The Place: The Hungry Cat, 1535 N. Vine St., Hollywood.
The Hours: Weekdays, noon - 6 p.m.
The Deals: Half off beer and cocktails
The Digs: The Hungry Cat Hollywood is tucked away into a strange sort of pedestrian alley on the Vine side of the Sunset and Vine complex. The noise of the nearby traffic hardly makes it to the outdoor patio, and now that Borders is closed, and since no one around here goes to Jersey Mike's (must be the stink of any name that begins with Jersey), there is very little foot traffic around the restaurant. This, combined with the hedges and umbrellas, gives The Hungry Cat a pleasantly quiet, secluded feel even when the restaurant is almost full. Inside, the decor is simple but nice and modern-ish, with a handful of tables, a raw bar, and a chalkboard displaying the available varieties of oysters and the day's specials. The clientele is mostly well-heeled with a little Hollywood vibe, but remains well-behaved and low key. All together, the Hungry Cat feels sophisticated and intelligent, but not at all stuffy or pretentious.
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The Verdict: The Hungry Cat is primarily known as a seafood joint, and its burger has also won a justifiably devoted following. We propose, though, to throw all of that out of the window in the face of The Hungry Cat's cocktails. There is a constantly rotating menu of about 8 specialty drinks, each of which feature high-quality liquor and fresh, interesting ingredients. On our most recent trip we encountered our favorite drink in recent memory, a combination of blood orange, lemon, honey, tonic, and green tea-infused vodka called a Tigerlily. Other highlights include Luke's Lemonade, mint and vodka with house-made lemonade, and the Hot Tamale, made of Fresno chile-infused tequila, lime, orange, and candied Fresno chile.
These exquisite concoctions are worth their fairly expensive price tag (like most of the menu) during regular hours, but when they plummet from $13 to being cheaper than a crappy vodka soda at a sketchy club in the Valley ($6.50) they become one of the best deals in town. It is true that you will likely feel some pressure to order at least one food item, but that is nothing to complain about either. Any excuse to sample some ceviche or the lobster roll is a good one, even at the dreaded full price that happy hour fiends so abhor. It is also true that this is not a traditional happy hour of drunks sitting at the bar, so you will probably get some glares if you become boisterous in your inebriation. Even so, for a casual mid-afternoon drink, or for an interesting and fishy twist on the classic three-martini lunch, The Hungry Cat is hard to beat. And, if you're into that sort of thing, it is likely the best and cheapest way to lunch like Don Draper (by which we mean drunk).
The Grade: A