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Time to Celebrate

A festive primer on happy hours around OKC



 



Most bar history is written by drunk people. That may be an exaggeration, but it is inarguably written by people who drink (often too much), so attempts to learn where something bar-related comes from tend to end in failure. Such is the case with the concept of happy hour – according to the much-maligned Internet collective mind that edits Wikipedia, the origin of the term could be anywhere from Shakespeare’s Henry V to the USS Arkansas, a battleship of the U.S. Navy, in 1913. Nothing inspires confidence like a 300-plus-year window of possibility, right?

That means we are left to puzzle out the concept’s origin, but like all good things, the question is less important than the enjoyment, and so we offer this guide to happy hours and small bites around the metro.
 

Is It Illegal?


Any guide to so-called happy hour hotspots in Oklahoma has to contend with the reality that happy hour is legally complicated in our state. Bars and restaurants are not allowed to advertise drink specials, and if they do offer them, the price must be honored for seven consecutive business days during all hours of operation. That makes happy hour a losing approach for many establishments because profit margins are already narrow – usually in the single digits, and often low single digits.

It turns out there are two kinds of bar patrons: those who respect the hard work of the owners and staff and so keep “happy hour” a sacrosanct period of time with a definite start and end, and the others who just want a discount. Occasionally, bars have tried to offer a “bar menu,” but many guests will demand that those foods be made available in all areas of the restaurant, even though the idea was to get people to sit at the bar. Any bartender or server will tell you which of those two groups gets better service, better treatment and the occasional buy-back drink.

Rather than navigate the complex grammar of legalese, and doubly beset by the “discount shoppers,” many bars and restaurants simply eschew happy hour, and that is sad for our state. In other cities, happy hour is a cultural given, a special time of camaraderie, fun, decompressing and networking before heading home to the other half of our responsibilities.

If observers of Oklahoma’s new legislation are to be believed, these happy hour restrictions are on the way out. One of the few good parts of the new booze laws is the change to happy hours, really all liquor specials. Beginning in October 2018, bars and restaurants will be able to advertise, set prices, say no to the discount shoppers and exercise greater control over their hours, specials and features. We’ll drink to that.

 

Drinking Cheap vs. Happy Hour Specials


Some places – I call them happy places – offer inexpensive drinks during all hours of operation. This is not as sketchy as you might suppose; branding mostly has little to do with quality and much to do with psychology, which is to say, there are still quality products at low prices.
 

In the wine world, much is made of the quality-to-price ratio. That’s largely because some regions have more mystique – or the real estate is super-expensive – and they may, in fact, have a long tradition of producing excellent wines. But those same regions also produce terrible wines, and in a wonderful corollary, regions not always known to produce great wines can do that occasionally. Take keg wines, for example. They are struggling to catch on in Oklahoma, but it’s the exact same wine you find in bottles, only it’s cheaper because of the volume and the lack of waste.

The same is true of beer and spirits, although branding would lead us to believe otherwise. Yes, you can spend $12 on a Belgian beer, and it will be delicious, but it’s also likely you can spend $5 on a domestic microbrew and fall in love with it. Local taprooms are now open to you, and you should take full advantage of a little happy hour brew while you explore Oklahoma craft beers.

 


 

In the wine world, much is made of the quality-to-price ratio. That’s largely because some regions have more mystique – or the real estate is super-expensive – and they may, in fact, have a long tradition of producing excellent wines. But those same regions also produce terrible wines, and in a wonderful corollary, regions not always known to produce great wines can do that occasionally. Take keg wines, for example. They are struggling to catch on in Oklahoma, but it’s the exact same wine you find in bottles, only it’s cheaper because of the volume and the lack of waste.

The same is true of beer and spirits, although branding would lead us to believe otherwise. Yes, you can spend $12 on a Belgian beer, and it will be delicious, but it’s also likely you can spend $5 on a domestic microbrew and fall in love with it. Local taprooms are now open to you, and you should take full advantage of a little happy hour brew while you explore Oklahoma craft beers.

Anthem (908 SW Fourth) Monday through Wednesday, the taproom closes at 6 p.m., so if you get there at 5, it really is happy hour.

Prairie Artisan Ales (3 NE Eighth) The brewery is finally open, just east of Broadway. They are open until 9 p.m. seven days a week, so cheers to them for the extended hours.

Stonecloud (1012 NW First) If you haven’t tried the Stonecloud beers, it’s difficult to explain exactly how great they are. The taproom is open until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, so it’s happy hours at the old Sunshine Cleaners building.

