Hacienda happy hour

Hacienda Mexican Grill and its sister spot Casa Sorrento claimed two of the top spots thanks to live entertainment, $10 pitchers and deals on superb margaritas.

Nizan Mosery, aka “Baba,” aka “Bud,” aka “Ravi,” wanted to know something about Monterey County.

And I wanted to help him.

He is my first and only Reiki master, my original scuba dive buddy and the most-traveled friend I’ve met.

So when those travels took him here, and he wanted to know about local happy hours, I wanted to deliver.

To be fair, he wanted to know about restaurants, hikes and endless adventures for Agata, Emelia and Kaya too.

But he seemed particularly fixated on happy hours.

Which made me realize we have several that separate themselves from the rest.

And that I had a ranking I had abandoned midstream for more pressing projects. 

I unearthed it, deepened it and present it here.

The guidelines for scoring: 

Greater length and duration is good. Doing a single hour is better than nothing, but not impressive. Same for stingy Monday through Thursday runs. Three hour times—especially those that happen daily—get big points.

Also good: not starting too early in the afternoon, when people are actually earning money to spend at happy hour. No honest happy hour should end before quitting time.

Creativity and depth, also good. A buck off everything is bland.

More positives: patios and views and quality stuff, like the craft beers made on the premises. Points for ambiance too.

Here are the Top 20, followed by honorable mentions.

20. Bulldog British Pub (4-7pm Mon-Fri, 658-0686) perennially contends for Best Pub and Best Place for Darts votes from Weekly readers for good reason. That reason: It’s a community on a barstool, with $1 off drafts and all day Happy Hour Sundays, and basic snacks like fries and nachos for $3.95.

19. Cannery Row Brewing Company (3-6pm Mon-Fri, 643-2722) has the largest selection of drafts in Northern California with 74 on tap. House drafts are $4 during happy hour, house wines are $5, and they offer appetizers like smoked tomato fondue fondue or parmesan fries for $5, pork sliders for $6, or “Nachos 2.0” for $8.

18. Britannia Arms (3:30-6:30pm Mon-Fri, 656-9543) is known for soccer, karaoke, first rate pub fare and a generous happy hour with half price appetizers (beer battered mushrooms!) with $4 drafts, margaritas, red white wine, and well drinks.

17. Buzz and Lee’s Cocktail Lounge (formerly Mortimer’s, 4-7pm Mon-Fri, 384-6502) does domestics, imports and drafts from $3 every weekday in funky environs. But it only goes up $1 the rest of the time. well drinks are $5 no matter when you go in, happy hour or outside hours.

16. Alvarado Street Brewing Company (3-6pm daily, 655-2337) does its award-winning beers like the Minesweeper IPA (normally $7) for $5 in a lively and attractive setting that pops on farmers market Tuesdays.

15. Lalla Grill (4-6pm Mon-Thurs, 324-4632) offers a variety of their “small bites” like wings, barbecue chicken quesadilla or nachos all for $5. These can be paired with a $5 martini or a $7 “20 Minute Vacation:” 22 ounce drinks like the “Tree Smacker,” which packs a punch with a combination of vodka, 151 rum, meyers rum, peach shnapps, apple shnapps, orange juice cranberry juice, and pineapple juice.

14. Because students deserve a great happy hour. And because Otter’s Den (883-1227 Mon-Fri, 4-6:30pm) gets dirt cheap: Beers for as little as $2.50 with Long Islands for $5, plus beer pong tables.

13. Speaking of cheap: Salinas Sports Tavern (3-7pm Mon-Fri, 422-5652) does $2 Bud Light drafts and $15 beer buckets (with five aluminum bottles) when the game is on during happy hour, plus deals like $4.99 nachos, $6 mega 22-ounce drafts and $5 well drinks, wines and margaritas during normal HH.

12. Under Municipal Wharf II, in Monterey, locals haunt Sand Bar & Grill (4-6:30pm Mon-Fri, 373-2818) does draft beer pints for $3.75, well drinks for $5, and house wines for $6.50, in addition to a special appetizer menu of deals like $4.50 clam chowder bowl, $5 artichoke, $4 onion rings or $7 sand dabs.

11. Rio Grill (4-6:30pm Mon-Fri, 4-close Sun, 625-5436); does $4 well drinks, house white and red wine and stepping up the game with $6 house cabernets and chardonnays in the Carmel Crossroads.

10. Rio sibling, stylish downtown Monterey joint Montrio Bistro (4:30-6:30pm Mon-Fri, 648-8880), has $5 wines and tap beers, $4.50 well drinks and a variety of creative cocktail options for six bucks each. And a brand new sidewalk patio.

9. The third member of the Downtown Dining restaurant family along with #10 and #11, Tarpy’s Roadhouse (3-6pm, Mon-Fri, 647-1444), offers a sweet setting along with $6 cocktails, $5 drafts and $4 well drinks, with bar bites ranging $3-$7 and free wine tasting for Wine Down Wednesdays.

8. Kula Ranch Island Steakhouse & Sushi (4-6:30pm daily, 883-9479) rocks $2 sliders, $2 wings, $3 drafts, $4 margaritas, mai-tais and well drinks. Just a well-rounded range of bargains in a value-conscious spot. It may not be sunny in Marina all that often, but the fire pits on the generous decks are nice.

7. Cibo Ristorante Italiano (4-7pm daily, 649-8151) calls this the “Cheap-o” $3 happy hour: $3 well drinks, beer and wine, and a small bites menu including roasted tomato bruschetta for $3, polenta caprese for $3, pizza del giorno for $7, lemon- and caper-dusted calamari for $6 or the sweet potato fries with garlic aioli for $5. If it wasn’t so dark in there, it would rank higher.

