Happy Hour

A Happy Hour, Though Not the Happy Hour of the Week

If you are going to do happy hour, Olivar, just do it.

September 22, 2009

HOURS: 5-6pm Mon-Thurs
PRICES: Food specials $5; Sangria $5

Choosing the happy hour of the week isn’t all half-priced calamari and $5 martinis, you know. There is considerable research involved. Stop laughing, it’s true.

First of all, there are the happy hours that don’t quite cut the mustard. For instance, Greenlake Bar and Grill has a generous happy hour menu, long on choices—cheapy hamburgers (add fries for a buck!), discounted mac and cheese, a whole litany of “finger food”—but short on quality: the food isn’t on par with other such places around Seattle. So I won’t suggest it to you. Simple.

But sometimes things get a little more complicated. Take Olivar. Here is a little tapas restaurant with a very cool décor: A padded leather door and low ceilings, beautiful wall murals depicting scenes from fairy tales, a tiny prep station near the back where waiters slice lemons and uncork bottles of deep purple wines from Spain. Charming.

But Olivar suffers from what I call the Reluctant Happy Hour.

On my first visit I arrived at 5pm, and was surprised when I was asked if I had a reservation. I didn’t really have a problem with the question, though it felt strange saying no because, based on the server/hostess’s reaction, “no” was clearly the wrong answer. When she disappeared to check her book, however, it occurred to me that I didn’t schedule the happy hour form 5-6pm on Monday through Thursday, Olivar did! You don’t make reservations for happy hour, right? Do you? Well, the restaurant doesn’t have a bar, I told myself. So I understand keeping tables free for dinner guests. Then I took a look around. The place was nearly empty.

Even if you explicitly say you’ve come for happy hour, expect to hear the dinner specials. Do not expect the servers to say “Have you heard about our happy hour?” The HH menu is on the table with the others, it’s just not acknowledged by the house. Very strange. Very awkward. And frankly unacceptable: If you have HH, have HH! Happy hour is an event, an occasion, a chance for people to see what your restaurant does and fill it up during normally dead hours. Don’t make them feel odd for embracing it.

And yet, here’s the thing: The food is fabulous. Albondigas flavored with deep, earthy spices, a rich grilled eggplant with a simple tomato sauce and Manchego, a gooey croque monsieur. So good. Go and you’ll end up ordering off the dinner menu too, just to try more stuff. (Which is why, Olivar, hello! You don’t have to discourage HH in the first place. Guests will find their way to the main event, trust me.)

There is what one drink special: “Half price sangria” for $5. Meaning the regular cost of sangria, at Olivar, is $10. Now it’s good sangria, but I have to say: my favorite state-side sangria is made at Jaleo, Jose Andres’s tapas restaurant in Washington, DC. One more than one occasion I’ve been teased by friends, people who wouldn’t think twice of ordering a $12 glass of wine or cocktail, for paying so much for wine punch. The sangria at Jaleo costs $7 a glass.

Find recommended happy hours here.

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