When You Want the Tried and True

Bars will come and clubs will go, but some Washington happy hours seem to be forever.

Old-timers know that Thursday has long been the best night to go out, thanks to a pair of happy hours near Dupont Circle. The Front Page's packed party features $2 Corona and Miller Lite bottles and a small taco bar. With a group, it's smart to buy a bucket of six beers for $10 (a steal); the crowd of young professionals and interns around the bar is so thick that it takes forever to place an order. Drink specials are available all night, but the crowd seems to thin about 7 before coming back and hitting the dance floor later.

Down the street at Lucky Bar, what was once the city's most popular Dollar Bud Night is now Two Dollar Bud Night. (Inflation, you know.) Still, you'll find students, interns, suits and bike messengers mixing it up on three floors, sipping cheap Budweisers and Bud Lights.

Seats are at a premium; spots near the pool table even more so.

On Wednesday nights at Arlington's Ballston Common Mall, a line of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings winds out the door of the Rock Bottom Brewery, past the dry cleaners and mattress store and down the corridor toward the Starbucks. "Sorry, we can't let anyone in right now" is a frequent refrain from the hostesses, who seem more like bouncers at a velvet-rope club. Why the wait? $1 beers from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., live music and a lively crowd that's not afraid to make small talk with strangers. To beat the line, arrive before 6. After that, you may find yourself giving up and going elsewhere.

Asylum is probably the only bar in Washington with swords and skulls hanging on the wall. The daily happy hour -- $2 drafts, $3 rail drinks, 25 cent wings and 50 cent tacos -- is solid, but Saturday's Miller High Life Countdown is simply unbeatable. Beginning at 5, pints of the champagne of beers are a quarter. The price rises 50 cents every hour, so even if you arrive at 7:30, you're getting a deal. Bike messengers, motorcycle riders and tattooed rockers love the place, which vibrates to a soundtrack of punk and heavy metal.

Judging by the sheer number of young professionals who turn out for the Clarendon Ballroom's rooftop happy hour on Wednesday nights, it's the most popular after-work event in Arlington. The roof deck is bigger than many clubs in the area (about 4,000 square feet), and though it gets crowded, it's rarely uncomfortable. Oddly, there's a $1 cover charge, but once at the bar, $1 Miller Lite bottles and $1 Yuengling drafts are available until 7. Lines form soon after doors open at 5, and there's a spirited crowd of singles, friends and co-workers enjoying the fresh air and practicing their best opening lines long after the specials disappear.

ASYLUM -- 2471 18th St. NW; 202-319-9353.

CLARENDON BALLROOM -- 3185 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-469-2244.

THE FRONT PAGE -- 1333 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-296-6500.

LUCKY BAR -- 1221 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-331-3733.

ROCK BOTTOM BREWERY -- 4238 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-516-7688.

For Days You Skipped Lunch

We've all gotten so engrossed in work that we forgot to take a break, not felt hungry at noon or just left our lunch on the counter at home.

There are happy hours that can help silence the rumbling in your stomach, whether you want a snack or need a full meal. It's important to note, though, that some of these deals, including Cafe Asia, Morton's and McCormick & Schmick's, are available only in the bar area. You may want to be sure you're sitting in the right place before you order.

At McCormick and Schmick's area locations, the happy hour attraction is on your plate, not in the glass. Half-pound cheeseburgers, mussels, salads and crab dip are among the options on the $1.95 happy hour menu. There's a catch, of course: You have to order two drinks at the bar to qualify for the deal.

But still, $12 for two beers and a huge burger and fries is a pretty good bargain.

Morton's steakhouse has a half-dozen locations in the area, and they have different happy hours. In Reston and Tysons Corner, bite-size fillet sandwiches are free from 5 to 7. Crystal City, Georgetown and the downtown Connecticut Avenue bar add $4 martinis on Monday nights. The newest location, in Bethesda, has a selection of appetizers for $1, $2 or $3, such as three mini-burgers for $3.