In addition to the taprooms, don’t forget our old friends who introduced us to “good beers” back in the day: Tapwerks (121 E Sheridan) and McNellie’s (1100 N Classen Drive). They have been faithfully slinging beer for a long time, and they know their product.

Pub W (3 locations) A new kid on the block of sorts is Pub W, with two locations in OKC and one in Norman. They’ve done incredibly well in cocktail competitions over the past two years, winning one outright – which means someone in charge knows how to put ingredients together! The beer list is excellent, too, and you can put four 4-ounce pours together to make an outstanding flight. They keep labels such as Anthem, Roughtail and Vanessa House on draft, which means you can get a local flight. Bites: Get the pretzel. It’s baked fresh, and its cheese sauce – which should be served in a tankard – also works well on the pigs-in-a-blanket and the house-made chips. For the health-conscious, there is edamame.

As for wine happy hours, there are a few go-to locations around town, beginning with The Pritchard (1749 NW 16th). Mindy Magers, the sommelier at the Plaza District wine bar, has built a list that includes ridiculously affordable, high-quality wines from around the world, including some in kegs. (The best thing about wine in a keg: You can try a sample easily, because it’s a keg.) Bites: The menu includes Chef Shelby Sieg’s small plates, such as duck, lamb and the best cacio e pepe you’re likely to find in a non-Italian restaurant.

 

Mindy Magers and Chef Shelby Sieg


 

O Bar (1200 N Walker) Wine Down Wednesday at O Bar in the Ambassador Hotel is like a bacchanalian festival every week. Manager and sommelier Jeff Cole picks a wine of the week, and pours it for $5 a glass until it’s gone. The view is stunning, and the oysters are always $2 each. Bites: In addition to the oysters, they have house potato chips, escargot, Italian meatballs and chef Leo Novak’s country pate.

Paseo Grill (2909 Paseo) Bar manager Johnny Walker picks featured wines, one red and one white, that are $6 a glass until the bottles are empty. Bites: The smoked trout dip is a must, and you can get oysters “grilled or chilled.”

 

Discount Food With or Without Drinks


Because happy hour is so legally dicey, some restaurants just offer food specials to keep your overall ticket price down, and these places don’t just serve bar snacks (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
 

Boulevard Steakhouse (505 S Boulevard) Every Thursday and Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m, the Martini Lounge at Pete Holloway’s Edmond restaurant has free food. Yes, free food in Edmond. “We put out some snacks, like chips and queso and finger foods,” Holloway says, “but we also make orders of sliders and other dishes regularly in addition to the bar snacks.”

The Drake (519 NW 23rd) This is going to sound a little counterintuitive, but the beef tenderloin slider is reason enough to go to The Drake. Yes, the oyster bar. From 4:30 to 7 p.m., The Drake has a “Fling” menu; it includes seafood, of course, but you will also find hot onion bacon dip, the sliders and a few adult beverages at very affordable prices, including Miller High Life and a rotating seasonal draft.

Red Piano Lounge (1 Park) Luke Fry was busy last year rebooting Park Avenue Grill at the Skirvin Hilton, and he’s also turned his attention to the Red Piano Lounge. The downtown bar – just a short walk from Thunder games – has a solid wine list and good cocktails, and they also feature small plates, including calamari, ahi tacos and chicken biscuits.

Rococo (2824 N Penn) Chef Jason Heald is constantly experimenting with new things, and the 5@5 menu is one of his favorite places to experiment. Oysters Rockefeller, fried pickled okra with chipotle ranch, “naked” buffalo shrimp and beef kabobs have been recent features. It changes regularly, which makes each trip an adventure of sorts.

 

Beef Tenderloin sliders from The Drake


 

The Manhattan (210 Park) Bruce Rinehart’s newest concept, this one in downtown, features a full list of variations on the signature cocktail, as well as a happy hour menu of food options. The famous Rococo crab cake is included, as are deviled eggs and house-made potato wedges.

The Barrel (4308 N Western) You can get Dave Attalla’s outstanding Chicago-style deep-dish pizza made by hand any day of the week, but circle Wednesday on your mental calendar, because that’s when they’re half-price from 4 to 8 p.m.

 

Fresh off the reboot of Other Room, Shaun Fiaccone’s and Kim Danserau’s neighborhood bar in the Paseo, Fiaccone is on a mission to make the Paseo Arts District a happy hour destination. Between now and press time, at least two other concepts will have opened in Paseo, with more on the way. What used to be a neighborhood with four choices – Other Room, Paseo Grill, Picasso and Sauced – will be home to at least three more: Craft, Frida and Scratch.

