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BEST ELEGANT HAPPY HOUR
Hundreds of teacup candles hang ablaze on brick, setting the mood at Wilshire Restaurant, a dark, romantic haunt, designed by Thomas Schoos of Koi, TAO and Citizen Smith (to name a few). Sure, the new happy hour may not be as packed as its previous $1 martini nights, which ended in August, but for $7 a pop, cocktails are just as delicious, the clientele is just as chic, and you have that much more room to spread your wings in the swanky bar or extravagant patio. Happy hours can get rowdy with the wrong crowd or right bartender, but if you’re looking for a place to lounge, warm by a shimmering fire, and actually hear what your bartender is saying, this is the place to hang your hat. Wash your drinks down with scrumptious appetizers and entrées — as the restaurant prides itself on hand-picking the freshest, seasonal ingredients from local farmers markets. Winos can look forward to Monday nights, which is half-price wine night, and on Thursdays stay up late for a second happy hour from 10 p.m. until midnight, ending just before you turn into a werewolf. 2454 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 586-1707. Mon.-Sat., 5-7 p.m., Thurs., 10 p.m.-mid.
BEST EASTERN-EUROPEAN HAPPY HOUR
Much of the food of Eastern Europe is, to put it plainly, peasant food. But that, I assure you, is not an insult. Slow-cooked meats, heavy starches and earthy vegetables all go great together but go even better with beer and liquor. But if you feel odd eating European working-class food in Santa Monica, where higher rent means higher food prices, look no farther than happy hour at Warszawa. The restaurant, which specializes in Polish cuisine, has been around since the late ’70s. The interior is upscale: You might order items like beef tartare with a glass of wine. But Wednesday through Friday from 6 to 9 p.m,, the relaxed and spacious back patio offers inexpensive drinks and appetizers. There, you can eat down-home foods like pierogi (the Polish equivalent of ravioli, filled with mushrooms, cabbage or potatoes) and brightly colored borscht, paired with drinks like Bison Grass Vodka (a smooth, herb-flavored liquor known to warm you up rather quickly), or big bottles of refreshing Polish beers. All in all, it’s a great opportunity to drink and eat like a peasant without the inconvenient trappings of a serflike existence. 1414 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 393-8831, warszawarestaurant.com.
BEST LONG HAPPY HOUR
The Westwood Bank building in the heart of Westwood Village has seen more image changes than Madonna since the actual bank closed decades ago. It was a retail space for most of the ’80s and ’90s before being transformed for restaurant tenants, and the previous occupant was Eurochow, which didn’t seem to fare well. Yamato, the current incarnation, is nothing terribly innovative with regard to Japanese fusion cuisine — the sushi and appetizers are pretty good, if not inspiring. Yet the important thing to remember about Yamato is that its happy hour lasts for hours. Specifically, all drinks and nibbles are half price until 10 p.m., seven days a week. That’s a hell of a nifty penny-saver to have in your back pocket for those nights when you just can’t break free of the office before seven, or if you want to grab a quick respite before a late movie. There are still a few movie theaters left in Westwood at this point, right? 1099 Westwood Blvd., Wstwd. (310) 208-0100. Open daily 5-10 p.m.
BEST HAPPY HOUR WITH DUCK-FAT POPCORN
If you beg for it, it will come: a questionable lesson, proven effective at Barbrix. The Silver Lake wine bar/restaurant is bringing back happy hour on not just one but three nights every week, after an “overwhelming response” to the first happy-hour event. From 6 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, glasses of already reasonably priced beers and wines will be half-off at the bar. And chef Don Dickman’s duck fat–popped fennel-pollen popcorn will be available for $1. Happy hour, indeed. 2442 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake. (323) 662-2442. Mon.-Wed., 6-7 p.m.
BEST CLASSIC MARGARITA
Ten years ago, the first sip of any restaurant margarita around these parts that ditched the grocery store sour mix was reason enough to raise your glass for a toast. With the newfound mixology hype, the trick now is finding an affordable fresh lime-juice margarita. Saddle up to the bar at Ortega 120 and you’ll find all the requisite fancy restaurant combos like pomegranate-ginger and chile-mango. Skip those and go straight for the house margarita. It’s a 16-ounce pour that could double as two cocktails, or at least a generous one and a half, for $8. During the weeknight happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., you’ll shave $1.50 off the margarita price and $5 off the $30 pitcher — conveniently about right for the tip. 1814 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach. (310) 792-4120, ortega120.com.