Half-price burgers have long been a staple promotion for bars looking to drum up business early in the week. There's a number out there -- mainly on Mondays and Tuesdays -- but not all are created equal. The mod lounge at the Hotel Helix serves half-price Angus burgers and beers from 5 to 7 Monday through Friday. (Expect to pay about $7.25 for the combo if you order a Pabst Blue Ribbon.) A similar special is offered at Tonic in Mount Pleasant. It's cheaper, but there's a larger selection of draft beers and -- this is crucial -- the burger arrives with a pile of tater tots. (Veggie burgers are also available.) The crowd pleasers at Whitlow's on Wilson (all day Mondays) and Tommy Joe's (4 to close on Mondays) stick to the basics: cooked to order, served with fries.

Given all the young people on Capitol Hill, it's not surprising that most bars there have food specials to go along with the cheap beer.

Capitol Lounge is one of the best known; its specials include 25 cent tacos Wednesdays after 9 (you have to order a minimum of four to start) and 10 cent wings on Tuesdays. Tortilla Coast offers similar but pricier deals -- 50 cent tacos on Tuesdays, quarter wings on Wednesdays.

Plenty of bars put out free wings or bar snacks, but none rise to the level of Ella's Wood Fired Pizza, which lays out free pies for customers from 5 to 7 Monday through Friday. Every 15 minutes or so, the staff brings out a trio of pizzas (often cheese, pepperoni, veggie) and sets them on the counter near the bar; the hungry crowd descends like birds of prey. Don't go expecting a feast -- these are small pizzas, and there are plenty of mouths to feed. Still, you can't beat the price. Pilsner Urquell, Sam Adams and glasses of house sangria are $3 from 4 to 8. On Fridays, martinis and cosmos are $4.

Looking for something more exotic? Cafe Asia's long-running specials include $1 pieces of nigiri, discount rolls and $2 draft beers from 4:30 to 7:30. (The bar downtown can get especially smoky.) Uni: A Sushi Place also offers cheap nigiri ($2 a pair) and rolls, Kirin beer and saketinis until 7. And Heritage India's Dupont Circle outpost offers half-price "Indian street food" and beer from 5 to 7. These are more tapas than main courses, so order a few. (The kebabs and crunchy golgappas are recommended.) All are less than $4.

Old Town Alexandria's Cafe Salsa has long had one of the best happy hours in town. Every weekday from 4 to 7, all appetizers and specialty cocktails are half-price. The mojitos are excellent, but the real reason to grab a seat in the narrow upstairs bar is to grab the large plates of quesadillas, tamales and Cuban Nachos -- plantain chips covered with beef, melted cheese, Cuban beans, guacamole and pico de gallo. Everything costs $3 to $4.

Every TV in the bar at southern-style restaurant Southside 815 seems to be tuned to ESPN or some sporting event, which is just fine with the regulars who gather here for the top-notch happy hour. Besides discounted beers and rail drinks, the daily specials include half-price burgers, $1 spicy pork sandwiches, 25 cent wings and $1.50 bite-size oyster po' boys. (You may need a few of those to fill up, but it's still a deal.)

If your stomach's growling at the end of happy hour, you may want to head over to the Big Hunt. The Dupont Circle beer bar offers a fairly standard line of discounts from 4 to 7 -- $2.50 Budweiser pints, $1 off all other beers and $3 rail drinks -- but Monday through Wednesday, there are extra food specials from 7 to 11: half-price pizzas on Mondays, 15 cent buffalo wings on Tuesdays and half-price burgers (regular and veggie) on Wednesdays. Gourmands will probably turn up their noses, but the Big Hunt turns out some pretty serviceable bar food, especially the pizza. There's no food special on Thursdays, but that's easy to overlook when Redhook pints are $3 all night.

THE BIG HUNT -- 1345 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-785-2333.

CAFE ASIA -- 1720 I St. NW; 202-659-2696. 1550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-741-0870.

CAFE SALSA -- 808 King St., Alexandria; 703-684-4100.

