Happy hour: the best time of day whether you're hungry, thirsty, looking to save a few bucks -- or all three.
Happy hour's exact origins remain murky. Reportedly, Navy men in the 1920s used the phrase to refer to a time of the day set aside for fun or athletic entertainment -- wrestling, boxing, et cetera -- to boost morale. Or maybe it began with "l'heure verte" (the green hour) in France in the 18th century, when many Parisians' drink of choice was green-hued absinthe. During Prohibition in the 1920s, thirsty Americans reportedly gathered for illegal drinks before heading out for dinner.
Whatever its origins, happy hour is here to stay. Check out this by-no-means-exhaustive roundup of some of the top happy hours in the region, from the stiffest cocktails and most appealing appetizers to a bar where the drinks are so affordable it doesn't even need a happy hour.
Trendy San Francisco transplant Tacolicious in Palo Alto has a pretty standard happy hour -- Monday-Wednesday, 3-7 p.m. and Thursday-Friday, 3-6 p.m., with house margarita, sangria, bartender's choice cocktail, a glass of wine or a beer for $5.50. Tacos, quesadillas and guacamole are also $5.50 each -- but the real star is the "T-Lish Pre-Fixe." This low-brow version of high-end prix-fixe menus is available at any time and comes with a shot, a beer and a taco -- all for $10. The shot is El Jimador tequila, the beer a Tecate and the taco one of the restaurant's signatures. Owner Joe Hargrave cut his chops in more upscale restaurants, explained Tacolicious Marketing Manager Sarah Qadri, so this is his "fun spoof on those more formal dining experiences." The Tacolicious bar is also stocked with more than 100 tequilas, so drink your heart out.
Tacolicious, 632 Emerson St., Palo Alto; tacolicious.com
At Mountain View pub St. Stephen's Green Monday-Friday, 3-5:30 p.m., draft beer ranges from $2.25 to $5. Grab a vodka or a glass of house wine for $4.50. From 5:30-6:30 p.m., prices go up by about a dollar, but the kitchen also opens so you can get appetizers and entrees like a shepherd's pie or fish and chips at a lower price. For weekend brunch-goers, order any breakfast item on Saturday or Sunday and you'll get bottomless mimosas.
St. Stephen's Green, 223 Castro St., Mountain View; ststephensgreen.com
The best happy hour deal in town has to be at Antonio's Nut House on California Avenue in Palo Alto, where happy hour doesn't actually exist because the dive bar's prices are already so low. "My prices are like happy hour all the time," said owner Tony Montooth. Well drinks are $3.50, domestic beers are $3.25 and imported beers, $4. No umbrellas in your drinks or pretentious ingredients you can't pronounce at the Nut House, where peanut shells litter the floor, bras hang from the ceiling and a sign behind the bar warns, "No laptops on bar please!"
About eight months ago, Antonio's Nut House did get into the discounted drink game, however: $3 margaritas from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on every day that ends in "y." The margaritas -- mixed by Montooth himself in a large plastic jug -- are served in a pint glass with a slice of lime and a salted rim. Don't question the limit of two per person -- they're strong.
Antonio's Nut House, 321 California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-321-2550
For a taste of the south during happy hour, Nola in Palo Alto has you covered. A longtime favorite at the downtown bar and restaurant is the chicken, biscuits and brew: two buttermilk biscuits, crispy chicken tenders, pickle chips, "Mardi Gras" slaw, house-made bacon jam and gravy -- plus a pint of draft beer -- all for a cool $10. Chef Tam Sugayan said he came up with the chicken and biscuits after creating his own bacon jam (and the beer just made sense). He said he's currently working on revamping the menu to add items like an ahi poke, brisket sliders and perhaps a less traditional kind of chicken wings. Nola's happy hour runs Monday-Friday, 3-6 p.m. and Sunday, 9 p.m.-midnight. Specialty cocktails are $6, well drinks are $5, wines by the glass are $6, pints are $5 and pitchers are $15.
Nola, 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto; nolas.com
Get in and out for a dinner deal during Sundance The Steakhouse's "Sunset Dinner," offered seven nights a week, 5-6 p.m. Choose from two price levels of entrees -- roasted prime rib, jumbo prawn saute, tempura gulf prawns, fresh Pacific swordfish or fresh grilled salmon for $26.95 -- or filet mignon skewer, Dungeness crab cakes, grilled chicken teriyaki, chicken marsala or chicken piccata for $22.95. All of the above are served with warm sourdough bread, fresh vegetables and a choice of a baked potato, garlic mashed potatoes, Sundance rice or balsamic Campari tomatoes. Dig in.
