Sometimes, the oldest trends are the most interesting. Take happy hour, the classic promotion designed to tempt guests with deals and discounts when their workday is done. Widely abandoned by chain restaurants in the ‘90s, some have reinstituted discounts on food and drink for short periods before the dinner hour and in the late evening in an attempt to boost sales during the slower business hours. In Los Angeles, a quick survey reveals a host of independent restaurants that have taken various approaches to happy hour.
At Alley, a speakeasy located in Culver City, $6 well drinks and $9 house cocktails plus food specials are available for five days a week for one literal happy hour. Located in front Alley, FIN, an Asian fusion tapas restaurant, offers both happy hours and reverse happy hours. FIN’s happy hours feature discounts on 11 dishes, beer, sake, wine and well drinks, all priced from $4 to $8. Four days a week, at the bar, the happy hour food menu is available all evening. Mid-City gourmet sandwich shop and wine bar Rascal runs a daily happy hour from 5PM to 7PM (all night on Mondays) with $6 dishes and house drinks throughout the entire restaurant. During this happy hour, guests can choose from a beer on tap, a red, white and sparkling wine, Moscow mule, margarita, house-made sangria and Cold Duck (another ‘60s and ‘70s refresher that’s returning to popularity).
Like Cold Duck, highballs were once an essential component in entertaining and drinking, both at home and out on the town. Few American bars do very much with this simple spirit-and-carbonation pairing, even though so many drinks that pay the bills - notably whiskey or rum and cola and gin or vodka and tonic – fall into this category. In Japan, however, highballs are all the rage, particularly with their own malt and blended whiskey (which are now making inroads to the US). At Izakaya in Houston, they’ve included a full menu of highballs, starting with the basic whiskey or cognac with sparkling Mexican mineral water and moving onto the Kyoto Good Morning (shochu and cream soda), Tropical (pineapple juice, sherry, vodka and ginger beer) and the Hotei (dry vermouth, Apertivo Cappelletti and mandarin orange soda).
Creating inventive highballs doesn’t take too much inspiration, particularly if a bar already has the bitters, syrups, spirits, cordials and garnish varieties common today. Yet somehow highballs still don’t get much respect, even though high quality mixers are now widely available, like artisanal and imported sodas that are drier or contain more natural flavors. The San Pellegrino line of grapefruit, blood orange, lime, lemon and orange sodas, for example, have become hot at retail lately. Made with real juice, they can make the simplest two-ingredient highball a crowd pleaser.
Want more Happy Hour specials and ideas. Attend the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show, March 7-9.