Come on, Get ‘Happy’

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Just like the weight around your middle, the meaning of happy hour tends to shift as you move into midlife.

When you’re in your 20s, happy hour means staking out the cheapest watering hole you can find&emdash;usually a grungy pub or dingy club&emdash;and descending on the place with a pack of friends whenever the deals go down. When I was a Sac State student many years ago, the entire campus population made a weekly pilgrimage to The Graduate, where $1 pitchers of beer were on tap every Thursday night.

Now that I’m in my 40s, my definition of happy hour has changed: I crave a slightly more subdued setting in which to converse over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. But the attraction to a bargain is something I never outgrew&emdash;which is why the happy hour is still so appealing.
So with my boyfriend, Paul, in tow (I didn’t have to twist his arm on this one), I checked out three local spots that offer happy hours. As one of my girlfriends remarked, It must have been fun doing the research!

With its colorful island dcor and festive feel, Clestin’s Restaurant & Voodou Lounge (1815 K St., Sacramento) is a happy place at any hour. But a fruity drink with an umbrella looks even prettier when it’s 20 percent off, which is the discount on specialty drinks, bottled beers and appetizers during happy hour, Tuesday–Friday 5­–7 p.m. We sipped a refreshing Jamaican Breeze (rum, fresh ginger, pineapple and cranberry) and a Metropolitan (Absolut Kurrant, lime and Cointreau). Although the appetizer special (Cajun flatbread) was only $3, we opted instead for the fritailles ($8.20 with the discount), a fun, filling platter featuring kibbeh (spicy lamb fritters), sweet potato fries, tostones (fried plantains) and grio (tender chunks of pork marinated in citrus juices, chilies and spices). Paul went gaga over the grio, proclaiming it unbelievable. The sweet potato fries, cooked to crispy perfection, were so flavorful that we swore we’d never eat regular fries again. Total: $20.62

The best deal of all was at Il Fornaio (400 Capitol Mall, Sacramento), where free appetizers&emdash;yes, you heard that right&emdash;are offered during happy hour, Monday–Friday 5–7 p.m. (They also offer small discounts on featured wines, well drinks&emdash;mixed drinks made with house liquor&emdash;and beers.) While the bruschetta, pizza and spicy salami were appropriately Il Fornaioesque, the quartered egg salad sandwiches seemed odd, but no matter: It’s all on the house&emdash;and that, plus Il Fornaio’s warm, welcoming ambiance, made it a truly happy happy hour. Total (including one wine and two beers): $13.30

Although we were less impressed with the appetizers at Malabar (2960 Del Paso Road, Natomas), the restaurant had been open only four months when we visited, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. During happy hour (Monday–Friday 4–7 p.m.), Malabar offers four appetizers at $5.95 each&emdash;a pretty good deal, considering they normally cost $7.50 to $9.50&emdash;plus $1.25 off well drinks and $1 off draft beers. While the Asian chicken lettuce wraps were strangely bland, we enjoyed the queso fundito, a hot, goopy concoction featuring chicken and chorizo in a red chili sauce, topped with a thick layer of mild yellow cheese (queso menonita) and served with warm flour tortillas for wrapping. Total (including two beers and one well drink): $22.60