If you live (or drink) in Kansas, you might have noticed something new at your favorite watering hole.
No, we’re not talking about a bacon-infused Bloody Mary or an $11, limited-release beer from a microbrewery in eastern Oregon. We’re here for happy hour, that golden slice of afternoon when worker bees loosen their ties and pencil skirts so that they can properly unwind with deliciously cheap drinks and $3 onion ring towers.
Missourians take happy hour for granted. They know exactly where to get half-price sangria on Southwest Boulevard (La Bodega) and where you can wash down fried pickles with $2.50 domestic draws on the Plaza (Tomfooleries). The fact that happy hour was banned in Kansas for nearly three decades gave Missouri another reason to feel superior. In other words, it was more ammo for the Border War.
That changed in May, when Gov. Sam Brownback signed a new Kansas liquor law that peeled back the state’s prohibition on happy hour. In the two months since the law took effect, bars have made up for lost time by offering all kinds of happy hour bargains.
Tavern in the Village in Prairie Village shook up its drink menu with $5 martinis between 4 and 6 p.m. And 403 Club in Kansas City, Kan., peddles pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $1 between 4 and 7 p.m. On weekdays, Salty Iguana (with Kansas locations in Overland Park, Olathe, Prairie Village and Lawrence) has half-price margaritas and appetizers between 3 and 6 p.m.
But the award for the most over-the-top happy hour goes to Sandbar, a beach-themed Lawrence bar that this summer installed a giant, light-up “Wheel of Happyness.” Bartenders spin the wheel to determine the drink special. Usually it’s a cheap shot with a name like Dirty Banana.
The wheel is “fantastically obnoxious,” says Sandbar’s online content manager, Debbi Johanning.
“We felt like we should go big or go home if we were going to do this,” Johanning says, “and the return of happy hour is certainly something to celebrate.”
Meanwhile, Missouri bars are making happy hours, well, happier.
Go to Beer Kitchen in Westport between 4 and 6 p.m., and you can get a Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy and a plate of Maytag blue cheese nachos for $5. Spend $10 and you can get two well cocktails and an order of hummus. The bar recently added a nighttime (otherwise known as reverse) happy hour from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Other Missouri bars are extending happy hours even further.
Quinton’s Bar & Deli in Waldo has a marathon happy hour (2 to 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday), with beer and wine for $3 a glass and martinis and tropical cocktails for $4. Oh, and on Sunday, happy hour lasts all day. Boomers Bar & Grill in the Northland has a super-long happy hour, too: Pitchers cost $7.50 between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, and there’s a different drink special every night.
At these prices, we figure two of you — maybe even a trio — could have an indulgent happy hour outing for $25, inclusive of a 20 percent tip. So we hit up three local happy hours and surprised unsuspecting bar goers with $25 cash cards. Here’s how they spent the money.
Jamie Braun and friend Elizabeth Wheeler were sitting in a wooden booth, chatting over $3 vodka presses when we swooped in to pick up their tab.
Between bites of warm, salty pretzel twists dunked in smoked gouda fondue, Braun said she’d just moved back from Panama City, Fla. (or as she calls it, “Redneck Riviera”), and wanted to meet Wheeler, a former co-worker, over happy hour to catch up.
The women chose Beer Kitchen, 435 Westport Road, because it’s centrally located, but they also have other happy hour standbys. They dig the atmosphere at The Drop on Martini Corner, and the “cheap and strong” drinks at Outabounds, a gay sports bar in midtown.
When the ladies found out their happy hour was paid for, they splurged on two more vodka presses and Cheesy Ancho Corn Dip ($4), a pot of decadently gooey, spicy dip served with blue corn chips.
After dishing up lots of “friend drama” — and super-decadent grub — the women called it a day.
“I might be cheesed out,” Braun said.
Gram & Dun
This Plaza bar didn’t have a happy hour when it opened late last year.
Sommelier Michael Scherzberg said midday specials were added a few months ago to lure customers between lunch and dinner. Since then, the bar (and its sleek, scenic patio) has become a happy hour hotspot where casual and glammed-up drinkers feel comfortable kicking back.
The menu has something for everybody: Thick-cut homemade potato chips served with three kinds of ketchup ($6), oysters ($1.50 each), $5 cocktails and $3 glasses of Missouri-brewed beer.
The Livin’ the High Life combo special costs $6 and includes a chilled shot of Jagermeister and a cute 7 oz. bottle of Miller High Life.
“We don’t take ourselves that seriously,” Scherzberg said.
We went the day after Labor Day and found a trio of fit friends at the bar. Lindsay Merryfield, Stefani Spainhower and Emmanuel Daon usually see one another in spin class at Woodside Health Club. But since they all had the day off, they decided to indulge in drinks at Gram & Dun, 600 Ward Parkway.
Daon and Spainhower had already been to spin.
“I chickened out,” Merryfield admitted over her $5 grapefruit and vodka.
Spainhower picked out the bar’s most popular happy hour drink, the Ginger Rogers ($5), a thirst-quenching gin drink spiked with mint, lime and lots of spicy ginger. Daon splurged on a full-price $9 martini called the D Cup. That’s made with citrus-infused vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, cranberry juice and simple syrup.
All three savored their drinks slowly and managed to avoid the tempting pork belly and potato chip appetizers. They said they prefer happy hour to going out at night.
“You know you’re going to be home early,” Spainhower said. “So you can get up early the next morning …”
“… and go to the gym!” Daon finished.
Remedy, a new Waldo bar at 500 W. 75th St., opened in June with a menu full of farm-fresh food, classic cocktails and craft beer. But the bar’s happy hour is just a few weeks old.
Looks like it’s already caught on: We went the day after Labor Day and spotted about a dozen people taking advantage of the afternoon discounts, which run from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and include $3 wells, a $2 discount on beer and selected half-price appetizers.
“People are going crazy for the eggplant fries,” said general manager Jeff O’Brien. The crispy strips cost $3.25, are sprinkled with sea salt and served with local honey. Also on the happy hour menu: gourmet corndogs ($3.25), falafel ($2.75) and hand-cut fries served with buttery bearnaise sauce.
We spotted David Schleicher and Sarah Hagler having a business meeting while enjoying those popular eggplant fries and $4 beers (Boulevard Reverb Imperial Pilsner for her, Bell’s Oberon wheat ale for him).
Schleicher, a builder who specializes in energy-efficient homes, met Hagler, a producer at a branding agency called Stark Collective, through a mutual friend. Over drinks the previous weekend, they agreed to meet to talk about how Schleicher could get the word out about his business, Prairie Design Build.
“I don’t golf,” Hagler said, “so I do a lot of networking in bars.”
She prefers meeting at happy hour because it’s generally during working hours, when bars are quiet enough for a conversation. Plus it’s fun, and sharing a drink with someone promotes camaraderie.
We’ll toast to that.