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Happy Hours: A Heavy Hors D'oeuvres Round-up

When I think happy hours, I think stiff drinks and appetizer specials or even free snacks. I think comfortable bars filled with groups of co-workers happy to be out of the office. Drink specials, two-for-one deals, and discounted martinis abound in this city, but where's the food? Sure, sometimes you get a basket of chips and salsa or some nuts to munch on, but I mean food serious enough to satisfy those munchies that come on after two drinks.

Is the concept outdated? Are true happy hours dead? I was on a search for the elusive happiest of happy hours. I asked everyone I know, most in the restaurant business, and got a lot of blank stares. Food and drink specials in one place at one time? I scanned the local papers, made phone calls and eventually came up with a list of places that warranted checking out both for the deals promised and the atmosphere I was seeking.

MacArthur Park (607 Front St. @ Jackson) had some promise with an all-you-can-eat buffet available till 7:00 PM. It was typical bar fare, wings that had a nice kick to them, veggies and Parmesan dip, potato skins, and chips and salsa. None of it outstanding, but yet again, all of it is there for the taking and no one notices how many times you go back. The converted warehouse is at first welcoming with exposed brick walls and high ceilings, but the lighting is too harsh and the openness is ultimately a bit awkward. There are no drink specials and prices weren't listed with any of the house cocktails. A ballpark-range from our server was a bit low and we ended up with overpriced, mediocre margaritas. But if you grab a sizable group of friends take over a corner table and stick to simple mixed drinks, it's not a bad way to start the evening.

With better lighting, Eddie Rickenbackers (133 2nd @ Mission) would be pretty close to what I had in mind. The main room is crowded with tables and groups of people happy to be exactly where they are. From every available inch of ceiling space hangs antique motor bikes which give the room an old school appeal. The after work crowd is satisfied every day till 7:30 PM with crocks of cheese, saltines, and whatever hot appetizers the kitchen sends out: think along the lines of wings and poppers. It can get quite crowded and sometimes getting a drink takes awhile, so sit back check out the chrome and dip into the cheese.

Lauded as the best happy hour in town complete with an indoor hurricane, the Tonga Room (950 Mason @ California), in the Fairmont Hotel, was calling. After wandering the hotel for 10 minutes trying to find the place, we entered true kitsch tiki style. The drinks were complete with slices of pineapple and umbrellas and $2.00 cheaper for happy hour, however they did seem to lack a little punch. There is also an all-you-can-eat buffet set up by the pool for $7.00 a person. If you're a pork fan the pork buns, ribs, and potstickers will satisfy aplenty, but for those of you not so fond of swine the pickings are mediocre at best, you can only eat so much pineapple and carrots with ranch. If you venture in, be sure to get your fill by 7:00, as they end promptly and if you're still there at 8:00 you will be charged for the entertainment.

As far as I'm concerned, the best deal in town is Palio d'Asti (640 Sacramento @ Montgomery). With every drink purchase you get a free pizza of your choice off a fairly well rounded menu. The Quattro Funghi with Fontina and truffle oil tops my list. The wines by the glass offer some interesting selections of harder-to-find Italian wines, and there is always the option of a classic martini. The atmosphere is fun and friendly, and as long as you keep drinking, the pizzas are yours for the asking; that is till 7 PM.

They may be few and far between, but there are some deals worth seeking. Happy hour isn't quite dead yet.