CAPITOL LOUNGE -- 231 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-547-2098.

ELLA'S WOOD FIRED PIZZA -- 901 F St. NW; 202-638-3434.

HERITAGE INDIA -- 1337 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-331-1414.

HOTEL HELIX -- 1430 Rhode Island Ave. NW; 202-462-9001.

McCORMICK AND SCHMICK'S -- Locations in downtown Washington, Reston, Bethesda and McLean.

MORTON'S -- Locations in downtown Washington, Arlington, Bethesda, Georgetown, Reston and Tysons Corner.

SOUTHSIDE 815 -- 815 S. Washington St., Alexandria; 703-836-6222.

TOMMY JOE'S -- 4714 Montgomery Lane, Bethesda; 301-654-3801.

TONIC -- 3155 Mount Pleasant St. NW; 202-986-7661.

TORTILLA COAST -- 400 First St. SE; 202-546-6768.

UNI: A SUSHI PLACE -- 2122 P St. NW; 202-833-8038.

WHITLOW'S ON WILSON -- 2854 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-276-9693.

Before the Ballgame

Anyone familiar with Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Fenway Park or Wrigley Field knows how nice it is to have bars and restaurants just steps from the gates. Sadly, RFK Stadium is surrounded by parking lots, the D.C. Armory and the Anacostia River. You can tailgate, of course, but that's not usually an option for those heading to weeknight games. The best option is to hop on Metro and hit the bars in nearby neighborhoods.

The new Trusty's Full Service is the closest bar to RFK Stadium, just around the corner from the Potomac Avenue station. It's a simple, low-key little place, with two taps and a small grill behind the bar that turns out hot dogs and burgers. Happy hour, which runs from 5 to 8, includes $2.50 draft beers (served in Mason jars) and $3 rail drinks.

Tunnicliff's Tavern often lacks atmosphere, but the Eastern Market bar has two things going for it: a sidewalk patio and $2 Budweisers and Bud Lights before and after all Nationals home games. Over on Eighth Street SE, the Ugly Mug is just right for a pregame party, with 10 flat-screen televisions perpetually tuned to ESPN. Twenty-four beers are offered on draft, with nightly specials.

The Pour House is decorated with Yankees and Red Sox paraphernalia (check out the mural of the Green Monster), but I can't hold that against the place -- happy hour includes $2.50 house beers and $3 rail drinks until 7, plus various daily specials; on Tuesdays, pitchers of Bud Light and the house amber are $10, while Yuengling is $12.

THE POUR HOUSE -- 319 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-546-1001.

TRUSTY'S FULL SERVICE -- 1420 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-547-1010.

TUNNICLIFF'S TAVERN -- 222 Seventh St. SE; 202-544-5680.

THE UGLY MUG -- 723 Eighth St. SE; 202-547-8459.

For Groups

Happy hours with great specials and a lively atmosphere are obviously going to be popular. This usually means a noisy bar with little place to sit and talk -- not always conducive to going out with a group of friends or office mates if you want to catch up over drinks.

Some advice holds true across the board:

Go early in the week. Most happy hour planners schedule their get-togethers on Thursday or Friday nights, leading to logjams at the bar. Go on a Monday or Tuesday and not only will you have more room, your servers will be less stressed, leading to a better overall atmosphere.

Get there early. Beat the crowds and you have a better chance of getting seats and having room to put your jackets, bags, etc.

If you can't fit your schedule around those guidelines, though, there's still hope.

