Young and Hungry

The Best Things In Life Aren’t Free, Bar Food Included

Snack Mix

I’m pretty sure I encountered my first happy hour on a family vacation with my mother and sister.  We stopped at a hotel to get some rest before the next day’s epic drive, and the bar just off the hotel lobby advertised drink specials and a free buffet.  Just off an all-day fast food bender, we jumped at the opportunity.

You know the drill.  Meatballs, chicken wings, and pigs in a blanket, all sitting in crusty chafing dishes and amped up with so much salt that a second beer was mandatory (well, not for me, not at age 7, not with my mother).  I thought I’d hit pay-dirt sitting in a tufted leather booth with a plate of salty snacks.  I ordered a Roy Rogers with extra maraschino cherries and probably wished for a pack of candy cigarettes.

Years later in college, I lived by the free happy hour buffet. My favorite was a taco bar set up on Tuesdays at a local wing joint. The same chafing dish now held a sea of ground beef saturated with a bright orange oil.  Flour tortillas, some wilted iceberg lettuce, and diced tomatoes that tasted of cotton completed the spread. I realize the food was absolute garbage, but times were tight in college and the student union wouldn’t serve me beer.  Let the others eat reconstituted ramen!  I’ll binge at the taco bar.

These days it seems that gratis offerings for post-work crowds have fallen by the wayside.  A hotel bar near my office puts out a small blue glass of crackers, pretzels, and wasabi peas, a snack mix that's barely passable. This week in Alexandria, I was offered a basket of communal popcorn tainted by the hands of several other barflies.  Recently at a bar in Philadelphia, I encountered small dishes of olives and nuts strewn about the lounge.  I’d almost felt pampered until I bit into an olive pit some bastard had discarded amongst the cashews.

We all know you get what you pay for, so I’m left to ponder: Is the best bar food free?  And if so where does one go to get it?  I haven’t had a pleasant experience in more than a decade.

Photo by nathanmac87, via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribute License

  • Falls Church

    The free cashews at the bar at Ray's the Classics are pretty damn good.

  • Keith B

    The downstairs of Ventnor Cafe in AM sometimes brings out little individual baggies of fresh popcorn... too bad I don't like popcorn.

  • Heff

    Franklin's in Hyattsville has a late night happy hour on Thursdays with free food that is actually good.

  • Shayan

    Tortilla Coast gives you chips and salsa if you ask for it with your drinks.

    And I think biting into someone else's left over olive pits might scar me from eating any free bar food.

  • Simon

    cheese balls at the pug. yummy

  • Ashlee Hodge

    This is definitely where the glory of chips + salsa come in.

    Unfortunately, DC isn't quite known for it's good mexican/tex-mex now is it. Oyamel has a decent salsa for free during happy hour (and maybe for dinner as well?), and as much as I hate to admit it, Lauriol Plaza's salsa is fairly tasty as well as free.

  • tomaj

    My three standbys are: (1) La Tasca's Friday happy-hour seafood paella (the mediocre restaurant's one saving grace), (2) Piola's cheese and bread boards, and the snacks (like pizza slices) they occassionaly pass around, (3) olives and cheese at Kellari. Besides that, happy hour food specials have mostly replaced the buffets.