The team took a risk with Other Room, as it’s been a popular destination for smokers and food service industry insiders for many years, especially late night – even when it was Isis. They have taken out all the lounging areas, expanded the bar and ended smoking, except on the patio.

 

Brady Sexton’s restaurant and bar has been one of the best reasons to go to Norman since it debuted, and he opened a new location in Telluride, Colorado, at the end of 2017. His Paseo location opened in early 2018, and the creative queen of Oklahoma City bartenders, Kristin Weddendorf, is overseeing operations. Like its Norman counterpart, Scratch-Paseo offers half-price appetizers for happy hour, including spinach dip, pulled pork nachos and arancini. They also have a line of affordable cocktails, all priced at $5 – the well booze is good quality, so don’t try to enhance the drink with a “call” booze, as it’ll just make the price go up. The lineup features Daiquiris (real ones, not the sugary frozen slushes ordered by drunk people on cruise ships), Gimlets, Manhattans, Margaritas and Old Fashioneds.

 

The Best and Worst Cocktail Ever


It’s the margarita, that blessing and bane of happy hour. Bartenders usually hate when you order them, especially when they’re frozen and not batched (made in advance in large quantities, like a margarita dispenser). They’re also up against a trend, and that trend is a giant tub of a glass, full to the brim with sugary, syrupy sweet-and-sour mix and a little bit of cheap tequila at a very low price. How to combat this?
 

Barrios (1100 N Hudson) has a very simple – only three ingredients – and very affordable basic margarita for $6. It’s slightly tangy, as a margarita should be, and it’s served in a rocks glass, because people ought to be civilized when they knock back inexpensive but delicious cocktails.

 


 

When You Want to Spend More on Drinking Than Eating


Taylor Blake is a college student, hippie born much too late and late-night wanderer around the metro. The food service veteran, both server and bartender, has been planning to write an insider’s guide, but we convinced her just to give us her secrets about where to eat and drink as cheaply as possible, including free.
 

Sunday Free brunch at the Blue Note (2408 N Robinson) at 4 p.m. Yes, that’s late for brunch, but this place caters to industry people. Blake warns, “Just like free brunch at the Hi-Lo, the food is made by a different bartender all the time, so you never know quite how good the food will be.” Again, though, it’s free.

Tamale Tuesday at Lost Highway Bar (1613 N May). “They have free tamales, and there is no beer on the menu over $5,” Blake says. Sharing is caring, especially helpful information. Tamales available at 8 p.m.

For Blake, Lost Highway Bar is the hidden gem of Oklahoma City. “They really take care of industry people, but it’s a bar for everyone,” she says. “Those beers under $5 are good beers, and they even have some great cider. It’s outside the downtown bubble so people tend to think it’s too far out of the way, but it’s really a short drive.”

Wiener Wednesday at The Other Room (3009 Paseo). To be honest, they may not call it that, but who cares? It’s free hot dogs and chips at 10 p.m. Remember when you were young enough that you could eat processed meat at 10 p.m. and still fall into a blissful slumber before 4 a.m.? The Other Room always has half-priced pizza and $2 Hamm’s.

 

Daniel Chae is pushing “baby vodka” at his Uptown 23rd restaurant, Chae (1933 NW 23rd). No, it’s not vodka for children; it’s soju. While relatively new to Oklahomans, soju is a traditional Korean beverage that is made from distilled rice or grains, and in the case of inexpensive soju, diluted ethanol from sweet potatoes. It’s a neutral spirit after distillation, much like vodka, but many producers add flavors after the distillation process to create a very pleasant, mild, quaffable spirit that pairs well with spicy food.

Chae has added a whole line of cocktails made with soju, and you also can drink it as it’s poured in South Korea – straight, in a small cup. Ask the bartender for the alcohol content, because soju runs the spectrum from about 18 percent up to make-you-go-blind.

 

Bar Snacks


You absolutely should not stick your hand in a bowl of peanuts on the bar. You probably should avoid them altogether unless you have a strong immune system. Just ask the bartender about the last dozen people who stuck a hand in the bowl, and you’ll even pass on spooning them onto a cocktail napkin. Bar snacks are a grand tradition, though, and they should not be scorned. When done right, they offer just enough salt and savor to make the cocktails or beer go down better.
 