Buffalo Billiards, the vast subterranean pool hall near Dupont Circle, is a good place to start. There are two large bars, numerous couches and chairs, a patio and specials that include beers for $2.50 and $3, and $3 rail drinks and house wine until 8. (Darts, shuffleboard, big-screen sports and more than two dozen pool tables mean you won't be bored.) The Reef is one of those Adams Morgan bars that fills up late, despite opening at 5. Get there early and you'll more than likely snag seats on the sunny rooftop deck or have your choice of booths on the spacious main level. (Seats near the large fish tanks are always popular.) You'll save a buck or two on draft beers, and people who live in the neighborhood save an extra 10 percent. (More on this deal in the Members Only section.) In nice weather, the new Caribbean Breeze in Arlington is worth checking out. Happy hour specials are available on the large covered patio as well as at the indoor bar between 4 and 7, so groups can gather around dinner tables with their $2.99 appetizers (empanadas, nachos, jerk chicken quesadillas) and discounted drinks. Draft beers cost $1.99 or $2.99, and a $4.99 drink of the day could be flavored mojitos or martinis. On Friday, margaritas are only $3.99.

Kickball teams frequently take over the picnic benches outside the District's Adams Mill Bar and Grill, but if you can beat them there, it's a fun place to relax. Specials include half-price appetizers and $1 off all drinks.

Some of the chic hotel lounges, including Topaz Bar and Bar Rouge, are rarely crowded at happy hour, despite having such deals as $5 specialty martinis (Topaz) and margaritas (Rouge) and half-price appetizers.

The Exchange's huge patio, on a wide sidewalk around the corner from the Old Executive Office Building, is a popular spot for the government workers who toil in nearby offices. You have to arrive early to snag a seat at one of the large tables, but you'll be glad you did. Specials change daily but include $1 mini "tavern" burgers and $3.50 Foggy Bottom drafts on Wednesdays; $5 plates of wings and $3.75 Yuengling drafts on Tuesdays; and $5 chicken tender platters, $4 margaritas and $3 Coronas on Thursdays. These are in addition to the standard $2.50 Budweiser and Bud Light drafts and $3 rail drinks that are offered from 5 to 7 Monday through Friday.

ADAMS MILL BAR AND GRILL -- 1813 Adams Mill Rd. NW; 202-332-9577.

BAR ROUGE -- 1315 16th St. NW; 202-232-8000.

BUFFALO BILLIARDS -- 1330 19th St. NW; 202-331-7665.

CARIBBEAN BREEZE -- 4100 Fairfax Dr., Arlington; 703-812-7997.

THE EXCHANGE -- 1719 G St. NW; 202-393-4690.

THE REEF -- 2446 18th St. NW; 202-518-3800.

TOPAZ BAR -- 1733 N St. NW; 202-393-3000.

In Da Club

Nobody likes to walk into a supposedly hot club to find an empty dance floor and a couple of early birds hanging out at the bar. Promoters and owners know that patrons don't want to show up until they're sure there will be other people around, so crowds begin to arrive about 11 or midnight. To lure people in early, clubs offer free admission, free food, free drinks and often a DJ. The hope is that you'll have such a great time you'll want to stick around and party all night; or even if you eventually go somewhere else, you'll at least hang out long enough to purchase some drinks at the regular inflated prices once the specials end.

These happy hours do require the most planning, though, as you usually have to be on a mailing list or print out a coupon to take advantage of the freebies.

If you're looking for somewhere to go after work, the best bets are Fridays at Avenue, Wednesdays at MCCXXIII and Thursdays at Pearl Restaurant & Lounge. All three offer free drinks, and bartenders pour everything but the really, really good stuff; getting Absolut vodka or Tanqueray gin is no problem, let alone Miller Lite or Samuel Adams beers. Each attracts crowds of predominantly African American professionals and has hip-hop DJs spinning. Dress codes are in effect; this is not a khaki kind of crowd.

If you're feeling hungry, Avenue and MCCXXIII offer buffet dinners. You can get on the list for the two clubs by visiting Madpowerunit.com; Pearl's list is accessible through Werundc.com.

Megaclub H2O is also in on the act. Thursdays at H2O feature a dinner buffet and free wine from 5 to 7, two-for-one flavored martinis and a hip-hop DJ. As a bonus, there's nothing to sign up for -- just show up, dressed to impress. Weekends are a different story. An open bar is offered from 9 to 11 on Friday and Saturday nights, and Saturdays have an outdoor barbecue, with chefs grilling burgers and hot dogs on the riverside patio. Sign up for the guest list at H2odc.com to guarantee free admission.

