By Fritz Hahn
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 31, 2005 2:15 PM
Happy hour is an easy way to hit the town and sample new nightspots while keeping a budget intact. Almost any restaurant or bar you'll stumble across offers discounted drinks, but the key is to find a place that also offers a lively social environment.
Over the last few years, the Front Page Restaurant's Thursday night happy hour has become a primary destination for Washington's young and hungry. The formula is simple: cheap bottles of beer and a free taco bar. Starting at 5, twentysomethings fill the narrow aisles and doorways. With all the meeting and greeting going on around the bar, consider this the intern version of the networking cocktail hour.
Competing for a captive audience, bars on Capitol Hill entice with some of the best food and drink deals to be found. In addition to discounted beer, the Capitol Lounge, a haven for staffers of all ages, offers food specials three nights a week, including its own Wednesday taco night (25 cents per crispy snack, with a minimum order of four to start). Around the corner at Tortilla Coast, 50-cent beef tacos are served up on Tuesday nights, and margarita and beer specials are welcomed by full houses throughout the week. Grateful interns flock to the Hawk and Dove for $2 beers and free snacks, offered every weekday from 4 to 7, as well as a "pint of the night" special from 4 till close.
The regular happy hour specials at the Pour House aren't much to shout about ($2.50 Pour House Amber drafts and $3 rail drinks), but some of the nightly deals are much better. Tuesday is pitcher night, with Bud Light and house Amber for $10, and Yuengling and other domestics for $12. Crowds descend on Thursday to try and beat the clock during the Bud and Bud Light countdown: Bottles are $1 from 4 to 8, $2 from 8 to midnight, and $3 from midnight until close.
The latest Hill bar to make a happy hour splash is Barracks Row's Tapatinis, which offers deep discounts from 5 to 8 Monday through Friday; $4 Absolut drinks on Monday, $5 top-shelf cocktails on Thursday and $2 wine for women on Wednesday. But the big deal is Thursday after 9, when a big-name liquor distributor gives away free drinks while supplies last. There's no catch -- ask your bartender for your free drink and you may be rewarded with Belvedere vodka, Jack Daniels or Remy Martin cognac.
Downtown, Lucky Bar is teeming on Thursdays. In the '90s, Lucky created a huge market with its Dollar Bud Night; and even though prices have risen to $2 per bottle, all three floors are full of bike messengers, office workers and groups of friends drinking St. Louis's finest -- even on the makeshift dance floor.
Recessions has made its mark on busy L Street with one of the biggest and bargain-heavy happy hours in town. Weekdays from 5 to 8, specials include jumbo 28-ounce draft beers for $2.50, or, for mere mortals, a 12-ounce mug for $1.50; $2 domestic bottles; $2.50 rail drinks and a selection of $2.50 appetizers. Discounts usually continue into the night -- apple martinis are $2.50 on Monday, while Tuesday brings $1.75 margaritas and Coronas. Next door, Mackey's Public House offers $2.25 drafts, a convivial atmosphere and (more importantly) outdoor seating.
Close to George Washington University, the 51st State's specials include $2.50 beers and $3 rail drinks from 4 to 7 during the week, but you'll also find specials that last much later. Yuengling pints are $3 from 8 until close on Wednesday, Magic Hat is $3 from 8 to close on Wednesday and Budweiser products are $2.75 on all night on Monday.
If you're looking for beers and atmosphere on a budget, here are a few other top picks: Rock Bottom Brewery in Ballston on Wednesdays and Thursdays (Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Bethesda branch), Clarendon Ballroom's $1 rooftop happy hour on Wednesdays and the rotating $1 beer specials at Dr. Dremo's Taphouse on Tuesdays.
Finally, any list of cheap brews can't overlook the Miller High Life Countdown at Asylum, Adams Morgan's biker bar of choice. On Saturdays, pints of the champagne of beers are just a quarter beginning at 5, and the price rises 50 cents every hour.
If you prefer cocktails, head for the intersection of 18th and M streets NW. The champagne-and-caviar lounge MCCXXIII offers all-you-can-drink happy hours on Thursdays from 6 to 9 and Fridays from 5 to 9. Pay a $15 cover (about the price of two mixed drinks) and enjoy three or four hours of top-shelf cocktails. Just be careful -- you don't want to accidentally pay $9 for a Cosmo at 9:02. Tapatinis has a similar special at Friday's happy hour -- $20 for unlimited top-shelf drinks between 5 and 8.