Happy Hour Eats In Metro Detroit
In 1978, a Harvard Medical School study measured the effect of happy-hour drink specials on alcohol consumption in casual- and heavy-drinking males. And although it doesn't take a scientist to understand that patrons drink more alcohol when it's cheap, that's exactly what the study found.
Bars and restaurants, of course, were hip to this fact all along.
The term "happy hour" is rumored to have come from 1920s Navy slang, referring to onboard ship entertainment before dinner. But it's more likely — given this country's sometimes-unfavorable attitude toward liquor — that it emerged as a way for watering holes to advertise discount drink specials without violating laws restricting them.
Thanks to an economy in the (drunk) tank, the popularity of discounted food and drinks, usually beginning at 4 or 5 p.m., has surged in areas where it's still allowed. (Some states, Massachusetts, for example, have outlawed happy hour altogether.)
We did our own analysis of specials at metro Detroit watering holes and restaurants — a process admittedly less scientific than Harvard's. Our research left us full, and our wallets happy … or maybe it was the other way around. Really, it stops mattering after a few cocktails.
Lily's Seafood & Brewery
410 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-591-5459, lilysseafood.com.
Happy Hour: Weekdays 2-6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday 2 p.m.-closing.
Of all the microbreweries in the Woodward corridor, Lily's tends to be the most grossly overlooked. Sure, it's primarily a seafood restaurant with a blue-collar, New England atmosphere (certain patrons wouldn't look out of place working the docks of Boston Harbor), but it also boasts some of the finest beer in metro Detroit — all brewed on-site. Considering that some establishments charge upward of $4 for a pint, the $2 handcrafted happy-hour drafts here are a no-brainer. On a hot summer day, try a shandy — a cocktail of lemonade and lager — while lounging on the patio, watching the hipsters go by.
On the food side, no surprise, Lily's focuses heavily on items from the sea. The $3.99 Cheap Eats menu includes a Creole soup and catfish fingers. We tried the herb-crusted shrimp, served on a bed of rice and sweet mustard. The shrimp was deep-fried, but not overly greasy. Another highlight was the smoked-salmon dip, which is served with toasted sourdough and comes topped with capers, halved cherry tomatoes, and slivered onion. The dip is light and creamy — a pleasant appetizer to share with friends or colleagues.
Like most of the happy hours we visited, Lily's menu includes a take on the mini-burger, or slider. Their version is a crab-cake slider served with a proportionately small side of skinny fries. The crab cake's consistency holds up well and tastes fine with a hint of fresh cilantro and "island spices" that elevate it from the pedestrian. The fries, however, are more of an attractive garnish than something to be eaten.
The atmosphere is casual, so come as you are. Just don't order a Bud Light.
Ronin Sushi Bar
326 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-546-0888, roninsushi.com.
Happy Hour: Weekdays 5-7 p.m.
"Ronin" refers to a Japanese samurai who lost his master. It's an appropriate moniker for this Royal Oak sushi restaurant, because of its youthful, slightly rebellious tone. The dark, contemporary setting appeals to the professional 20- and 30-something crowd with its black-leather couches and live bamboo trees. Large front windows open wide on warm days, making Ronin feel like a bit of bustling Chicago plopped down next to the Royal Oak Music Theatre.
Get here early, because the bar fills up quickly, even on rainy Fridays.
Though it's just around the corner from Lily's, Ronin feels like a trip to the other side of the world. Drink specials include $3 well drinks, $2 hot sake, and $5 cold sake. The 22-ounce can of Sapporo and hot sake for $8 is the real deal here, along with $2 drafts of Miller High Life. The food is dominated by sushi, but also features $2 edamame and $4 gyoza dumplings. The standouts, though, are the Kobe sliders, a quality reflected in the $16 price.
A note: Ronin's definition of sliders (think large) skews in diners' favor. The two full-size burgers come without much accompaniment, however, which is a shame, considering that the sliders on the regular menu are topped with smoked bacon and sriracha (hot sauce). Still, the portion is large enough to split between two people. And they're served with a mountain of delectable shoestring fries. The question is: Are they worth $16? That leaves room for pause, considering what the folks are doing over at Roast (see next review).
1128 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-2500, roastdetroit.com.
Happy Hour: Weekdays 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Food Network star and Cleveland chef Michael Symon's signature restaurant at downtown's Westin Book Cadillac Hotel has quickly become one of the most buzz-worthy establishments in town. Not only has Roast been recognized by Hour Detroit readers for general excellence, it also showed up on the 2010 Best of Detroit list for "best steakhouse" and "best wine list."
Best happy hour was not a category, although it would have this writer's vote if it were. The restaurant is similar in décor to the rest of the freshly restored hotel: modern and spacious, yet comfortable and unpretentious, like the bartender with the black tie and white button-down shirt tucked into his blue jeans. The clientele ranges from graying businessmen in conservative suits to women in T-shirts and capris. This is the type of place that appeals to all classes and tastes (except maybe for vegans). And, boy, are there plenty of cheap eats to taste.
Though the cocktail-hour menu claims $3 "bites," do not be fooled: It will take much more than a bite or two to polish off the overflowing steel milkshake-style cup of divine rosemary skinny fries. The beast-of-the-day tacos come two to an order, and are topped with fresh cilantro, jalapeño, and pickled onion.
All of Roast's meat is naturally raised and dry-aged for at least 21 days. The fact that they can sell this quality of meat for cheaper than fast food is quite a feat, and attests to the allure of happy-hour specials, especially when you consider the 5-ounce Roast burger. Served on an English muffin, and topped with bacon, cheese, a fried egg, and pickled onion, this $3 marvel is decadent. It prompts the question: How can anyone else compete? (We're looking at you, $16 Ronin sliders.)