Sundance The Steakhouse, 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; sundancethesteakhouse.com
Monday-Friday, from 3-6 p.m. at Patxi's Pizza in Palo Alto, stuff your weekday sorrows with a personal pizza (and up to two toppings) for only $5. A few blocks away, Il Fornaio offers 10-inch pizzas (for two people or one hungry person) for $6 during its happy hour, Monday-Friday, 4-6 p.m.
Patxi's Pizza, 441 Emerson St., Palo Alto; patxispizza.com
Il Fornaio, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto; ilfornaio.com/paloalto
Longest happy hour
The award for longest happy hour in the area may well go to the Old Pro sports bar in downtown Palo Alto, where you can drink, eat and maybe even ride the mechanical bull at a discount for eight solid hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m daily. Seven food and drink items are offered for $7 and rotated on a regular basis. Pro tip: Happy hour isn't offered during "major events" like Stanford University game days.
Old Pro, 541 Ramona St., Palo Alto; oldpropa.com
Seafood spot Shell Shock in downtown Mountain View has a typical, early evening weeknight happy hour (Tuesday-Sunday, 4:30-6:30 p.m.) -- and then it has a late-night happy hour. From 9 p.m.-close every day except Monday, grab late-night bites like crispy oyster nachos ($7), "break an egg" (fries with a fried egg, chorizo and serrano peppers for $7) and crab fat caramel chicken wings ($6). Drinks like the "booty call" (Absolut mandarin vodka, Aperol, grapefruit juice, fresh lemon juice, agave and sparkling wine) and the "lady killer" (barrel-aged bourbon whiskey, vermouth, Amaro Averna, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters) are $6 and named aptly for the hour at which they might be consumed. All draft beers are $3 and house wines, $5. Cap off your evening with a "sparkling oyster": a fresh oyster shooter soused in champagne ($5 for two). $1 oysters are saved for the lunch crowd from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Shell Shock, 124 Castro St., Mountain View; shellshockrestaurant.com
The 5-year-old downtown Mountain View izakaya, Bushido, has you covered with late-night food and drink Thursday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-midnight. Appetizers like the kurobuta pork buns -- braised pork belly, pickled vegetables and Bushido's "special sauce" served in a steamed bun -- and the ever-popular sesame wings drenched in an appetizing sesame glaze are only $5. Play the sushi version of Russian roulette with Bushido's hara-kiri roll ($8), which comes with snow crab, spicy tuna and shrimp tempura wrapped in soy paper, with one piece much spicier than the others. (For its sushi, Bushido serves sustainable fish that is hand-cut on-site.) Fanny Bay oysters on the half shell with ponzu sauce, pico de gallo and green onions are $1.50. Bushido also has some epic drink deals every night of the week except Monday: Tuesday is half-off all wine; Wednesday is half-off sake and flights; Thursday is happy hour-priced drinks ($5 for cocktails, $3 draft beer, $3 small sake and $4 large) all night; Friday and Saturday is $5 for Grey Goose cocktails; Sunday, happy hour drinks and $1.50 oysters all night.
Bushido, 156 Castro St., Mountain View; bushidoizakaya.com
Gordon Biersch in downtown Palo Alto offers a later happy hour Sunday-Thursday, 9 p.m.-close. Individual small plates at the brewery-restaurant start at $2.95; shareable plates are $7.95. Beers brewed in-house are $1 off, wines by the glass are $2 off and cocktails, $3.
Gordon Biersch, 640 Emerson St., Palo Alto; gordonbiersch.com
For wine lovers
Wines are often an after-thought during happy hour, but they're the main event at Vino Locale's "mystery flight night" every Thursday, 5-9 pm. Taste four wines for $25 (plus a "mystery" snack). Guess the varietals and your flight is on the house.
Vino Locale, 431 Kipling St., Palo Alto; vinolocale.com
On the weekend
Happy hour is typically a weekday deal, but it's pushed into the weekends at many local spots. Here are a few:
Mandarin Roots, 3345 El Camino Real, Palo Alto: Sunday, 8-10 p.m.
Indo, 3295 El Camino Real, Palo Alto: Saturday, 8-10 p.m.
Mixx, 420 Castro St., Mountain View: Saturday-Sunday, 4-6:30 p.m.
Bushido, Mountain View: Saturday, 10 p.m.-midnight; Sunday, 5-10 p.m.
Nola, Palo Alto: Sunday, 9 p.m.-midnight
Gordon Biersch, Palo Alto: Sunday, 9 p.m.-close