Relax at the end of the day with nibbles, noshes, and sips to make you smile
It’s been a long day. Meetings. Deadlines. Reports. But, it’s over and you’re ready to kick back and relax. Ahhh… it’s happy hour, that wonderful and revered time set aside to unwind with coworkers and connect with friends at your favorite restaurant. Even better: happy hour usually includes specially priced food and discounted drinks. It usually starts at 4 or 5 p.m. and lasts till 6 or 7 p.m., the idea being to entice diners to arrive before peak dining time.
It’s a brilliant concept, said to have started with the U.S. Navy in the early 1900s, when the crews began referring to their regularly scheduled smokers (wrestling and boxing matches) as “happy hours.” They often included drinks and entertainment. The concept gained further traction among civilians during Prohibition. When alcohol was banned, people began hosting “happy hours” at home or at a local speakeasy, before eating at restaurants where alcohol was not served.
Today, happy hour, though banned in several states, is alive and well and flourishing in the Seacoast. early every night of the work week, typically Monday through Thursday (though some restaurants host happy hour on weekends, too, diners will find restaurants across the region offering a variety of post-work food and drink specials, and a convivial, celebratory vibe.
“I think Seacoast diners like happy hour because it’s a wonderful way to start out the evening,” says Nimi Idnani, proprietor of Raleigh Wine Bar + Eatery in Portsmouth. “It’s a relaxed atmosphere where you get to try a couple of bites, have a drink, and chat with friends.”
What better way to shake off your work day and get a little midweek boost, without busting your budget? Here’s a sampling of some of the best happy hours on the Seacoast.
At the Raleigh Wine Bar + Eatery, you can enjoy happy hour specials six days a week—even on the weekends! This sleek, contemporary restaurant, owned and operated by wine guru Nimi Idnani and her husband Rush Patel, is located in a modern, newly-constructed storefront overlooking the Memorial Bridge and the Piscataqua River. It attracts a mixed, relaxed crowd, patrons who enjoy finely prepared bites and smart wine and beer selections. We love that we get so many different types of people in at Raleigh,” Idnani says. “The atmosphere is quite laid back.”
Grab a window seat or a two-top, and order one of the beer or wine specials. There are typically four of each to choose from, including a $4 beer choice and wines priced between $5 and $7 a glass. On a recent visit, we sipped a lovely Pratsch Rose Zweigelt on tap ($6) and a Founders All Day IPA ($4). The kitchen is helmed by talented local chef Jeremy Glover who turns out deceptively simple dishes. There’s always a Toast on the happy hour menu, made with house-baked bread, such as the Gorgonzola on Toast with Chestnut, Honey, and Pistachios, a flawless blend of creaminess and crunch, sweet and tang. Other specials have included the Trout Roe on Toast, Fried Green Tomatoes with Ramp Mayonnaise, and Poached Shrimp with Olives, Scallions, and Olive Oil Dressing.
Happy hour at the fun-loving MoJo’s BBQ Grill & Tavern is a lively gathering, drawing a carefree, sports-loving, local crowd. “We have a very regular clientele,” says Manager Carolyn Law-Jones. “A lot of them live in the surrounding neighborhoods and walk over or stop in on their way home from work.” The casual, come-as-you-are restaurant with two full bars, a lounge area, and family-friendly dining room, is located in Portsmouth’s West End, with plenty of parking, making it a popular and easy place for groups to gather. Another selling point: happy hour is offered seven days a week, from 4 to 6 p.m.
There’s a slew of $5 food specials on MoJo’s happy hour menu, available throughout the restaurant, including Pulled Pork Sliders, Warm Soft Pretzel Sticks, Buffalo Wings, Pork Pot Stickers and the 10-Inch Cheese Pizza. But the most popular happy hour choice is the Buffalo Gumbies with Homemade Bleu Cheese Dressing; order a pile of the crispy chicken strips and wash them down with the gigantic $5 beers (Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Shocktop), served in a 28-ounce frozen mug, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi wines ($5), or the House Margarita ($5). There are also daily specials, like Burger and Beer on Monday, Cheese Pizza and a 16-ounce Shocktop on Wednesday, and the ultra-popular Fiesta Friday nights with make-your-own tacos.
Visitors staying at the Exeter Inn and a diverse group of locals mingle at Epoch Restaurant & Bar, a contemporary, sophisticated eatery located street side at the inn in downtown Exeter. Their well-liked happy hour is held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. “Our guests sit at the bar, relax, and converse with and meet other people, whether local or just visiting,” says Food and Beverage Manager Kieran Kelly. “It’s great to hear our locals brag about Exeter and New Hampshire. Friends are made.”
You’ll be offered $5 drinks, $4 wines by the glass, and $3 drafts during happy hour. Drafts include an impressive local lineup, like Great North Chocolate Milk Stout, Woodstock IPA, Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union, and more. The small-bite menu is equally impressive, including Fried Pickles with a buttermilk scallion dip, Pickled Eggs (offered in varying flavors, such as curry and jalapeño beet), Shrimp & Grits with smoky cheddar cheese, Crispy Crab Cakes, and Cajun Poutine, spicy potatoes served with Maine cheese curds, braised pork shoulder, and aromatic pan gravy. It’s a dish we’d drive out of our way for, and happily payfull price. But during happy hour, the small bite menu is half off everything, including the calorie splurge–worthy poutine.