One of our favorites is the popcorn at Pizzeria Gusto (2415 N Walker). They have different flavors, but if you’re there on truffle day, you will always want to know when truffle day is. The staff makes huge batches and portions it into personal bowls after you sit down at the bar, mainly because they love you and don’t want you sharing diseases with other bar guests. We tried this personally, so here’s the best pro tip: They seem not to mind when you ask for a second bowl. This is probably because they want to be able to say, “Sorry, we’re out of popcorn,” for the rest of the night – but as long as you benefit, you’re welcome.

 


 

Oysters


No, they aren’t “bar snacks,” but they are snack-y. Oysters used to be an expensive indulgence around these parts, and still can be, but several metro locations make it easy to try these delicacies for very little money.
 

Tommy’s Italian American Grill (5516 W Memorial) Tommy Byrd’s eatery spent years on the north end of Northpark Mall, where it developed a solid reputation for hearty Italian food and a good wine list. The reboot on Memorial is updated considerably, and the menu includes oysters for a buck. Yes, for one dollar, you can get oysters. Ask the bartender or server what’s available, and as a general rule for the newbies, the Northeast has briny oysters, and the West Coast has cucumber-y or melon-y oysters. The Gulf? No. Not a good place to start.

O Bar (1200 N Walker) Chef Leo Novak may be the best shucker in Oklahoma. He knows oysters, and they’re always $2 at the O Bar or downstairs at Viceroy.

The Drake (519 NW 23rd) The oyster bar in Uptown 23rd has the best selection in the metro, maybe in the state. They also come with a choice of several mignonettes, but everyone should try the Yuzu.

Paseo Grill (2909 Paseo) The oysters are on the happy hour menu at the Paseo Arts District restaurant, either grilled or chilled.

Rococo (2824 N Penn) Oysters Rockefeller, old school. That’s really all you need to know.

La Baguette (7408 N May) Alain Buthion is a local seafood genius, and the oysters at La Baguette are always an excellent choice. He gets East and West Coast selections.

McClintock Saloon & Chop House (2227 Exchange) Oysters in the Stockyards are a thing. Michel Buthion said he believes the oysters at McClintock are as good as those at his other restaurant, La Baguette. We assume he’d know.

 

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May 2019

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Cost: $6 adults

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
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Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
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Sponsor: Miller Neighborhood Association
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Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

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Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
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Cost: $15-$20

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"Sandy Magrath: Dogs of the Southwest" art exhibit will be open May 1 - June 30, 2019, at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 -...

Cost: $6 adults

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Stacy Moore
Website »

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James Bailey from Missoula, Montana, is ARTSPACE at Untitled's visiting Artist in Residence; his exhibition, Map-ify, is on view May 9th through July 6th.  "My work examines...

Cost: Free

Where:
ARTSPACE at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
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Telephone: 405.815.9995
Website »

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James Bailey from Missoula, Montana, is ARTSPACE at Untitled's visiting Artist in Residence; his exhibition, Map-ify, is on view May 9th through July 6th.  "My work examines...

Cost: Free

Where:
ARTSPACE at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405.815.9995
Website »

More information

"Sandy Magrath: Dogs of the Southwest" art exhibit will be open May 1 - June 30, 2019, at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 -...

Cost: $6 adults

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Stacy Moore
Website »

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"Sandy Magrath: Dogs of the Southwest" art exhibit will be open May 1 - June 30, 2019, at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 -...

Cost: $6 adults

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Stacy Moore
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
ARTSPACE at Untitled
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View map »


Telephone: 405.815.9995
Website »

More information

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"Sandy Magrath: Dogs of the Southwest" art exhibit will be open May 1 - June 30, 2019, at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 -...

Cost: $6 adults

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Stacy Moore
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
ARTSPACE at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405.815.9995
Website »

More information

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James Bailey from Missoula, Montana, is ARTSPACE at Untitled's visiting Artist in Residence; his exhibition, Map-ify, is on view May 9th through July 6th.  "My work examines...

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ARTSPACE at Untitled
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Telephone: 405.815.9995
Website »

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Cost: $4 - $6

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Cost: $6 adults

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
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Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Stacy Moore
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Cost: Free

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"Sandy Magrath: Dogs of the Southwest" art exhibit will be open May 1 - June 30, 2019, at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 -...

Cost: $6 adults

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Stacy Moore
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

James Bailey from Missoula, Montana, is ARTSPACE at Untitled's visiting Artist in Residence; his exhibition, Map-ify, is on view May 9th through July 6th.  "My work examines...

Cost: Free

Where:
ARTSPACE at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405.815.9995
Website »

More information

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Cost: Save $5 on a Dual Park Pass!

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Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
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View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

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Cost: $59.95

Where:
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1 Park Ave
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Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
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