Living Large on the Cheap
Happy hour is clearly happiest when it allows one to dwell, however briefly, above one's station in life. When it's pitch-black by 5:00 p.m. and the icy hand of the ambient chill is reaching up the pants-legs, little is more comforting than a cold, strong drink in a warm, richie-rich bar—and if a delicious, cheap dinner accompanies the delusions of grandeur, so much the better. Afterward, the wintery evening is not so abominable, and getting home is rendered pleasantly vague.
Brasa (2107 Third Ave, 728-4220, happy hour daily 5–7 pm, lounge only) hosts Seattle's all-time favorite fancy happy hour, and its charms are nearly all-encompassing. Brasa's lounge—not too big, not too small—has a long, curvy, cushioned banquette affording a sweeping view of the premises. Magically, a half-wall and excellent acoustics make the patrons in the dining room both invisible and inaudible. When Brasa opened almost 10 years ago, the design was exciting: flowing floor plan, ironwork railings, abstract suggestion of a lowered ceiling over the bar. If not yet classic, it's still highly functional in ways newer places ought to envy, all hush and glow.
Brasa means "live coals" in Portuguese, after Brasa's wood-fired grill and oven. Chef Tamara Murphy's Mediterranean menu is rightfully revered, and the bar food, while simpler, is still representative of her skill. Of more than two dozen options, everything sounds fantastic—tapas, paella, steak frites, grilled or fire-roasted vegetables, seafood, pizza (including one with figs, Serrano ham, chèvre, and a balsamic reduction, $5.50). Servers tactfully notify those who are straying into gluttony when ordering. One sandwich ought to be more than enough for a regular human—maybe the vaunted Brasa lamburger or messy Moroccan steak in house-made pita ($6.50 each). One pork empanada ($4.50) seems paltry by comparison, but the meat is so tender-honeyed good, the pastry so light and lightly fire-blistered, it's worth it. (The pork sandwich might be the perfect marriage of quantity and crazy-deliciousness.) Squid ($7.50) resembles regular bar calamari but tastes phenomenal with its hidden spicy tomato sauce. And few happy hours have dessert, much less hot, crispy churro-like doughnuts with whipped cream and cayenne-spiced chocolate sauce ($4.50).
But it's November: One's thoughts turn ineluctably to oysters. Brasa's got happy-hour oysters right now, but they're fried. One envisions oysters on the half-shell lodged in a bed of ice on a shiny metal stand, served with, say, a scoop of frozen champagne mignonette. Elliott's (1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 56, 623-4340, happy hour Mon–Fri 3–6 pm, in the bar) serves more oysters than God, offering a half-shell happy hour that's governed by some mysterious, beautiful calculus of the sea. At 3:00 p.m., selected oysters are 50 cents each, with the price going up 20 cents every half-hour until 6:00 p.m. This deal is bested only by the 25-cents-per-oyster happy hour at the bar at Flying Fish in Belltown, but that's got a narrower window (Mon–Fri 5–6 pm) and no water view.
Elliott's is famous nationally (and even globally), but locally it's often overlooked among the waterfront fray of tourist madness. Right now, yellow-slickered seamen are the only people walking past Elliott's windows; beyond lies the gray mirror of Puget Sound. Inside, it's warm, the bar's edged with a shiny copper rail, and the heavy chairs are crafted of caramel-colored wood. It's a fine facsimile of an old-fashioned oyster bar (dating from 1974), including barmen in immaculate white dress shirts, vests, and ties. Service is proper, yet properly helpful and friendly. Warm rolls (free) rest in a cloth-napkin-lined curlicued metal basket. Happy-hour martinis ($3) are dispensed from individual-sized shiny shakers. Also rock bottom priced: house wine, draft beer, and assorted snacks. The oyster stew ($4) is essentially a cup of hot heavy cream with oysters in it; if you like obscenely rich food, it will make you cry tears of melted butter.
Speaking of obscenely rich, welcome to Palisade (2601 W Marina Pl, 285-1000, happy hour daily 4–6 pm and 9 pm–close, in the bar). A billboard on Denny Way promoting this Magnolia fine-dining establishment proclaims confusingly, "Now is an occasion," and the confusion never stops. The exterior involves a cupola, massive columns, and Asian statuary; the sweeping dining room has a planetarium-style ceiling, "Polynesian meets Northwest" decor, and what appear to be the droppings of Dale Chihuly's glass monster suspended hither and yon. Piano music is broadcast both indoors and out from a baby grand that plays itself, sitting atop an overhang above the bar. The crowning glory of Palisade: its multipartite inland sea, complete with starfish intertwining lasciviously and anemones abloom. Typical table: a wealthy family snapping photographs of themselves, especially of their most aged, who do not look long for this world.
Happy hour at Palisade is really cheap—wine and beer for $3, a "guava 'rita" garnished with an orchid for $4, and $3 snacks from which one may create a multi-tiered pupu tower. It seems odd, considering the fact that everyone here obviously lights their cigars with $100 bills. It's also not all that good; Dungeness crab cakes sans big pieces of crab, greasy kalua pork spring rolls, rubbery scallop ceviche served on a broken scallop shell. Does the allure of the inland sea (which is objectively grand) make up for it? Not so much.