Eat cheap at some swanky spots
Standard Time sucks for several reasons. For one, the sun can be ridiculously bright and strong in the early morning hours when I'm desperately trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of blessed shuteye, which forces me to fashion an awkward DIY sleep mask out of a corner of sheet and a bobby pin. It gets dark unreasonably early, too-I miss those long days of summer when the end of the work day didn't also mean the last of daylight. I can really only think of one good reason for early nightfall: It's easier to slip into evening-mode and shed the stress of the workday.
Great happy hours can work magic, too. They're the perfect weekday opportunity to catch up with friends, grab a bite and a cocktail and be home in time to watch a movie with no need to cook dinner. Usually a beer and fries suit me fine, but sometimes I crave a happy hour that's a little swankier. I enjoy the finer things, even if I can't necessarily afford them on a frequent basis. Every now and again, I want my drink to come in a real glass, my bar food not to be fried and my chair to be something cushier than plastic.
Luckily, there are some places in town to get a pretty generous meal in plush surroundings and still come in close to a beer budget. Happy hour is the working stiff's reward and I'm glad to reap all that I can.
If you can get past its type-A moniker, Morton's nightly "Power Hour" gives you a taste of what this ritzy steakhouse offers, at accessible happy-hour prices. Take a seat in the clubby bar, order an expertly and generously poured martini and pretend you're dining on an expense account. Morton's Bar Bites menu, with oysters on the half shell for $1.50 and just $4 a plate for creamy crab, spinach and artichoke dip or four petite filet mignon sandwiches, is a serious steal-especially since it's offered twice a night, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and then again from 9:30 to 11 p.m.
285 J St., Gaslamp, 619-696-3369. Happy hour: 5 to 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 to 11 p.m. daily.
Another one of downtown's best happy-hour deals is still a little-known secret. McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant features a weeknight happy-hour menu with all food at the implausible price of $1.95. No cheap fillers like beer nuts or garlic bread here, just tasty treats like chicken satay, a half-pound cheeseburger, and white wine and garlic steamed mussels. I'm still rubbing my eyes in disbelief at the value. Beer and wine selections abound, but the friendly bartenders will also mix up retro cocktails like a Pisco Sour or a Hemingway Daiquiri.
675 L St., Gaslamp, 619-645-6546. Happy hour: 4 to 6:30 p.m.
Out on Harbor Island, C Level Lounge's happy hour may be difficult to catch if you've got a 9-to-5 job since it ends at 5:30 p.m., but if you can play hooky, you'll be rewarded with $5 appetizers including ahi tuna poke, fried calamari and a molten-centered, nut-crusted brie. A five spot will also get you a drink special, which varies throughout the week. Whiskey Wednesday is my favorite day, but Mojito Monday comes in a close second.
I consider my bar tab the cover charge for a prime seat on C Level's water's-edge patio, which looks out onto arguably one of the best views in San Diego, encompassing the bay, Coronado Bridge and our modest but sparkling downtown skyline.
880 Harbor Island Drive, Harbor Island, 619-298-6802. Happy hour: 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Laurel Restaurant's "Seven Before 7" happy hour is the swankiest by far, with creative food and drink options all priced at $7. Most of the bar food portions are fairly substantial, too, so it's easy to put together a decent dinner. The pear and smoked-bacon flatbread is a happy union of salty and sweet flavors, enhanced by bits of blue cheese and medjool dates, while the delicious mini "lamby joes," flavored with Indian spices and caramelized fennel, bear little resemblance to the sloppy hamburger-bun "joes" of my youth, but they're just as satisfying. Drink options include the Dragon's Blood Sangria, which, despite its creepy name, is a highly drinkable rendition, sweetened with ruby port and calvados brandy. Laurel's gleaming, expansive bar makes for a comfy dining perch, but if you come with a group, grab a table in the entry-level lounge.
505 Laurel Street, Bankers Hill, 619-239-2222. Happy hour: 5 to 7 p.m. daily.