I’m always in search of a snack or a meal.
I almost never go out with only drinking on the mind. If you ask me to happy hour, I’m going to ask, “Is there food?” As I see it, the two are, if not inextricable, at the very least perfectly complementary. Alone, each is great. Together, they are more than the sum of their parts. The only thing better than a cold beer, stiff drink, or a glass of wine is one of those things sitting next to a plate of food while the rest of the night looms large on the horizon. Curb your hunger and kickstart your evening at any of the following.
3993 30th Street, North Park
Happy Hour: 2:23pm–6:19pm, daily
Despite the fact that televised nitwit Guy Fieri sullied Tioli’s Crazee Burger with his spike-haired, loudmouth presence, the North Park (and Old Town) burger dive has one of the smashingest happy hours around. $2.99 draft beers, $3.99 glasses of wine, $3.99 turkey burgers, and $2.99 Angus burgers from 3–6 p.m. every day. If the HH burgers don’t appeal, go crazy with antelope, alligator, wild boar, and other exotic meats in patty form.
570 K Street, Downtown San Diego
Donovan’s Steak and Chop House
Happy Hour: 4–6pm, daily
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can’t afford Donovan’s. Most of us can’t. But it’s one of the best kept non-secrets in town that they give away complimentary steak sandwiches during the Monday-Friday 4–6 p.m. “martini hour.” Dress sharp (it’s required) and cozy up to the bar with an $8 martini and a free sandwich made from steak so good most people can’t buy it even if they want it. Seriously, high-end steak places have access to better meat than supermarkets. The University City restaurant has a similar deal.
2236 Fern Street, South Park
Happy Hour: 4–8pm, Monday–Friday; 2–8pm, Saturday–Sunday
Nothing’s more rad than Booty Bassment, the club for non-clubbing hipster kids, but Whistle Stop is on point every day with $1 off cocktails and drafts before 8 p.m. Food’s usually in pretty short supply (i.e., there isn’t any) except for when the MiHo food truck parks outside (Fridays at 5:30) and slings the random, mobile pub fare that’s earned it a reputation as probably the best food truck in town. There’s usually something cool going on at the bar, like the Amandas every first Friday of the month, which is perfect if you’re into skinny ties and big, red wigs. And who isn’t?
5059 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach
South Beach Bar and Grille
Happy Hour: 3–6pm, Monday–Friday; all night Monday
A quintessential SoCal beach bar, South Beach just remodeled and opened some upstairs dining territory that commands idyllic surfside views. With 24 beers on tap and a full bar, there’s no shortage of drinks. Happy hour is Monday–Friday from 3–6, and nothing stands between you and some serious drinking except $5 Mai Tais and $3.75 booze-soaked gummy bears, say what? HH means half-priced apps, too, so indulging in a dozen oysters on the half-shell for $14 or a $7 burger is a must.
3766 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest
Happy Hour: 5–8pm, Monday–Friday; 3–8pm, Sunday
Just because a place has a couple hundred cupcakes on display at any given time doesn’t mean it can’t throw a killer happy hour. Ever since Babycakes got a liquor license a couple years ago, it’s become a crazy and colorful scene. Maybe it’s because everyone is wired on sugar and caffeine in addition to being solidly buzzed? The coffee and cupcakes are both muy delicioso. Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 5–8 p.m. and the deal is $3 well drinks, beers, and house wine. On Sundays, they have “Church.” That’s an extended happy hour (3-8) with $5 wells, $3 beers, and all the beautiful insanity you can handle.
3001 University Avenue, North Park
(No longer in business.)
Heaven Sent Desserts
Happy Hour: 3–6pm, daily
Every teetotaler deserves a chance to blow off some afternoon steam and not be surrounded by people getting their tipple on while the sun’s still high in the sky. Heaven Sent has happy hour of sorts that resembles Babycake’s, but without drowning in a sea of liquor and beer. Every day from 3-6:30, a dessert and a coffee is just $5. Double up on the deal for $8 if you’ve got a date. Why not spare the liver for a day and take it out on the old pancreas instead?
3797 Park Boulevard, Hillcrest
(No longer in business.)
Heat Bar and Kitchen
Happy Hour: 4–6:30pm, Tuesday–Saturday; closed Mondays
Heat rocked my socks off with artful happy-hour snacks and inspired sake cocktails (all $5). The fact that “Heat” is across the street from “the Flame” never ceases to amuse, but it’s the fact that the chef and cooks really punch above their weight in terms of high-class bar snacks at bargain prices. Adorable but delicious sliders and some most-excellent chicken wings are the go-to bites, for sure, during the daily, 4-6:30 happy hour.
3085 University Avenue, North Park
Happy Hour: 4–8pm, Monday–Friday
Question: what costs $free.99 if you buy a pitcher of beer at URBN, Monday through Friday from 4–6? Answer: a whole pizza. Yeah. That’s correct. Buy a pitcher, get a free pizza. What more is there to say? Well, maybe it’s worth mentioning that craft cocktails are $3 off from 5–8, Monday–Friday, as well. That’s pretty cool, too.
127 University Avenue, Hillcrest
Happy Hour: 3–6pm, daily
EH has proven all the skeptics wrong and done the unthinkable. They’ve survived in a cursed location just a stone’s throw from Hillcrest juggernauts Fiesta Cantina and Urban Mo’s. They’re little, but they hold it down by keeping the food and service consistently above average. Happy hour is every day from 3–6 with $1 off beer and wine, $5 cocktail specials, $7.50 Mule drinks, and $2 off small plates of food. An order of their tater tots and some miso BBQ wings should just about do it for anyone who’s in the mood for some tasty bites and a frosty beer.
2223 El Cajon Boulevard, Lafayette Hotel, North Park
Happy Hour: 4:30–6:30pm, Monday–Thursday; 4:30pm–close, Friday
Sadly overshadowed by the hipster credibility of the Red Fox Room (can’t help but love the late-night piano bar), Imig’s is the Lafayette Hotel’s other restaurant. Happy hour is a respectable affair, with $4 well drinks and $4 draft beers from 4:30–6:30, Monday through Thursday. Fridays, the deal goes all night. There’s no food special, but Imig’s snacks and bites are already cheap and tasty. As summer approaches, it will become increasingly important that this is the only happy-hour spot on the list within crawling distance of a pool.
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
(No longer in business.)
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