The key is to look at the big picture. For example, if you time it right, you can get unlimited food and drinks from 6 to 11 on Friday. Get to Avenue early for drinks. The soul food buffet arrives about 7. Leave at 8, when happy hour ends, or when you finish the drink you picked up at 7:55. Head down to H2O, where, if you're on the list, you can get food and drinks from 9 to 11. (Note that the area around the "open" bar is crowded, so you may want to grab two drinks at once.) If you stock up on cocktails or beers at 10:30, you're set.

AVENUE -- 649 New York Ave. NW; 202-347-8100.

H2O -- 800 Water St. SW; 202-484-6300.

MCCXXIII -- 1223 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-822-1800.

PEARL RESTAURANT & LOUNGE -- 901 Ninth St. NW; 202-371-0681.

For Members Only

Membership can indeed have its privileges. If you join Rock Bottom Brewery's Mug Club, for example, you get a black plastic credit card that's swiped every time you buy a pint. Drink enough and you get free glasses, T-shirts and gift certificates. But it has a much bigger benefit: Every time the brewers create a new beer, Mug Club members are invited to a special "pre-tapping" party at the brewpub. In Bethesda, this means a private gathering upstairs with $2 beers, free appetizers and free pool. The DuClaw Brewing Co. has similar release parties at its locations, including those in Bowie and Arundel Mills. Get on the company's e-mail list (www.duclaw.com), and when a new beer becomes available, you'll receive a special bar-coded invitation to attend the party of your choice.

The Reef is one of Adams Morgan's most popular nightspots, thanks to its rooftop deck and excellent draft beer selection, but the owners are serious about keeping the place a neighborhood bar. Everyone who can prove they live in the immediate area -- which the bar defines as Zip codes 20008, 20009 and 20010 -- gets an extra 10 percent off their tab Sunday through Thursday.

THE DUCLAW BREWING CO. -- 4000 Town Centre Blvd., Bowie; 301-809-6943.

THE REEF -- 2446 18th St. NW; 202-518-3800.

ROCK BOTTOM BREWERY -- 7900 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-1311.

For Really, Really Thirsty People

Why pay $8 or $10 for one martini when you can have all you want for $20? That's the thinking behind some "all you can drink" happy hours.

The most popular (and packed) is at the sleek MCCXXIII lounge on Friday nights. From 5 to 9, $20 means unlimited drinks. Bartenders will pour premium vodkas and gins, though often with a light hand.

Because happy hour seems like such a great deal -- especially if you're staying for more than an hour -- it's often crowded near the bar, and trying to get close enough to get a bartender's attention can be a chore. A good strategy is to order two drinks at once. Yes, you'll look like a lush, but you won't have to push through the crowds as often.

There's less of a rush on Thursdays, when the open bar lasts from 6 to 9.

Tapatinis has a similar Friday event, though it's an hour shorter (ending at 8). It can be uncomfortably packed. The $20 all-you-care-to-drink happy hour is optional, so you can bring along a cash-strapped friend who doesn't want to imbibe all that alcohol.

My Brother's Place, a favorite of younger Hill staffers and Catholic University students, has a $15 Saturday night special with unlimited draft beers and "house" wines from 7 to 1. If you're looking for a frat house vibe -- with a DJ -- this is the place.

MCCXXIII -- 1223 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-822-1800.

MY BROTHER'S PLACE -- 237 Second St. NW; 202-347-1350.

TAPATINIS -- 711 Eighth St. SE; 202-546-8272.

For Nights When Your Boss 'Asks' You to Work Late

It's 4:55, and you're ready to grab a plate of Buffalo wings and a cold beer after another long day at the office. Then your manager calls and says he could really use your help on a last-minute project. Would you mind taking a look at it before you leave? Two hours later, you're still at your desk, watching all those happy hour specials slip away. There's no chance you'll be able to grab some food and drinks without spending a load of cash -- or is there?

