The economy remains tanked and the rain has set in. When the sky's a mass of solid gray that begins tending toward darkness at 3:00 p.m., any silver lining can seem pretty damn elusive. One of the few discernable bonuses of the annual regional chill: the return of spectacular-quality local oysters. And in these hard times, Seattle's oyster happy hours mean that with $20 or so, you can go have a first-class early evening instead of creeping home like a suicidal mole.
What's in it for the fancy seafood places is full seats with the quick, tidy profits of half-shell and drink-special sales (they all offer accompanying bargain-priced cocktails or wine). Several of them have been doing it long enough to attain cult status. Elliott's on the waterfront (all addresses and info at thestranger.com/happyhour) has a "progressive" price structure—that is, cost per oyster goes up every half hour—and if you've never eaten a raw oyster, your first one is on them (honor system). Early evening at Belltown's Flying Fish, oysters are 50 cents each, and it is commensurately mobbed; even if you get a seat, you won't have the luxury of elbow room. The spacious Brooklyn downtown has a proper mounds-of-ice oyster bar and a dollar-per happy hour, but they don't really do the standing-room thing. People tend to settle in and not budge; get there before quitting time to be sure.
I haven't made it to Ravenna for relative newcomer Frank's Oyster House & Champagne Parlor for happy hour (early and late, with relatively expensive $1.50 oysters), but "Power Hour" at Anchovies & Olives on Capitol Hill demanded examination. The latest from Ethan Stowell Restaurants (Union, Tavolàta, How to Cook a Wolf), Anchovies & Olives opened in February and started its early-evening and late-night oyster happy hour last month. Oysters are $1 each, and whereas most such deals dictate chef's choice, here it is up to you. This past weekend, favorites Totten Virginica, Kumamoto, and Kushi were available, along with the all-the-rage Shigoku, the latest from Washington's Taylor Shellfish. (These are Pacific oysters, grown by a special new process to make them smaller-sized and deeper-cupped; the people at Taylor chose the name shigoku, which means "the ultimate." In their second year of production, they are in high demand.)
The kitchen at Anchovies & Olives dresses each kind of oyster with tiny cubes of pickled beets, or olive oil and lemon, or lime and horseradish. Purists will want to order them naked. As for the stark A & O aesthetic, a wood overlay on two walls has had a warming effect, and there's now a seascape painting behind the bar. And in complete defiance of the contemporary look, a big chalkboard with drawings of sea creatures pronounces Power Hour "Off da hook!"