No matter what you have planned for the evening, the fun has to start somewhere. And, in a town stuffed to the gills with bars, restaurants, wannabe L.A. lounges, and somewhat seedy dives, deciding where to warm up your engines can be daunting. When the rat race releases its daily grip on your soul and the brain in your stomach pains for libations and platters of food, the questions begin to swirl among the happy hour set: Downtown? Near my house? Near my work? Pretty people? Normal people? Strong drinks? Good food? In the end, many of us follow the herd, going to our usual haunts, sticking to State Street and imbibing in familiar settings as the sun does its once-a-day dance down deep into the purple-blue Pacific.
Some days we get lucky and the vibes are good as happy hour gives birth to a vibrant night full of choices, fun, and, usually, many more drinks. Other times, the cards don’t fall right and happy hour sends us home with a buzzy head, greasy stomach, and sinking feeling that tomorrow is fast approaching with deadlines, demands, and dour-mood-inducing duties. Basically, when done right, happy hour is the perfect launching pad to a memorable night-a booze-soaked gateway to good times, if you will.
To that end, what follows is a list-albeit an incomplete one-of the purveyors of some of Santa Babylon’s more enjoyable happy hours. There is a good chance you will recognize many of these names, but a few will likely surprise you. So read up and when next that golden hour approaches, go find yourself a cheap pint, some tasty food, and a perfect sendoff into that good night.
101 E. Cabrillo Blvd., 9662112
Often dismissed as a tourist trap, this oceanfront gem offers up a variety of seafood specials and cheap adult beverages. A Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. happy hour is the standard here with $3 domestic drafts, $4 house wines and well drinks, $5 Cosmos, and a lethal $4.50 double vodka tonic. The bar is big, the TV is always on, and the salad/chowder combo at $6.95 isn’t too shabby either.
Endless Summer Bar-Cafe
113 Harbor Wy., 5644666, endlesssummerbarcafe.net
Nonstop surf videos, free popcorn, pool tables, and front-row seats to captivating harbor views and the mountains beyond are just a few reasons to put the Endless on your happy hour itinerary. Add to that tallboy blonde ales and margaritas for $3.50 as well as stiff $4.50 mai tais, and you have yourself a recipe for deliverance. And, for $5.95 more, you can pick from big old burgers and fish, or beef or chicken tacos to soak up the booze. The fun runs from 4-6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Enterprise Fish Co.
225 State St., 9623313, enterprisefishco.com
This place is no secret among happy hour veterans and for good reason. The trouble-and crowds-begin at 4 p.m. on weekdays and last until 7 p.m. House wine and well drinks are $3, with 20-ounce drafts costing only $3.75. Bottled beer will set you back $2.50 while vodka oyster shooters are $3. The food at Enterprise takes happy hour to a new level with crab cakes, fried calamari, ahi poki, shrimp and chicken quesadillas, and popcorn shrimp ranging from $3.95 to $5.95. And, in case you miss it, happy hour starts all over again each weekday at 9 p.m. and continues until the place closes.
229 W. Montecito St., 8844664, thebrewhousesb.com
One of my personal favorites, the Brewhouse rocks the happy hour scene everyday-that’s right, even weekends-from 4-6 p.m. All house beers cost $2, with pitchers only $8, and well drinks a cool $3.50. The hot dog, complete with all the fixings, plus a cold pint is one of the best deals in town at just $3.95, while a solid chicken quesadilla runs $4.95. Tourist-free and always friendly, the Brewhouse also provides sun-soaked patio seating.
The Crocodile Lounge at the Lemon Tree Inn
2819 State St., 6876444
Not your typical happy hour haunt, the Croc serves strong drinks and is light on crowds and your wallet. Free bread and dipping sauce, a full-on funky atmosphere complete with wooden crocs and tiki masks, plus sunny poolside seating and $3 drafts and well drinks make this upper State Street stop a must for any happy hour connoisseur. Like the Brewhouse, they get happy every day of the week from 4-6 p.m. with $2 bottled beers ($1.75 for the Budweiser, baby!) and beefy $6.50 sirloin skewers. The nachos borrachos are for the strong of stomach only.
625 Chapala St., 568-1876, chads.biz/index.html
The lower Chapala Street gathering place of pretty people has been an MVP in the happy hour scene for years. From 4:30-6:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Chad’s dishes out $4 premium booze drinks, dangerous $7 martinis, flaming butter, free muffins, $4 house chardonnays, and one hell of an appetizer platter. Though it costs $26, the hefty portions of oysters, blackened ahi, artichokes, and chicken skewers are enough to tide over a party of four or five. And, if you’re lucky, one of Chad’s esteemed booze slingers might just get all Cocktail on you and bust out bar tricks that would put Tom Cruise to shame.
3631 State St., 6876942, ahisushi.net
Hands down my favorite sushi joint in town, this upper State Street destination also has one of the best happy hour deals going. In fact, it seems more people come here after work for libations than for dinner a few hours later. While the fish and Japanese cuisine remain at their usual low prices, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. 12-ounce Kirin drafts are only $1, with house sake also only a buck. With prices like this, a true power hour at Ahi is a distinct possibility. Also, Monday through Thursday, from 9:45-11 p.m., the folks at Ahi offer Santa Barbara’s only izakaya-a Japanese-type tapas menu designed specifically to go hand-in-hand with alcohol consumption. A variety of meat and fish dishes, designed to be shared among drunken friends, vary in price from $3.95-$6.95 during these fun and delicious times.
Though popping a cold one and pounding it in the store will most likely get you arrested, this friendly neighborhood drugstore is the perfect supplier for do-it-yourself drinkers who prefer the cozy confines of their homes or perhaps the sandy shore of Santa Barbara beaches as their happy hour destinations. Massive deals on big bottles of booze, $10 18-packs of Tecate, $6.49 12-packs of High Life, $10.99 18-packs of Bud bottles, and 99-cent ice cream cones make Rite Aid the undisputed best deal in town. They even sell cheap coolers and slip-and-slides.