In Tysons Corner, eCitie was an early attempt to attract Northern Virginia's dot-com boomers, and it's one of the few survivors. The restaurant and bar attracts a slightly older crowd for salsa dancing and DJs playing retro and Top 40 tunes. Presumably with the workaholic tech crowd in mind, eCitie's happy hour specials last until 8:30 and include $4.25 martinis (cosmos and apple martinis as well as the classics) and house wines. On Mondays, a $2.95 bar menu is available all night.

Tom Tom, a favored (and often raucous) haunt of students, interns and young professionals, offers $3 draft beers and rail drinks from 6 to 9 daily and additional specials afterward, including $2 Miller Lites and $3 Absolut cocktails on Tuesdays.

For those who prefer cocktails, classy Lounge 201 goes beyond the usual Capitol Hill specials. Eight selections from its large martini list are $5 every Tuesday; choose from watermelon, pink lemonade or the traditional three-olive classic (gin or vodka).

David Greggory's daily happy hour is a pretty good deal: $3.75 microbrew drafts, $4.75 wines and $5 appetizers, including the smoked chicken empanadas and the David Greggory pizza, which comes topped with applewood smoked bacon, pesto and oven-dried tomatoes. On Tuesdays, the colorful RestoLounge extends the discounts to 10 p.m.

Capitol City Brewing Co. and Austin Grill offer two happy hours per day. All three branches of the brewpub chain serve $2.50 beers and half-price appetizers from 4 to 7 and again from 10 to close. The quaffable house-made beers have won a number of awards, so check the chalkboards for the brewer's latest creations. Cap City's Union Station branch is a great place to grab a cold one after a Nats game -- grab the D6 bus at the Stadium-Armory Metro station.

Every Austin Grill location offers different deals, but it's hard to beat the daily specials in Bethesda (4 to 7 and 10 to close), which include $3.50 frozen margaritas, $2 Shiner Bocks and $5.50 house margaritas. The Silver Spring and Glover Park branches start even earlier, cutting drink prices at 2. (Silver Spring is noteworthy because it hosts live music every night, and free music and cheap drinks are a perfect combination.) A number of Thursday happy hours listed elsewhere run all night, including those at the Front Page, Lucky Bar and the Pour House.

AUSTIN GRILL -- Various locations, including Bethesda, Silver Spring and Glover Park.

CAPITOL CITY BREWING CO. -- Locations on New York Avenue NW and Massachusetts Avenue NE, and in Arlington.

DAVID GREGGORY -- 2030 M St. NW; 202-872-8700.

ECITIE -- 8500 Tyco Rd., McLean; 703-760-9000.

LOUNGE 201 -- 201 Massachusetts Ave. NE; 202-544-5201.

TOM TOM -- 2335 18th St. NW; 202-518-6667.

For Budding Pool Sharks

Playing pool at Dr. Dremo's Taphouse on a weekend night costs $12 an hour. Shooting a little nine-ball at Dr. Dremo's Taphouse at happy hour is free, and you get cheap beer to go along with it, including $1 beer on Tuesdays.

Want to spice up your game with a friendly wager? At Madam's Organ, where the two pool tables are always free, two-for-one drinks are offered between 5 and 8. Loser buys!

Women have even more luck. "Ladies Night" at Continental and Carpool in Herndon mean women can play free all night on Mondays and Wednesdays, respectively. Continental's happy hour -- which runs until 8 -- includes half-price quesadillas, wings and other appetizers in addition to discounted drinks. (Guys, you can get in on the specials.)

CARPOOL -- 208 Elden St., Herndon; 571-203-7995.

CONTINENTAL -- North Moore Street and Lee Highway, Arlington; 703-465-7675.

DR. DREMO'S TAPHOUSE -- 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703-528-4660.

MADAM'S ORGAN -- 2461 18th St. NW; 202-667-5370.