6. Bull and Bear Whiskey Bar & Taphouse (4-7pm daily, 655-3031): $2 off draft beers, $4 well drinks and 20 percent off appetizers, with a big fat patio to enjoy daylight. 

5. Lallapalooza (4-6pm daily, 645-9036) delivers $1.50 oysters, $2 steak bites, $4 duck-fat fries and other snacks, $5 martinis, $5 drafts and $7 designer drinks, and $12.99 early entreés to boot.

4. Hula’s Island Grill (4-6pm Sun-Mon, 2pm-close Tue, 2-6pm Wed-Sat, 655-4852) stretches its “hour”—into seven-plus on Tuesday—and enjoys a vivacious vibe. Fancy cocktails like Dr. Funks, Zombies, and infused Pink Bikini martinis, crispy coconut shrimp rolls, superb Hawaiian ceviche and jalapeño bacon mac and cheese are all $6.

3. Hacienda Mexican Grill (3-6pm daily, 424-6400) on North Davis in Salinas is the rare spot with $10 pitchers—plus $3 pints and $4 house margaritas and well drinks. 

2. The definition of best happy hour is debateable. The fundamentals at Peter B’s BrewPub (4-6:30pm daily, 649-2699) in downtown Monterey are not. The hour is two and a half, it takes no breaks for weekends, features several of the best dozen draft beers in town at bargain rates ($4 pints and $6 25-ounce house-brewed microbeer) and extensive appetizer specials—think crispy cheese curds for $4 and big bowl of buffalo chili with cornbread for $5. One of the best HHs around.

1. Hacienda sister restaurant Casa Sorrento (3-6pm daily, 757-2720) in Oldtown Salinas also does three hours daily, with the same great drink deals and rotating food specials, including half-price pizzas 6-9pm Tuesdays, $3 pints and $.49 wings every Thirsty Thursday. All that plus frequent live entertainment and all day Monday deals, and you have the current happy hour champion.

••• Honorable Mention (in no particular order) •••

Abalonetti (11:30am-9:30pm, 373-1851) deserves love for an all-day-every-day happy hour. Which means it's not precisely a happy hour, but still worth checking out. The premixed margaritas and draft microbrews are undersized but so is the price ($2.99), with $.99 oysters in the half shell, overlooking the water on Fisherman’s Wharf. New fire-pitted patio and maybe the best locals’ dinner special anywhere as well.

Marina’s English Ales (4-7pm Mon-Fri, 883-3000) has the best house draft beers for miles at $4.25 a pint. Just a simple and solid happy hour.

In Salinas, Gino’s Italian Restaurant (3:30-6pm Mon-Fri, 422-1814) dishes out free antipasto as well as half price bottles of southern Italian reds and whites.

Baja Cantina (3-6pm Mon-Fri, 625-2252) offers $4 for most pints during happy hour, but prices range to $7.50 for pints of a craft beer like Sculpin IPA. For those wanting a South-of-the-border experience, they offer $5.50 margaritas, $4 chicken or cheese quesadillas and their famous street tacos are only a dollar each. Larger dishes include 2 angus sliders and fries for only $5, or 12 BBQ wings for $8. But here it's all about the Carmel Valley sunshine and big decks.

Restaurant 1833 (5-6:30pm Mon-Fri, 643-1833) “social hour” translates to $7 specialty cocktails, $7 wine by the glass specials, beer (stella artois, anchor steam, or red seal) or sangria at $5 each.

Duffy's (every Tuesday all day, 644-9811) two-fer Tuesdays (two draft beers for the price of one).

Golf destination Bayonet-Black Horse (3-7pm Fridays, 899-5954) only gets happy on Friday. But the TGIF deals—$3 wells and wines, $5 pub grub plates, $2 drafts and $6 half-pound burgers—with a view in an undercover spot are enough to sneak in the top 10.

From the chain restaurant category: Cannery Row-adjacent El Torito (2-6pm Mon-Fri, 373-0611) boasts big $5 margaritas, $4 domestic drafts and house wines, and $3 off appetizers for happy times overlooking Monterey Bay.

Sports-watching superspot Buffalo Wild Wings (2-7pm, 10pm-2am Mon-Fri, 394-4483) is a solid spot for deal-seekers too, with $3 “shareables” like roasted garlic mushrooms, mini corn dogs and onion rings; $3 spirit specials on Absolut, Captain Morgan and Jack; plus $3, $4 and $5 draft beer specials.

Jack London’s Bar & Grill (4-6pm Monday through Friday, 624-2336) offers $4 pints marked down from $6, and domestic bottles are two for $5. House wine and well drinks are $5 as well. Things like hot wings, nachos and crispy artichoke hearts appear on a special $5 HH menu too.

Prohibition-era My Attic (5-8pm Mon-Fri, 647-1834) in the Casa Sanchez building in downtown Monterey serves up well drinks, wines, and cocktails all for $5 a pop, including the Nolet Summer Splash with Nolets gin, muddled mint and blackberry on the rocks.

Turn 12 (3-7pm Mon-Thu, 3-6pm Fri, 372-8876) $1 off the selection of a dozen drafts, $6 (give or take) daily select cocktails, or fancy drinks like cosmos, margaritas and appletinis for $5. Calamari, truffle fries and flatbread are each $5-$7. They also offer their popular chile verde skillet for $10 and $1 tacos with chicken carnitas or carne asada.

Dubbers (3-6pm Mon-Fri, 676-0256) happy hour deals include all new appetizers a buck less 3-6pm weekdays, $1 draught beers and $5 well drinks.

Kristen Stipanov contributed to this report.

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