Why Islands Burgers Has the Greatest Happy Hour in Existence

Why Islands Burgers Has the Greatest Happy Hour in Existence
Courtesy Islands

It's a scientific fact: America is one of the most overworked countries on Earth. Sure, most of us might not be hauling blocks of granite like ancient Egyptians, but the physical and mental toll caused by sitting eight hours in front of a computer is very real. That might explain our country's fascination with the concept of happy hour. I mean, who doesn't love happy hour?

Despite what you may have been told, happy hours aren't just about attracting customers with potential savings. They also offer a subsidized version of what sociologists refer to as the "third place," an area where we can decompress and socialize and cushion the stark transition between a soul-crushing job and an eternally messy apartment. Maybe Starbucks is your preferred third space, or that goddamn CrossFit gym.  

For me, that special place is Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks, the Southern California–based, Hawaiian-themed restaurant chain known for bottomless fry baskets and frosty beer mugs.

Yes, Islands' entire image is unabashedly kitschy, but what wonderful and rejuvenating kitsch it is — a culturally homogenized tiki bar where surfboards serve as tables, Jimmy Buffet is on the speakers and palm fronds drape over the bar. It's like a miniature, clichéd Hawaiian vacation.

And I would gladly argue that their burgers, even the one sluiced with teriyaki sauce and topped with a too-thick slice of pineapple, are much better than the ones at most casual restaurants. But that's beside the point. You go to Islands for the happy hour, which usually runs from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and you order two things: the cheddar fries ($4) and the "hand-shaken" strawberry daiquiri ($5).

There are many items on the happy hour menu, including serviceable Hawaiian sliders, a chicken quesadilla with sour cream, Buffalo wings and a standard-issue plate of nachos. As for the cheddar fries, it's probably unnecessary to extoll the gluttonous virtues of a heap of fries smothered in melted cheese and green onions and served with a side of that creamy, diner-style ranch dressing.

I was originally more skeptical of the strawberry daiquiri and its cheaper sibling, the mai tai, which will set you back $4 during happy hour. The daiquiri and the mai tai are two essential, rum-based cocktails, each with a long and glorious history, and if you've never tried a version crafted by a true, professional bartender (the kind in a button-up vest), go do that first. But afterward, you should try the ones at Islands, because they're delicious in a totally different, stumbling-down-the-French-Quarter-during-Mardi-Gras way. Their strawberry daiquiri gets extra points despite its higher price for: 1) including fruit, and 2) being "hand-shaken," which sounds like pointless jargon but actually makes for a delightfully frothy drink.

If you're not into cocktails,  even really cheap ones (seriously, where can you find a cocktail for less than $5?), there is discount beer, too. There are even IPAs if you want them, but honestly, if you're drinking beer out of a frozen mug, there's no shame in Coors Light.

Of course, as much as the bargains at Islands' happy hour draw the big crowds, that's not the full scope of its appeal. Neither fully a bar nor a restaurant, Islands exists in the low-key gray area between the two — it's just chill, brah. I've never seen a fight break out at Islands, or even an argument, and surely that limited anecdotal evidence is proof enough: No happy hour is more chill than the Islands happy hour.

Islands founder Tony DeGrazier, a former G.I. who dreamt of capturing the vibe of a 1960s Hawaiian beach bar, expanded his original concept in 1982 into 57 locations across California, Hawaii, Nevada and Arizona. Like him, I have found bliss in the sublime tropical fantasy, no matter if it is totally fake.


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