For Those With a

Sophisticated Palate

Some people just can't face another after-work blowout with cheap bottles of domestic beer or watery rail gin-and-tonics that taste like paint stripper. Fortunately, some restaurants do go out of their way to cater to folks who'd like more than another same-old bottle of Miller Lite.

These might not be deals to everyone, because when you're watching your wallet, one cocktail or glass of wine can equal six bottles of beer somewhere else. But change is good.

Beer connoisseurs will tell you that Belgium makes a disproportionate amount of the world's finest beers. You may have sampled Stella Artois, Hoegaarden or Chimay at local bars, but the real surprises come from heavyweight brews such as Lucifer, Delirium Tremens or Kasteel Triple, which can range from 7 to 10 percent alcohol. Problem is, any of that trio will cost $7 to $10 per bottle at most beer bars. That's why you'll love Belgian Beer Happy Hours at L'Enfant Cafe or Bohemian Caverns, where beers are half-price every Tuesday. (It's a shame they're on the same night, but hopping between the bars is possible.) Bohemian Caverns -- a renovated 1930s jazz club decorated with stalactites -- is easier to get to, and its deals run from 6 to 11.

Highlights include Delirium Tremens, its darker sister Delirium Nocturnum, Lucifer, Golden Carolus and various Chimay beers. Too bad the food is expensive and service can be scattershot. Most bottles cost $3 to $4, and the drafts are a bit cheaper.

L'Enfant Cafe tries hard to be a Parisian sidewalk bistro, from the water bottles to the woven chairs and round tables on the small patio.

And like many French bars, L'Enfant is heavy on Belgian beers. Tuesdays from 4:30 to 7:30, they're all half off, whether you want a draft Chimay ($3.75); a bottle of sweet, rich Kasteel ($4); or a refreshing Affligem ($3.50). The cafe menu features daily crepe and quiche specials.

Firefly's Wine Down happy hour is the most unpredictable of the bunch.

Every day from 4:30 to 7, chef John Wabeck offers two wines by the glass. One is red or rose, the other is white or sparkling.

That's where the certainties end. Wabeck, a budding sommelier, tastes a lot of wine, and when he finds something he likes, he'll buy a couple of bottles -- a Chardonnay from South Africa, a pinotage from South America, a rose from France. While the by-the-glass price at happy hour is much less than you'd expect to pay for a bottle, be prepared for the occasional sticker shock: Some pours will set you back more than $10. Check the blackboard by the bar for info on the day's wines.

BOHEMIAN CAVERNS -- 2003 11th St. NW; 202-299-0800.

FIREFLY -- 1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-861-1310.

L'ENFANT CAFE -- 2000 18th St. NW; 202-319-1800.

For the Day After Rent Is Due

Of course, for many people, the allure of happy hour is cheap drinks. If your bank account is a little low between now and payday, there are plenty of bars where you can have fun at a discount rate.

The best option, of course, is to drink for nothing at all.

Every Thursday at Tapatinis, drinks are free after 9 p.m. No, there's no catch. This is pure promotion: A brand such as Tanqueray gin "sponsors" the night, providing a couple of bottles of its product for free. You order a Tanqueray martini with olives, a Tanqueray and tonic or a Tanqueray gimlet. The bartender makes your drink. You leave a tip. And that's it.

The liquor changes weekly; recent sponsors have included Maker's Mark bourbon, Belvedere vodka and Johnnie Walker Black scotch. As you might expect, it gets very crowded. Arrive early to get a table and take advantage of happy hour; from 5 to 8, all top-shelf martinis are $5.

The Green Lantern, a gay bar near Thomas Circle, has an interesting idea that turns its customers into the attraction: Thursdays from 10 to 11, shirtless men drink free. (Trust me, you don't have to be a gym bunny to take advantage of the deal. You just have to be brave.) Bethesda's Rock Bottom Brewery doesn't get the crowds that its sister brewpub in Arlington draws (see the Tried and True section for more info on that), but it offers a good, if brief deal on Mondays and Tuesdays: $1.50 beers during the "Happy Hour and a Half" from 5:30 to 7.

