What sets a truly great happy hour apart?
Well, delicious food and drinks, for one. There’s also the vibe of the place.
“The social aspect of this cannot be discounted, even in the discounted world of happy hour,” Jenny Vergara told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard.
Plus, she added, it’s just good way to get to familiarize yourself with a new cuisine or try a restaurant that might normally be out of your price range.
Vergara, along with fellow Food Critics Mary Bloch and Charles Ferruzza, searched out the best happy hours in and around Kansas City.
Here are their recommendations:
Mary Bloch, Around the Block:
- Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar. Discounted cocktails, including summer treats like strawberry lemonade (with strawberry-infused vodka) and cucumber lemon press (with cucumber-infused vodka). Great small plates from the kitchen: ceviche tostadas, chicken and crawfish gumbo, mussels, and, of course, oysters for $1.50 a piece. Sit at the bar and watch them shuck dozens at a time. It’s a lively spot; my favorite place to be.
- Eddie V’s. Yes, it’s a chain, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look. It’s one of the few happy hours in town that is offered seven days a week. There are a lot of drink specials, but the real appeal here is the food: blackened fish tacos, lollipop lamb chops, filet sandwiches and lobster wontons. Or spend a little more and sample a crab cake or tuna tartare. They also have oysters in various forms — raw, fried or Rockefeller.
- Bluestem. Drink specials include 9-ounce pours for the 6-ounce price, $3 beer, $5 cocktails, discounted bottles of wine. Snacks: marinated olives, corn muffins with goat cheese and red pepper jelly, warm bacon popcorn, cheese plate.
- Extra Virgin. Maybe the most comprehensive happy hour in town. Many items on the regular menu are 50 percent off during that time: papas bravas, cured meats, the ricotta grilled bread, crab and chorizo, chicken thighs and figs, mussels, steamed buns, even hangar steak with salsa verde.
- The Rieger. Discounted cocktails, wine and beer, as well as food offerings like soups, salads, snacks, and small plates like crudo, carpaccio and meatballs.
- Ça Va. Great snacks and bubbles. Food specials include the addictive duck-fat kettle corn, beignets, featured cheeses, $6 glasses of wine and whiskey and discounted bottles of a wide array of sparkling wines.
- Summit Grill. Drink specials, pot roast sliders, ahi tuna with Asian slaw, baby burgers, steak street tacos, wings with blue cheese sauce, truffle fries.
- Osteria Il Centro. Half-price appetizers: bruschetta, hummus, calamari, antipasti, goat cheese and garlic spread, plus $7 glasses of wine.
Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:
- Voltaire. There is not one person who wouldn’t enjoy a little happy hour libation at the gorgeous bar tucked away inside Voltaire. The place is dark, and definitely romantic, so bring someone you want to get to know a little better. With a solid crew behind the bar, do not hesitate to order a $4 glass of house wine or local beer or one of the excellent cocktail specials priced around $6-$7. The food menu changes each week, with a variety of globally-inspired small plates. Happy hour is 4-6 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday.
- The Antler Room. Chef Nick and Leslie Goellner opened their hotspot in the Longfellow neighborhood near Hospital Hill. Saddle up to their bar for drink discounts, and look for the couple to introduce food to the happy hour menu soon. In the meantime, order anything from their full-price dinner menu to enjoy with your discounted drinks at the bar. There are two beers, three wines and two seasonal cocktails to choose from (around $6-7). Happy hour is 5-7 p.m., Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
- Julep Cocktail Club. It is hard not to love a happy hour menu that celebrates whiskey in all of its forms. Additional drink specials include $6 Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Sazeracs and whiskey sours. Also: $6 glasses of wine, plus $2 off any Boulevard beers. There is always a tasty selection of small plates from Chef Charles Barr, who delivers some delicious, creative and seasonal food. Happy hour is 3-6 p.m., Monday to Friday.
- Boulevard Tours & Rec Center. Since completing construction on its new beer hall, Boulevard Brewing Company has been hosting all kinds of paired food and drink events that start around happy hour. Though they do not offer a firm happy hour schedule, they do host a variety of weekly events that will make it feel like happy hour almost every day. You’ll find reasonably-priced tasting flights of unique Boulevard beers, and you can enjoy snacks like their crave-able pretzel dogs and Creole-style chicken sausage with beer cheese dip, followed by an order of Cajun peanuts.
- Repeal 18th. This is a sexy new spot in Northlandia. The name that refers to the repeal of prohibition, with talented bar manager Darrell Loo behind the stick, shaking up classic cocktails for happy hour. Moscow mules are only $6. Additionally, you’ll find $5 house red and white wines, $3 draft beer and $2 PBR and Hamm’s. Go right to the small plates part of the menu for a heck-of-a-deal monkfish corn dogs, steakburger sliders, scallop ceviche, chicken wings, fish tacos and roasted Brussels sprouts. Happy hours are 3-6 p.m., Monday to Friday.
- Mission Taco Joint. Everyone loves tacos, and when Mission Taco Joint opens next week in the Crossroads, they will have you covered with a late night happy hour. Owners/brothers Jason and Adam Tilford already have three locations in St. Louis, where they serve fresh, creative and cheap $2 tacos and $2 shots from 10 p.m. to close. Bar manager and local KC cocktail queen Jenn Tosatto will have their bar program running like a top. Late night happy hour is from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Tuesday to Sunday.
- SoT. Fantastic bar. Craft cocktails, beer, wine and really good food.
- Jax Fish House. Drink and food specials, including a $20 happy hour sampler (1/4 pound snow crab, 1/4 pound peel-n-eat shrimp, three oysters). Also, caviar and Vietnamese crepes. All night Mondays; 4-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 3-6 p.m. Sunday.
- Bristol Seafood Grill. At the Downtown location: $1 oysters, $3.50 lobster claws and $7 appetizers. 4-6 p.m. Sunday to Friday; 9-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
- The Rieger. 3-6 p.m., Monday to Friday.
- Lidia’s. Arancini, gnocchi, crab frico. 4-6 p.m., Monday to Friday.
- Michael Forbes Grille and Lew’s Grill & Bar. I want to put a plug in for neighborhood bars. You run into everyone you know or meet people you should know. Both places have drink specials and half-price appetizers. I like the spicy shrimp at Michael Forbes. At Lew’s, I like the cat paws (catfish filet, lightly breaded and fried).
- Boru Ramen Bar — samurai 75. Sparkling wine, gin, lemon. Very light and refreshing. They have really great cocktails.
- Boru Ramen Bar — fries. It’s kind of a Korean poutine. Sweet potato fries with curry mayo, kimchi, pork belly and a fried egg on top.
- Ra Sushi — crunchy calamari roll. Calamari, crab mix, cream cheese, and small fried bits of tempura on the outside. Amazing flavor combination. The sushi specials are worth it for happy hour. Good mixed drinks as well.
- Harry’s Country Club. The best happy hour menu in KC. Beer, wine, cocktails, food, plus the coveted Saturday daytime happy hour. The total package!
- Cleaver & Cork — cheese curds and pickles.
- The Drum Room — $4 burger and drink specials. The best under-the-radar happy hour bargain.
Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.