Dirty Blonde: Happy Hours in Unhappy Times

Dedicated boozers handle the recession by being (slightly) more selective

There's a little Peruvian bar and restaurant off the L's Montrose stop that you're not likely to wander into during a friendly tour of the neighborhood, but once you've found Mojito Loco, you're not likely to wander out too quickly, either. The waitress takes your order in stop-and-start fits of giggles, her braces gleaming as she brings more mojo sauce with a big smile. The bartender pops by to see if your drink is actually too strong, and while it couldn't be, it seems like a really sweet question to ask. The space is pretty and clean, with wooden-slat walls and rose-colored paint. The best part, however, is this: They've imposed a recession-friendly, all-day-everyday happy hour.

I swear, they nearly pay you to drink. Dollar PBRs are available most nights of the week, and whiskey (or tequila) enthusiasts can pony up an additional two bucks for a well shot. The $5 margaritas are small, but strong, served in squat little mason jars, while the namesake cocktails are $7 and about three times the size. Brunch comes with as many margs, screwdrivers, Bloody Marys, or mimosas as you can drink. Friday nights offer free sangria till it's gone. You can even soak up all that cheap booze with inexpensive grub: Sundays through Thursdays, buy one dinner entrée and get another half off.

Yes, we're all fucking broke. And while finding a good happy hour in New York isn't terribly hard when you know where to look, keeping a rein on your wallet while seeking out a certain ambience can be more difficult. In other words, who cares if the drinks are cheap when the bar sucks?

Megan, an ad director at Martha Stewart Living, refuses to stop drinking good wine just because it costs considerably more than, oh, Natty Light. "There are a few places that do free wine tastings every Saturday, and they get crowded with lots of young people," she says. "Makes for a free, boozy Saturday afternoon. Union Square Wines typically does a free tasting every Saturday at 2 p.m.—usually a theme of some sort, and then they let you apply a discount to any purchases. A five-minute walk away, Astor Wines & Spirits does one every Saturday at 3."

Matthew, an art insurer who lives in Long Island City, takes advantage of early-bird specials. "Yes, I like to be the dork who gets to the bar when the party first starts," he says. "For example, there's a great Thursday-night party that just started like two weeks ago or so at Aspen [22nd Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues] called 'Jack.' They usually have an open bar from 10 to 11 p.m. And Friday nights at the Chelsea Hotel for 'Star Lounge' has an open bar from 10 to 11 as well. However, after that, the drinks are pricey at both places." He goes on to celebrate the East Village's Boiler Room and Eastern Bloc, Snaxx in the basement of the Westside Tavern, Vlada in Hell's Kitchen, and a new party called "Mooseknuckle" at the Hose on Avenue A. ("Smoking and nudity," he faux-warns, then cackles.) "Where not to go," he adds, "is Merkato 55. I was there for a SCOPE [Art Fair] party last week, and the drinks were like $15 apiece. Fuck that."

For the nutritionally ignorant (those who will choose beer over food every time there's a measly $10 that's supposed to last until next Friday), know this: You don't have to sacrifice. The Alligator chain of Williamsburg bars (Alligator, Crocodile, Lost & Found, etc.) are known for their beloved free pizzas with any drink purchase, of course, but consider also the free hot dogs at Shark Bar on Wednesdays—they're cooked in a weekly beer selection. Upper East Siders have the advantage of Vero, where a glass of wine comes with a free panini on Mondays. Park Slope's Bar Reis serves up $3 quesadillas alongside $3 beers from 5 to 8:30 p.m. all week—and there are actually attractive singles hanging around, a rarity on Fifth Avenue. One of my favorite spots in Greenpoint, 68, now has $5 burgers on Tuesdays and half-price bottles of wine on Mondays and Wednesdays; more half-price bottles can be found at Soho's Country Café on Monday nights.

Two-for-one specials are pretty common, but some are more fun than others: It's the going rate on Mondays at the Delancey, where you can also get a free shot of tequila at midnight with proof of unemployment. "Two for Tuesdaze" at Matchless get thick fast (the offerings there include Guinness and Blueberry Blue Point), as does the scene at Doc Holliday's, featuring a three-hour open-beer bar for $7. (I'd rather die, but maybe you're less discerning?) Happy hour in the East Village for me usually only means Tile Bar, where nearly every drink is a paltry $3, but domestic bottles are the same price a few blocks over and a couple steps down at Scratcher.

And for the best drink special of all—that is, when strangers purchase them for you—I suggest hitting up the Gibson, a slick, dark bar on Bedford. Last weekend, my roommate and I had excellent luck in that regard. Six hours of excellent luck. Can't get better returns than that.

 
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