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 Grill & Brewery
410 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-591-5459, lilysseafood.com.
Weekdays 2-6 p.m.,
Ronin Sushi Bar
326 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-546-0888,
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,
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.
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.)
Tues.-Thurs. 5-7 p.m.;
2030 Park, Detroit; 313-961-2543,
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.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse