Where and when to score the best deals
There's only one bad thing about happy hour: It has to end. In Columbus over the last few years, though, there has been a distressing trend for it to end earlier.
I'm not sure who is to blame for this — rubber-limbed revelers and extra-vigilant government employees come to mind — but the days are gone when 7 p.m. was the standard quitting time for local happy hour deals on food and drinks. In fact, while a few esteemed establishments still preserve the proud tradition of a longer-lasting bargain session, 6 p.m. is the new 7 p.m. when it comes to last call on happy hour orders.
I'm not a “glass half-empty” type — I'm more of a “glass needs a refill” type — so rather than bemoan this time-dwindling tendency, I've put together a compendium of some of the best Columbus happy hours for various times and occasions. Available at places with deals that end early or go late, the following happy hours occur in enterprises ranging from brewpubs to mall oases to top fine-dining establishments.
Note: Unless otherwise specified, the following happy hour prices are generally honored only Monday through Friday at the bar, in lounge areas and/or on patios. Enjoy them while you can.
Happy Hours That Last Until 6 p.m.
The Guild House
Happy Hour Starts: 3 p.m.
Drink Deals: half-price featured wines, cocktails and beers
Food Deals: half-off items from the “Raw,” “Market” and “Appetizer” menu sections
Go-to HH dish: Pork Cheeks, $7
Go-to HH drink: Cocktail for Two, $10
The happy hour at The Guild House — Cameron Mitchell's best restaurant and one of the best restaurants in Columbus — might be the best-kept food secret in town. Offered everyday throughout the entire restaurant, this happy hour is a bonanza of fantastic bargains. I love that the otherwise $20 Cocktail for Two — a changeable, but typically aromatic and refreshing concoction served in an amusing, porthole-like flask — is marked down to $10. I also love the Pork Cheeks, a spaghetti squash “pasta” dish starring extra-succulent pig meat drenched in a rich and thick tomato sauce and accompanied by a couple of blistered shishito peppers for a little heat. On the lighter side, the eminently Instagram-able Tuna Ribbons are a virtual pink rose of skillfully folded raw fish strips sprouted above “sepals” of paper-thin radishes. Creamed avocado, chili oil and table-poured yuzu sauce bring the tuna's flavor into blossom. Among other outstanding deals are crinkly, tongue-tingling Brussels Sprouts ($4.50), the Prime Rib Cap ($8.50) and numerous wines by the glass, such as the fizzy, food-friendly 2011 Domaine Carneros Brut ($7).
Happy Hour Starts: 4 p.m.
Drink Deals: $2 select Mexican beers; $5 select glasses of wine and cocktails; and the colossal “Boilermaker for TWO” for $10
Food Deals: $3 select tacos, $2 chips and salsa, $2 esquites
Go-to HH dish: Cochinita Pibil Tacos, $3
Go-to HH drink: Next Episode cocktail, $5
Occupying a dramatically renovated old dairy barn in Italian Village, Cosecha Cocina is a new, forward-looking Mexican place owned by Grow Restaurants of Harvest Pizzeria fame. Cosecha's tacos are made with excellent house tortillas, and all of the happy hour taco options are terrific: cochinita pibil (Mayan-style, slow-cooked pork); zesty chicken tinga; and pecan-accented chorizo. Tack on the dynamic corn salad called esquites, plus a $2 Negra Modelo beer and/or a spicy, tart and pretty-in-pink margarita drink called Next Episode, and you're sitting bonita.
Forno Kitchen + Bar
Happy Hour Starts: 4 p.m
Drink Deals: Half-off draft beers, house cocktails and most wines by the glass
Food Deals: Half-off pizzas, snacks and shared items
Go-to HH dish: Carne pizza, $7.50
Go-to HH drink: Cascina La Ghersa Piage Barbera d'Asti (Italian red wine), $5
Forno's happy hour stands out for its quality, price, diversity and sheer number of options. Inside this Short Northhot spot, aptly named after the Italian word for oven, the restaurant's eponymous baking device serves as a huge, barrel-shaped, brass-tiled centerpiece for a stylish, often-bustling space. That opulent oven isn't just for show — it cooks up serious, thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizzas such as the crowd-pleasing Carne, topped with Italian sausage, capicola, pepperoni, herbs and onions. If you've never tried Forno's lusty Brasato ($6), though, get that. Served in a little cast-iron pan, it's a powerhouse of super-tender, pot roast-like meat submerged in its zesty, wine-and-tomato braising sauce. Something lighter? The refreshing Ahi Tuna Tacos ($7.50) — wonton shells filled with sushi-grade raw fish, avocado, crema, lime, cilantro, plus a Napa-cabbage slaw — are an Asian-Latin delight. Along with offering a large wine list, Forno shakes worthy cocktails such as the Basil Collins, made with Watershed 4-peel gin and Cocchi Americano ($4.50).
Trillium Kitchen & Patio
Happy Hour Starts: 4 p.m.
Drink Deals: $5 selected beverages, $2 off on draft and canned beers
Food Deals: $5 snacks and small plates from a weekly changing HH menu
Go-to HH dish: Pork Poutine, $5
Go-to HH drink: $5 red sangria
“Trillium” is the answer to “What is the Ohio state flower?” “Trillium” also correctly answers “What took over the space vacated by dear departed Alana's Food and Wine?” and “Who has an interesting, upscale happy hour near campus?” The fashionable restaurant's special menu Poutine — excellent crackly fries, intense “peppered pork” gravy and creamy local cheese curds — is the happy hour star here, and it's almost always available. But if the Fried Chicken Thighs are offered, get them, too. Going meatless? Try the smoky Hummus made with adzuki beans. Bonus: When someone asks where they can find terrific sangria or crisp Moscow Mules, you'll have a great answer for that, too.
Happy Hours That Last Until 6:30
Cap City Diner and Bar
Happy Hour Starts: 4 p.m.
Drink Deals: $6 special cocktails, $5 well liquors, $5 select wines, $3.50 drafts, $3 domestic beers
Food Deals: $5, $6 and $7 appetizers
Go-to HH dish: Blue Cheese Potato Chips, $5
Go-to HH drink: Bourbon Apple Punch, $6
Unlike too many other places designed to offer something for everyone, Cap City Diner — a reliable, home-grown chain — can follow through on that promise. And who doesn't love a pile of just-fried potato chips enriched with a tangy and creamy blue-cheese sauce? For a protein boost, try the Tamarind Glazed Chicken Wings ($7) and/or the Hot and Sour Calamari ($6), all washed down with the season-appropriate Bourbon Apple Punch, made with Bulleit rye, spiced cider and lemon juice.
Brio Tuscan Grille
Happy Hour Starts: 3:30 p.m.
Drink Deals: $6 cocktails
Food Deals: $4, $5 and $6 appetizers
Go-to HH dish: Black Pepper Shrimp, $6
Go-to HH drink: Cucumber, Basil and Lime Gimlet, $6
I hardly believe it's a coincidence that “maul” and “mall” are homonyms. So after — or before! — I find myself mauled by a serial-shopping experience out at Easton Town Center or Polaris Fashion Place, it's good to know that I can fortify myself with a bright and bracing, basil-kissed gimlet made with gin (or vodka) along with a plate of Black Pepper Shrimp — a saucy, creamy and spicy play on eggplant parmigiana.
Happy Hour Starts: 4:30 p.m.
Drink Deals: $3, $5 and $7 margaritas; about 25-30 draft beers sold at half-price
Food Deals: half-off wings
Go-to HH dish: large order of Southwestern wings, $8
Go-to HH drink: a price-slashed draft beer
Yes, Mad Mex revels in silly puns and goofy, splashy graphics. But where else are you going to find a Day of the Dead-themed, rock 'n' roll sports bar that makes better margaritas than most Mexican restaurants and better wings than most sports bars? And Mex's distinctly piquant and garlicky Southwestern sauce is one of my favorite wing sauces in town. Pro tip: Order the wings well-done and with a side of the chili-kissed blue cheese sauce.
Happy Hours That Last Until 7 p.m.
Happy Hour Starts: 4:30 p.m. for drinks, 5 p.m. for food
Drink Deals: $6 cocktails; $5 select wine pours and $3 beers
Food Deals: $8 select small plates
Go-to HH dish: Shrimp and Grits
Go-to HH drink: Martinez, $6
G. Michael's website excitedly advertises “The best happy hour in Columbus!” I would not call it a liar. Let's count the reasons why: 1) The happy hour at this urbane but unstuffy, perennial “top 10” restaurant offers bold and delicious, chef-driven, Low Country-inspired dishes made with high-quality, local and seasonal ingredients; 2) Several of the value-heavy, not-so “small plates” could pass for entrees; 3) The happy hour cocktails are big and potent; 4) Paraphrasing Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap, “This one goes to seven” (p.m.). So get a Martinez — it's a classic cocktail that's part martini, part Manhattan — and enjoy a truly iconic Columbus dish, G. Mike's Shrimp and Grits. Another big draw: house-made Boudin, a sought-after, Louisiana-style sausage hard to find around town, which G.Mike's serves up with a red bean and rice salad, chili-tomatillo cream sauce and sweet pickled red onions. Eight bucks also buys wonderful mussels, an oyster Po' boy, fried green tomatoes or several other flavor-bomb specials.
Happy Hour Starts: 4 p.m.
Drink Deals: $5.50 Margaritas, $8 Grande House Margaritas, $9 House Tinis
Food Deals: Free “Fully-loaded Nacho Car”
Go-to HH dish: Free “Fully-loaded Nacho Car”
Go-to HH drink: Texas Tini, $9
Free food is rare these days, but that's what you'll find during happy hour at this often-mobbed deluxe Tex-Mex import from the Lone Star State. So what is a “Nacho Car?” Well, it's half of a vintage-looking automobile with shiny tail fins, of course. The car is “parked” in the bar and loaded with a literal trunk-load of nacho fixins, such as tender ground sirloin, tart-and-spicy salsa, rich queso dip, exemplary refried beans and thin tortilla chips. Once again, this is all free, so splurge on a jumbo-sized, top-shelf Texas Tini (comes with jalapeno-stuffed olives) and let your unbridled appetite drive you deep into the heart of Texas-sized excess.
Flatiron Bar and Diner
Happy Hour Starts: 3 p.m.
Drink Deals: $2 off drafts and $1 off cans and bottles of beer; $5 select cocktails; $5 select glasses of wine; $10 off wine bottles
Food Deals: $2-$6 bar snacks and small plates
Go-to HH dish: Single Burger, $6
Go-to HH drink: Martini, $5
Flatiron might seem a bit off the beaten path, but it's only about a 10 to 15 minute walk from Nationwide Arena, so it's a great place to get your PuckFace right before going to a hockey game. Obviously the Blue Jackets themselves know this, as some are known to frequent the hip and historical, distinct-looking tavern. Flatiron's juicy happy hour burger approaches diner perfection with its griddle-smashed fresh patty, puffy bun and classic toppings. I'm also a big fan of the crispy, rich and spicy Szechuan Wings ($6) teamed with the Crudites ($3.50) — house-pickled and fresh vegetables served with ranch dressing. Another excellent combo: Fried Chickpeas ($2) and the Charcuterie Board ($6). To ensure that you skate out on a high note, slug down an icy martini or two made with Beefeater gin or Luksusowa vodka.
Happy Hour Starts: 4 p.m.
