Happy Hour – On Steroids
Restaurants extend bargain prices earlier, later and longer for sophisticated food and drinks.
The old happy hour buffet and two-fer drinks are gone.
In its place are new, much improved hours that are more sophisticated in food and drink, start earlier (at 3 p.m. or even noon) and last longer (until 7:30 p.m. and sometimes returning for a second round at 10).
Hip Millennials, professional women and patrons of a certain age who would never seek out an early-bird senior special all welcome finding $2 oysters, $3 tacos and $4 drinks as well as slick craft cocktails and clever small plates at half the usual $15 price.
The bargain trail runs the length of the state.
Start at Eleven South on Jacksonville Beach, from 4:30 p.m. to 7. Five dollars buys top-shelf drinks of Crown Royal, Hendrick’s or 10-yearold Glenmorangie while you can nibble on chef Kevin Gaston’s plate of burrata and soppressata, truffle frites or a couple of steak sliders for $7.
At the other end of the state is the new open-air Bevy in Naples. It’s stunningly casual by design. Socializing starts with “Happy Bevies and Tacos” from 3 p.m. to 5. That means brands like Tito’s vodka, Buffalo Trace and Guigal Rhone blends are $7. That’s cheaper than the restaurant’s ritzy $29, three-course menu for pet dogs of milk-bone with peanut butter, chicken and quinoa and ice cream, plus water on the rocks.
The timing pairs nicely with new crafty mixed drinks — all the better if you don’t pay full price. It also fits social trends shifting from fixed meal times to dinners without borders. And restaurateurs and chefs can transform a forgotten and neglected part of the day into a merry profit center.
Early-evening crowds are swelling chain restaurants, too, including Truluck’s, Fleming’s, Bonefish, Rusty Pelican, Brass Tap, P.S. Cahng, Kona Grill, Bulla and Bar Louie. At many Florida Ruth's Chris locations, early bar patrons skip the hefty steaks and munch instead on prime burgers, zucchini fries, seared tuna and crab beignets while sipping a gin basel smask or a Jim Beam Manhattan.
Gulf Coast/ Central Florida
Marina views and smart cooking (bison sliders and scallops Rockefeller) are always on at Pier 22 in Bradenton, but from 3 to 7 p.m. there’s $4 beer and wine, mojitos and martinis and a selection of small plates from $6 to $8.
When Izzy’s Fish & Oyster arrived in Fort Myers from Miami last year, chef Jamie DeRosa brought a special happy hour downtown. From 4 p.m. to 7, fresh oysters are a buck-a-shuck, oyster sliders only $3, ceviches and crudos, $5; special drinks like the Pilot House (tequila, jalapeno and lime) are $5, too.
At the Stubborn Mule in Orlando’s Lake Eola district, happy hour goes gastro. Craft beer and wines are $5, cocktails and, of course, mules, $6; gastro apps like edamame tossed with toasted almonds, garlic and Parmesan or bruschetta with house-made ricotta, pesto and candied tomato jam $5.
In Tampa, happy-hour customers can hit the steakhouse zone without big-bucks expense accounts. Malio’s Prime Steakhouse sells a fine burger for $5, and Bern’s Steak House’s contemporary Haven puts much of its charcuterie and smartest small plates on reduced prices for the bar crowd.
For elegance at reduced prices, Las Olas boulevardiers head to Lobster Bar Sea Grille for lychee martinis, New Old-Fashioneds and Glenfiddich spritzes at half off. French tartes, lobster morsels, steak tartare and truffle bleu cheese tater tots are at reduced prices.
For Thai, the savvy go to NaiYaRa on Miami Beach. Japanese beer is $3.50, while $7 buys Chef Bee’s Pearl vodka with cucumber and cantaloupe or grilled corn with coconut butter and eel sauce, kimchee rice with peas and fried egg.
Cocktail cultists can find anything from bargain entries to a high-priced temple of mixology at 27 Restaurant and Bar at the Freehand Hotel on Miami Beach. Barkeeps collaborate with the renowned Bar Lab to stir up Scotch Negronis, rye with reduction of sweet potato pie (honest) or a martini punched with rosemary and fig vermouth. The kitchen has fun with a world of Yemeni bread, tostones with house pickles, caraway carrots and pistachio cauliflower.
Wynwood may be hot for late-night happenings, but the sunset crowd gets a full-on taste of the district’s rough and polished Zen with KYU’s Drink Me/Eat Me menu. Have a Wynwood Mule spiked with smoked pineapple and lash into pork belly buns, crispy kale in Thai nam prik and buttery chicory at reduced prices.
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