Life is short. Why drink Bud Light on draft and eat fries out of a plastic basket when a flute of Champagne and a cone of pommes frites await? For $10 or $15, our fair city's best happy hours will transport you—via a lovely drink, a splendid snack, and ambient poshness—to the Style to Which You Would Like to Become Accustomed. (Bonus: Each of the following also offers outdoor seating.) Your low morale is no match for these hours of joy. They will make you happy. Unless something is really wrong with you.
Little raises the spirits quite like a very dapper, reassuringly brusque barkeep pouring a martini (Skyy, $4.79) out of its own tiny, shiny shaker at the Brooklyn (1212 Second Ave, 224-7000, happy hour Mon–Fri 4 pm–6:30 pm). The room's a serviceable reproduction of a Deco-era oyster bar, atavistically high-ceilinged and tile-floored, with a dignified din over which you can still hear yourself think (depending on how many martinis you shoehorn in). Snacks ($4.99) include six oysters on the half-shell (from Canada when they're poisonous here) appropriately imbedded in ice; a cilantro-heavy, spicy ceviche of indeterminate but tasty fish; and flat, delicious Kobe beef patties on squishy, flour-dusted white rolls. Stroll through the dining room and pity the patrons trapped in their Star Trek swivel chairs and floral-upholstered booths; they're committed, and they're coughing up big-time.
BOKA (1010 First Ave, 357-9000, happy hour daily 3 pm–6 pm, Sun–Thu 10 pm–midnight, Fri–Sat 10 pm–1 am) stands for “Bold Original Kitchen Artistry,” and the interior of this aggressively chic new restaurant/lounge looks as if a half-dozen Bold Original interior designers were each allowed to pursue their every whim, maybe while on meth. (Highlights: varnished burl cocktail tables surrounding a stand of glowing glass bamboo; four backlit panels that cycle through different violent hues; wire mesh hither and yon.) However, the butter-colored snakeskin seats are undeniably comfortable, Oliver Stone was seen here recently, and the businesspeople who hit on you are liable to do so with British accents. “Urban bites,” like miniature waffles topped with duck confit, are served in refined sushi-style configurations, and they’re $1 each; wells, $4.75. A deal not to be believed in a likewise setting: irresistible.
Ponti (3014 Third Ave N, 284-3000, happy hour daily 4pm–6:30 pm and 9 pm–close) has the kind of calming, contemporary décor/soundtrack/vibe that unavoidably evokes the ’80s. The back of the bar, made of thick glass, affords a view of the peach sponge-painted dining room, and the name of the place is rendered in a splashy font in gold relief up above the rows of bottles. The bartender, unerringly kind if a bit beleaguered, even looks very much like Erik Estrada, all dressed in black with a tasteful tie. The $5 happy-hour menu here justly attracts all sorts, from neighborhood hippies to gentlemen who clearly just docked their yacht. The bacon cheeseburger (specify Point Reyes blue cheese) alone makes this happy hour entirely worthwhile; the patio seating, along the canal with a view of the Fremont Bridge, is time-warp free.
One of the fanciest restaurants in town, Cascadia (2328 First Ave, 448-8884, happy hour daily 5 pm–7 pm) is also renowned for its happy hour—so much so that you're lucky to get a seat. Cascadia maximizes occupancy; at the underlit, golden-toned marble bar, you're practically in your neighbor's lap. Still, the windows with their Sound view soar, as does a five-foot-plus architectural vegetation arrangement. In the context of the usual bland mollifications of fine dining atmosphere, the art disturbs admirably: an exploding apple against a creepy night sky, an abstract that seems to depict a racecar teetering on a precipice. This is heresy, I realize, but Cascadia's famous happy-hour miniburgers (well-done beef, fine salmon, or veggie; $1–$2) are just all right. The calamari ($3) is pretty great. The alpine martini—Citron vodka, an orb of Douglas fir sorbet afloat in it with a sprig of tree ($4.50)—is a refreshment of sheer genius.
Take a dark-wood-paneled steakhouse (Daniel's Broiler, 809 Fairview Pl N, 621-8262, happy hour 4 pm–6:30 pm daily). Add an inexplicable gear motif—as in big metal gears from machines, in defiance of an aquatic South Lake Union location. Add an indiscriminately cruisey crowd, including multiple besuited businessmen with Rod Stewart hair, tattooed persons wearing T-shirts, lanyarded conference refugees, high-pitched young women, and, possibly, a David Hasselhoff look-alike. Also add seating at a glass-topped piano (but no pianist 'til later, alas) and indefatigably cheerful, irony-free service. Finally, add a basket of warm bread (free), awfully good popcorn shrimp served with half-lemons wearing little nets to hold back seeds ($5.95), bites of teriyaki-glazed filet mignon ($6.48), bacon-wrapped scallops ($7.95), and decent merlot ($4). The results: highly surreal, arguably in a good way.
In "Le Bar" at Campagne (86 Pine St, 728-2800, happy hour 5 pm–7 pm and 10 pm–midnight daily), happy hour is called, in a feat of understatement, "L'Heure with Allure." This apparently undiscovered treasure is epically tranquil and unequivocally wonderful. Outside, there's the Platonic ideal of a courtyard; inside, it feels like a private club, low-ceilinged, hushed, cushioned. The bartender reads you like a book, chatting precisely the right amount. Your champagne flute is spotless, its contents ($7) restorative—the perfect pairing for a paper cone of Campagne's obscenely good pommes frites ($5). Not insubstantial pâté sandwiches, the soul of deliciousness on cream puff–style rolls, are $1. An Absolut or Tanqueray cocktail: $5. L'Heure even happens twice a day—early evening and leading up to the stroke of midnight. You wish you were then and there right now, even if you don't know it.