Drink Deals: $1 off draft beers, wine, cider and cocktails
Food Deals: $2 off shareables
Go-to HH dish: Braised Pork Nachos, $8
Go-to HH drink: Any brewed-on-site beer, about $5
If anything says “21st-century Clintonville,” it's this sleek and chic neighborhood brewpub that inhabits a space once commandeered by a dog-and-car-washing business. The excellent beer Lineage brews in-house occasionally flavors its cuisine. Such is the case with the duly popular Braised Pork Nachos, which star a generous amount of tender, juicy and delicious shoulder meat braised in IPA. Yin and yang accents are provided by a tangy house cheese sauce and a zippy house salsa verde.
Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant
Happy Hour Starts: 4 p.m.
Drink Deals: $1 off craft pints; $2.50 domestic bottles; $5 glasses of Jacob's Creek Shiraz, Stella Pinot Grigio and “Pine Fin” Martinis (pineapple and Finlandia vodka)
Food Deals: $5 appetizers
Go-to HH dish: Pub Nachos, $5
Go-to HH drink: Pint of beer (about $5)
First things first: The Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant has nothing to do with the Columbus Brewing Company. Wait, have I just knocked back a few too many at the Columbus Brewing Company? It's a good bet that I have, but my facts are still correct, as the renowned local brewery and the longstanding, terrific restaurant severed their business allegiance a while ago. What hasn't changed is that this restaurant still has some of the best nachos in town. Not only are they served in a mountainous portion and made with top-notch ingredients, but they're assembled so the abundant chorizo, black beans, house beer-cheese sauce, smoked chili sauce and pico de gallo are evenly distributed rather than just all dumped on top. But don't sleep on other $5 appetizers such as the crispy Wings and the comforting Wood-Fired Pretzel Bread served with beer mustard and a house cheddar dip. To wash it all down, a selection of 10 beers are on tap, which currently includes the near-legendary Bodhi from, well, the Columbus Brewing Company. Don't ask, just enjoy.
Outlier Happy Hours that Last Past 7 p.m.
Happy Hour: Food Specials are 4:30-8:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and 4:30-5:45 p.m. on Fridays; Drink Specials are 4:30-6:30 p.m., Monday-Friday
Drink Deals: Select $5 glasses of wine, $3 Beers and $5 Cocktails
Food Deals: Select $6 small plates or 4 small plates for $20
“Happy hour” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about French-style fine dining. And, to be fair, this august bastion of classical French techniques refers to these deals as its “Week Night Bar Specials.” But paraphrasing Shakespeare — who no doubt enjoyed a good bargain — a happy hour by any other name is still pretty sweet. Your wine special du jour will come from the best wine list in town. To eat, five refined and flavorful options will be available at discount prices, the largest of which will probably be a substantial white crock of wonderful soup. Recently, this was a silky-yet-zippy potage that tasted how autumn ought to taste, made with butternut squash, roasted apples, rutabaga and talent. I also sampled what might be called an elegant deli snack (Beef Pastrami & Yellow Cauliflower Salade), a great little Caesar salad and the Pumpkin Cheese Entremet — a lovely dessert that's like a pumpkin pie and a cheesecake hybrid fashioned by a dexterous pastry chef. All of this set me back 20 bucks.
Happy Hour: 4-9 p.m.
Drink Deals: $1.50 domestic drafts, $5 domestic pitchers and $2 well shots
Food Deals: 16-inch, 1-3 topping pizza plus a pitcher of domestic beer, $20
With its trippy murals, all-over woodwork and congenial counterculture vibe, this classic north-of-campus haunt reminds me of a beloved old pizza parlor in a small college town. But Hounddog's happy hour special is big: an enormous pizza with up to three toppings plus a pitcher of beer — this could easily be dinner for three — for just $20. I recommend the “spicy” sauce and a $1 upgrade to the hand-tossed, pie-cut NYC-style “Smokin Joe's” crust, which is yeasty, thin, crisp and firm — and puffy, thick, herby and garlicky on the edge. Pitcher options include PBR, Miller Lite and Bud Light.