Head south to Newburyport for happy hour at Mission Oak Grill, a classy steakhouse fusing new American and Brazilian cuisine in a warm, sophisticated atmosphere (think low lighting and lots of wood paneling and trim). This restaurant is highly touted and popular any time, but a real treat during happy hour, available Sunday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., when the bar menu is slashed 50 percent. The seasonal menu varies, but expect dishes like Fried Rice, Crispy Calamari, and Thai Baby Back Ribs, all popular choices. We like the well-seasoned Blackened Redfish Tacos, with jalapeño grilled corn, and the Sliders trio, for those times when we just crave a straightforward, top-notch, tiny burger and fries. Mission Oak also has a creative lineup of craft cocktails and a nicely curated wine list. Appetites whetted, you may just decide to stay for dinner.
It’s hard to beat happy hour at Rudi’s Portsmouth in downtown Portsmouth, considered one of the best in the region. The popular time slot is hosted in their elegant wine bar and lounge, Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and both the food and drink specials are impressive. Consider the wine selection: there are six whites and six reds available for $6 a glass and may include a decent Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon or a crisp Marlborough, New Zealand Mohua Sauvignon Blanc. Drafts are $4 and Tito’s handmade vodka martinis and cocktails are $6. Of course you’ll want food to quell the late afternoon belly rumblings (and to soak up the alcohol). Rudi’s $6 happy hour appetizer menu does not disappoint, with offerings like ond Encrusted Calamari with sweet chili sauce, Chicken Satay with spicy peanut sauce, the signature Hand Cut Fries (perfect for salty, crunchy fans) or the creamy Artichoke Crab Dip. Get here early, order fast, then sit back and enjoy the drinks, the food, the conversation, and welcoming atmosphere.
The Clipper Tavern in Portsmouth offers great comfort food made from scratch, and a bargain too, with a weekday happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sundays from 10 p.m. till closing. Co-owners Jeff Goss and Sean Sullivan have garnered a great local following by embracing the history of Portsmouth. Beer specials start at $2, $4 for craft drafts, along with cocktails for $5 and wine at $6 a glass. Nosh on Duck Wings and BBQ Pulled Pork Nachos or a French Fry Trio with tasty dipping sauces like curry ketchup, lemon caper aioli, and cognac gravy. Be sure to try the $9.99 Clipper Lobster Roll.
Picture this: It’s Friday afternoon. The lunch rush has died out at Vida Cantina, the lively and colorful restaurant located in a former, repurposed Friendly’s restaurant on busy Lafayette Road. It’s just about p.m., and like clockwork, people start flooding in. By p.m., the bar has completely filled up, says Shannon Dorman, the assistant general manager. “Everyone is here to get our famous La Flaca, the house margarita.” During happy hour, Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., it’s only $5. Not a margarita fan? They also offer sangria ($5), a signature hibiscus paloma cocktail ($7), and $2 off all beers and wines by the glass.
The food is top-notch too, like the fan-favorite Guacamole. The Chips & Salsa Flight with has a trio of salas: mango habanero, verde, and fresca, and the hard-to-beat Tres Amigos features a Tecate beer, a shot of tequila, and a taco. Now, that makes us very happy.
Brew Pub Happiness
“We Serve All Types” is the longstanding slogan at The Portsmouth Brewery; come for happy hour and you’ll see why. The atmosphere is always spirited and friendly, with a varied clientele. Happy hour is offered Monday through Friday, from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday are the happiest hours, when a friendly crowd gathers to celebrate the post-work, pre-dinner slot, with $4 house beers and half-price snacks and nibbles. We love the snack menu, and at 50 percent off, it’s a real bargain. A bowl of Pommes Frites with Truffle Asiago goes well with just about anything, but try it with a cold house-brewed draft. There are half-priced platters of Nachos (one of the more popular items on the snack menu) and Crispy Fried Calamari. People also love the Chicken Tenders, with a variety of sauce options, and the Deviled Eggs. Vegetarians will enjoy the Arancinis and the Hummus and Baba Ganoosh platter.
For a more intimate setting, stop by Earth Eagle Brewings, a tiny spot in downtown Portsmouth, tucked behind A&G Home Brew Supply, and owned by co-brewers Butch Heilshorn and Alex McDonald. “Happy hour is a great time to be at Earth Eagle,” says Heilshorn. “There’s not a ton of people in the afternoon so there’s a more relaxed vibe. You can take your time, enjoy a snack and ask our staff questions about our beers.”
Happy hour is offered Monday through Thursday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with $4 specials on Earth Eagle’s unique house-brewed drafts. The small, award-winning brewery serves two types of beer: traditional, hoppy ales and unique gruits, which use plants and hers for aor instead of hops We typically have 11 house beers on tap, roughly split between our creative takes on familiar hopped styles and the gruits,” Heilshorn says. “In season, most of the plants we brew with are locally foraged.”
Grab a seat at the seasonally open outdoor patio and sample something new and different, perhaps the Amber Gruit with wormwood, birch bark, and rose hips, or the slightly spicy, citrusy Amarillor Dancer, an American pale ale. Food is beyond traditional pub fare, including Tortilla Chips with House-made Salsa Verde, a Bakery Pretzel served with hop-infused salt and housemade cheese sace, and popular sandwiches, like the Manchego Date with smoked bacon, and the crave-able What the Duck, with black peppered duck pastrami, gruyere cheese, sauerkraut, and homemade Thousand Island dressing. “We have more room for work skippers!” Heilshorn says, inviting locals and visitors alike. “The mood is pretty chill. It’s a great cure for the work day blues.”