1565 Broadway, Detroit; 313-962-1355, angelinadetroit.com.
Happy Hour: Tuesday-Thursday 5-7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 4-6 p.m.
If the beefy fare at Roast has you craving lighter food (or you happen to be dining with vegans), Angelina Bistro in Grand Circus Park has options.
The bar is the first thing that greets patrons of this burgeoning hot spot, so it makes sense that Angelina offers a discounted round-the-clock bar menu in addition to the happy-hour drink specials. Crispy chickpea sliders served with a spicy lemon aioli as a suitable alternative to the ubiquitous beef variation (also available here).
For $4.50, the sizable twin burgers are served on house-made brioche, and are whimsically presented: speared through the top with a stack of mini onion rings and a petite pickle wedge.
For $8, the Primavera antipasto is presented with a Balsamic-drizzled plate of pickled fennel, sweet red onion, grilled asparagus, a small arugula salad, marinated olives, whole-grain mustard, and Pecorino Romano cheese. The cheese was substituted by an olive tapenade for the vegan diners without our even asking, and the service was something to praise.
If you come to drink, you won't be disappointed by the 22-ounce drafts of mostly local beer, including an extensive selection of Detroit's own Motor City Brewing Works beers for $4.
Angelina's specialty martinis, including the Patio Pomegranate (see recipe), are $5 during happy hour.
Matt O'Laughlin, head bartender at Angelina Bistro, shares his recipe for one of the restaurant's happy-hour highlights.
Patio Pomegranate Martini
- 1-1/2 ounce Pama Pomegranate Liqueur
- 3/4 ounce Cointreau
- Splash of orange juice
Fill martini shaker with ice. Pour Pama, Cointreau, and orange juice into shaker. Shake vigorously. Pour into martini glass and top off with champagne.
2030 Park, Detroit; 313-961-2543, cliffbells.com.
Happy Hour: Tuesday-Friday 4-7 p.m.
Though this Art Deco-style jazz club offers several happy-hour drink specials, including 50-cent Pabst Blue Ribbon drafts that increase in price by 25 cents every half-hour, the main draw here is the meticulously restored interior. The club was designed by Charles Agree, of Belcrest Apartment fame.
John Clifford Bell opened the club in 1935 and ran it until his retirement in 1958. After operating under a series of other names throughout the '70s and '80s, it closed in 1985. Following a complete restoration, it reopened in 2006 with its original handle. The stunning interior is like the setting of a Tom Waits song, but without the seediness. It's at least the kind of place he would have played early on in his career.
A revamped happy-hour food menu, which is being launched this month, is also worth trying. With stunningly cheap shrimp cocktail ($2), $3 macaroni and cheese, and $4 quiche Lorraine, you can quiet your growling stomach just in time for the live music, which begins at 8:30 nightly.
The Hill Seafood & Chophouse
123 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Farms; 313-886-8101, thehillgrossepointe.com.
Happy Hour: Monday-Thursday 5-7 p.m.
It has been nearly a decade since Hour Detroit named The Hill Seafood & Chophouse its Restaurant of the Year. It remains the traditional supper club of choice for east siders. But with a reasonably priced, and surprisingly delicious happy-hour menu, it offers a few reasons for intrepid west siders to venture into the Pointes.
Delicate is rarely an adjective used to describe spinach-artichoke dip, but it's an apt descriptor in the case of The Hill's happy-hour dish.
The serving we shared was more than enough to split, and was nothing like the cheesy goop you expect from a bar.
Sizable junks of roasted artichoke are blended with sautéed spinach in a light cream sauce served with tortilla chips. All happy-hour edibles are $6, including the bowl of white-chicken chili that's topped with a melted Monterey Jack cheese gratin à la French onion soup. It's nicely spiced and pairs well with a $5 cabernet. Dress is business casual, but elegant white table linens are broken out for diners — even at the bar.
Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
323 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-723-0134, or 17400 Haggerty Rd., Livonia; 734-542-9463, flemingssteakhouse.com.
Happy Hour: Daily 5-7 p.m.
As far as upscale chain restaurants go, Fleming's may be best known for its happy hour, thanks to an easy-to-remember deal called "5 for $6 'til 7." It includes five cocktails, five wines by the glass, and five appetizers, all for a mere $6 each.
Cocktails include a stiff vodka martini, with blue-cheese stuffed olives, or the fruity, low-cal Bikinitini (see recipe). Wines by the glass cover the spectrum of staples.
But the real reasons to visit this steakhouse, where a typical dinner with drinks starts at around $100 per couple, are the low-price, high-quality seafood appetizers. Beautifully seared ahi tuna comes layered on a bed of gingery carrot and celery slaw.
A hot-mustard dipping sauce renders the small cube of wasabi that accompanies it unnecessary. Four jumbo shrimp make up the shrimp cocktail. They're stacked on a tomato-cucumber relish with dollops of a smoky chipotle cocktail sauce garnishing the edges of the plate. Other seafood choices include sweet chili calamari and Cajun barbecue shrimp, but we jumped at the chance to order beef-tenderloin carpaccio, because where else are you going to get this delicacy for $6? The paper-thin rounds of raw beef are drizzled with a mild and creamy mustard sauce and topped with capers and shredded basil.
It's served with toasted Parmesan crostini slices for sharing. If you want a taste of classic fine dining without dropping a car payment in the process, Fleming's happy hour is an excellent start.
The Bikinitini (So named because it contains 99 calories.)
- 1-1/4 ounces Svedka Clementine Vodka
- 1/4 ounce lemon juice
- 3/4 ounce orange juice
- 1 packet Splenda
- 1 ounce soda water
Shake all ingredients vigorously on ice to dissolve Splenda. Serve in a chilled martini glass.