On Wednesdays, fans of the bar can buy a draft in a logo pint glass for $4.95 and get $2 refills all night.

Dr. Dremo's Taphouse offers a different $1 beer every Tuesday. (Sign up for the bar's mailing list at Drdremo.com for advance notice of the week's choice.) Sometimes it's something special, such as Fordham's Tavern Ale or Stoudt's Scarlet Lady ESB. Sometimes it's Pabst Blue Ribbon or Miller High Life. The best part of the deal is that it coincides with the weekly movie night hosted by the Washington Psychotronic Film Society; watch B-movies, '60 retro schlock and oddball foreign films while you sip your discounted drafts.

The Pour House used to be known as Politiki, and it still carries on one of that tiki bar's greatest traditions: The Thursday night Budweiser countdown. Bud and Bud Light bottles are $1 from 4 to 8, $2 from 8 to midnight and then $3 until last call. As you might expect, it can be a bit of a madhouse.

Wind down your week at the Bottom Line, an underground I Street saloon with Tiffany-style lamps hanging over an extra-long bar. A diverse crowd (young, old, black, white, male, female) packs the joint every Friday for $1 Miller Lite bottles. The special is offered from 4 to 8 and makes a slight return from midnight to close, when Lites are $1.50.

Some of the best bartenders in the area ply their trade at Jimmy's Old Town Tavern, a neighborhood bar in historic Old Town Herndon. Visit between 4 and 8 and you'll find $1.75 domestic drafts, $2.75 house wine and rail drinks, and $3 microbrews as well as a local crowd who all know each others' names.

Happy hour is filled with specials at Recessions, an odd little bar tucked into the basement of the Lincoln Suites hotel on L Street NW. From 5 to 8 Monday through Friday and 4 to close on Saturdays, the bar trots out some pretty good deals, including $2 bottles of domestic beer and $2.50 rail drinks and appetizers. The most appealing, though, is the King Kong, a weighty 26-ounce mug of draft beer that sells for $3. On Fridays, karaoke begins at 7.

For bargain hunters, My Brother's Place, covered elsewhere in the Thirsty People section, has a beat-the-clock special every Friday night. Beginning at 4, all drafts are 75 cents, and prices rise a quarter every hour after that. The young crowd drinks it up. Just to add to the frat-house atmosphere, the weekly beer pong tournament starts at 5.

Cafe Citron is a hotspot for Latin music on weekends, with lines stretching out the door. It's much less chaotic during the week, which is the perfect time to check out the bar's real strength: cocktails. From 5 to 7, sample the classic $4 mojitos (among the best in town) or the $5 mango mojitos, made with flavored rum. Bottles of Corona or Sagres, a refreshing Portuguese beer, are $3. The house-made red or white sangria is $4. If you're coming with a group, the better deal is to purchase a pitcher of mojitos ($25), sangria ($19) or frozen margaritas ($25). Service can be slower at tables than at the bar, though, so seat yourself accordingly.

(More information about free drinks is available in the section on Clubs, and places with dead-cheap beers are listed in the Tried and True section.)

THE BOTTOM LINE -- 1716 I St. NW; 202-298-8488.

CAFE CITRON -- 1343 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-530-8844.

DR. DREMO'S TAPHOUSE -- 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703-528-4660.

THE GREEN LANTERN -- 1335 Green Ct. NW, 202-347-4533.

JIMMY'S OLD TOWN TAVERN -- 697 Spring St., Herndon, 703-435-5467.

MY BROTHER'S PLACE -- 237 Second St. NW; 202-347-1350.

THE POUR HOUSE -- 319 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-546-1001.

RECESSIONS -- 1823 L St. NW; 202-296-6686.

ROCK BOTTOM BREWERY -- 7900 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-1311.

TAPATINIS -- 711 Eighth St. SE; 202-546-8272.

Fritz Hahn is the bars and clubs editor for washingtonpost.com and frequent writer of Weekend's Nightwatch column.