight chicken wings go for $5.95. Cheddar sliders with fries will be $8.50. It’s the same price for those Cuban-inspired pulled pork siders, three of them with fries.
So not the cheapest deal in town, but still cheap enough to keep you on your stool listening to the latest digital buzz. This is a yuppy hang-out so expect full prices for burgers and sandwiches up in the $10–$12 range.
But remember, even if you miss happy hour, and if all else fails, you can always get a half-order of mac and cheese for $4.75.
1041 Fourth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Happy hour: 3–6pm, Sunday–Thursday
Urban India is a big barn of a place near the U.S. Grant. Inside has Indian art, Buddha heads, modern Indian pop music, and big screen TVs showing sports. Mostly, uh, cricket. “We’re the next generation Indians,” says Jappreet Singh. He’s Sikh, wearing a black turban. He’s 30. “We’re more chill. I mean, come on: When have you seen an Indian sports bar before?”
Their motto? “Keep Calm and Curry On.”
So, to get customers in, they’ve got a pretty rad HH. Samosas (the 3-cornered stuffed fried pastries) are $2, tandoori chicken’s $5. Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower) runs to $5, veg pakora (“fried veggies”) is $3, and onion bhaji (also fried) is $3. With mint and tamarind chutneys.
Plus, draft beers are $2 for Bud and Stella. Pints of Stone IPA and Ballast Point Pale Ale are $3.50. Kingfisher lager, India’s most popular, is $3.
What food to ask for if you have a little more? No contest: the chicken tikka, worth it at $7.50. Surinder the chef (and Jappreet’s business partner) brings it spitting and hopping on a black iron platter. It’s red chunks of chicken, onions, cucumber slices, green peppers, and lemons, appearing through a herby-garlicky-smelling smoke.
1201 First Street #115, Coronado
Happy hour: 11am–11pm, daily
Most folks come here for the view. The harbor, the city, the ships sliding by. Me: for a pretty incredible happy hour. It’s not just the longest, it has some beautiful dishes for half the menu prices.
The price you pay for going happy hour is sitting in the back, not the front with the best harbor views.
Small price. The Mexico City–style tacos they’re famous for usually go $15 for two (ribeye.) HH price is $7.50. For the grilled shrimp tacos (usually $18), it’s $9. Swiss enchiladas, nachos, and quesadilla dishes each go for $7. Veracruz salad’s $5.25.
But for my money, ya gotta go for the Crema de Cuatro Quesos al Chile Pasilla. Four-cheese soup. HH price: $4.50. OMG — this is one of the most scrumbulicious soups I’ve ever had. Creamy orange color with a sautéed prawn rising out of an island of cheesy mash in the middle. Its head is covered in straws of shredded fried sweet potato.
It’s luscious and filling. And the good news is, with a happy hour this long, there’s no rush. Reckon on $4.50 for a glass of vino. Only thing: don’t go off HH menu. Front row customers pay big on the regular menu for their view.
9415 Avenida Paseo de Los Héroes, Zona Rio, Baja
Happy Hour: 5–7pm, daily
Sótano Suizo is hidden in a warren of ex-bars near the independence monument — Las Tijeras (“the scissors”). Most of them have moved to Calle Sexta, at Sixth and Revolución. But Sótano Suizo — “Swiss Cellar” — is always crowded, even after 25 years.
More from the Happy Hour issue: Not just drinking on the mind | That transcendental space between drinking too early and drinking too much