550 12th Ave, 206-328-2030
At this First Hill Vietnamese street-food restaurant (where the happy hour runs from 3–6 p.m. and 10 p.m.–1:30 a.m.), the bar makes the rare decision to offer not only discounted drinks, but also an entirely different cocktail menu. The happy hour list offers ingredients and combinations that fit well with daytime drinking: some lighter, some brighter than the dinner cocktails.
The Ginger Pop floats basil seeds—think oversized chia seeds—in vodka with house-made ginger syrup, Dolin Blanc vermouth, fresh lemon juice, and soda. It's the kind of easy-drinking refresher you want when the sun still shines in the sky. Similarly, the Agavoni twists tequila into a classic negroni, and the Southside plays like a mature mojito with gin, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and mint. Both make time slow down as if you are escaping from a hot Hanoi afternoon.
Food discounts vary from a few cents to a few dollars depending on the dish, but the best deal is the deep discount on Ba Bar's incredible pho: A bowl is just $8, down from $12, for the long-simmered rich broth, high-quality meat, and fresh-made noodles.
927 Ninth Ave, 206-397-4053
Vito's specializes in ambience: big leather booths, low lights, and the lounge look—fitting for a bar that's been around since 1953. Signs on the way in advertise live jazz music, and, on the way out, warn, "What happens at Vito's stays at Vito's." The old-school cool is interrupted only by the flash of reddish lights bouncing off the improbable disco balls and the thoroughly modern cocktail list.
The happy hour here is from 4–7 p.m. Drinks like the Panther Dash, a murky, savory mix of bourbon, Meletti amaro, sherry, and lemon, come fairly cheaply on the standard menu ($10)—convenient, since cocktails don't qualify for Vito's happy hour. Well drinks, "bubbles," beer, and wine do, but the real savings come from the food. During happy hour, garlic bread and a grilled Caesar salad come in at $3 apiece, each providing a Tuscan villa worth of Parmesan and garlic. The sliders, filled with meatballs, marinara, and mozzarella ($4), are a bygone style but a timeless taste. Eating little sandwiches at the big, dark bar is transporting. You might pay full price for the cocktail, but that's the fee to enter the time machine back to the '50s.
1112 Pike St, 206-583-7177
Where Vito's transports across time, this Capitol Hill bar cuts across a continent, bringing sun-starved Seattleites directly to the shores of the Caribbean Sea. The bar snakes around the room like water hugging a coastline, encouraging a melting of the Seattle freeze as patrons are forced to (gasp!) look toward each other. The bold turquoise-blue seats add pops of color rarely seen in tandem with the flannel and fleece of the local uniform. But neither the bartenders nor the patrons here are beach bums: Rumba, with one of the biggest selections of rum in the country, caters to rum nerds.
Simply listening in on the banter across the bar, you're guaranteed to pick up a little about rums, but the happy hour also allows for an affordable taste through various rum drinks. It runs from 5–6 p.m. daily. Both the classic daiquiris and the punches come down $3. Drink your way through all four of each (though, perhaps, not in one sitting), and you'll come out an expert in these drinks, in your own preferences, and in how rum works in a cocktail. Talk to your bartender to learn how the daiquiri number three became the Hemingway daiquiri, or compare the Batavia arrack of an arrack punch to the Barbados rum in the Barbados punch. Or simply sit back and let the spirit-smart conversation wash around you like the sound of waves.
6822 Greenwood Ave N, 206-706-6673
This chameleon of a spot on Phinney Ridge hides its skillfully crafted cocktails in plain sight. The quintessential neighborhood bar, it morphs into whatever the patron wants it to be. Come in for a beer at a table and you might never notice you're in such a top-shelf cocktail establishment. But they have a happy hour, from 5–7 p.m. Monday–Thursday and 4–6 p.m. Friday–Saturday.
Sidle up to the bar to talk serious spirits with the knowledgeable bartender over a Duff & Blathers, which features rye, Averna, maraschino liqueur, orange bitters, and black pepper tincture (all the drinks, like the bar, draw on Dickens for their names). It, like all the cocktails here, is $2 off during happy hour (regular prices hover around $10). Food comes in at $1 off, so snack on the garlic truffled popcorn—served in a circus-style bag—on a sunny afternoon, when the garage doors come up and the sun streams in. Or, now that you know the secret, slink to the back to retreat from a gray day with the signature grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. It's a soul-warming and heart-comforting treat, like an after-school snack for the 21-plus crowd.
2332 Second Ave, 206-956-8423
Inside this dark Belltown bar resides one of the most lighthearted happy hours in town (4–7 p.m. every day). Billed as "ridiculously" happy, its snacks are snarky but its drinks are serious. Five drinks, all up to Rob Roy's standard as one of the city's best spots for craft cocktails, come at a steep discount: Here's the place to find $14 drinks for $8 and similar deals.
Among the five, there is something for every palate. The spirit-forward Fancy Vesper brings elegance to the classic cocktail with Absolut Elyx, Beefeater 24, and Lillet. The Monolith spices things up with Ancho Reyes, an ancho-pepper-infused alcohol, before cooling it down with pineapple and mint. And tiki lovers will find their paradise with the Ted Shackleford: whiskey, orgeat, pineapple, and lemon. But most intriguing, perhaps, is the Daily Punch! (Exclamation point theirs.) On a recent afternoon, it was basically a negroni punched up with sparkling wine—a fun, smart twist on an old favorite. And fun is the operative word at this happy hour, where the free goldfish crackers flow with as much ease as the smiling bartenders' ordering advice, and the "faux pho ramen" doesn't cost anything at all. Of course, if you ask for one, you might learn it's just a cup o' noodle soup dressed up with lime and herbs.
2205 Second Ave, 206-728-6069
You could call this speakeasy-style Belltown bar a bargain basement during happy hour (5–7 p.m.), when the drinks sink from $11 to just $7. Built in the former boiler room of an old hotel, it's a literal basement, and from the minute you enter through the alley (instructions on their website: "Look for the wooden door"), you're Alice in Cocktail Wonderland. Exposed brick, low ceilings, and small, creatively carved-out spaces create an intimacy with the bartender and/or whomever you're with, depending on where you sit.
Upstairs, the six bar seats are the perfect place to debate the merits of various gins with whoever's behind the stick while you drink. Downstairs, cozy into the couches or carry on at one of the few tables over a spicy El Camino (tequila, pineapple juice, Pineau, and chili liqueur) or the dark, complex Death Star (bourbon, fig and maple syrup, and lemon juice). Wherever you choose to take your drink, the tiny space and laid-back atmosphere make this an easy place to work your way through expertly made cocktails that mix traditional spirits and interesting ingredients in new —and ultimately fascinating—fashion.