Chattanooga's growing food culture is hardly breaking news—the number of quality restaurants has increased tenfold in just a decade. I'm not a math person (and I'm definitely not looking up statistics), but I think this means that at least 10,000 new restaurants have opened in the Chattanooga area since 2006.
That's a lot of restaurants.
In order to snag the after-work crowd, many of these establishments offer what is commonly referred to as a "happy hour" special. The term is really just a marketing gimmick to encourage you to spend money at restaurants during off-peak hours. But by golly, it works!
Humans (especially Americans) have been enjoying predinner drinks since Prohibition. Because alcohol was banned, people would go to speakeasies or private homes to enjoy a cocktail prior to dinner. The trend continues to this day.
Occasionally, I devote my weekly Date Night Dining column to the happy hour experience at local restaurants. I thought it might be fun to recap some of those experiences as I continue to search for the best happy hour in town. I am by no means finished with my search, but after about 10 experiences, I've found some wonderful variations on the happy hour theme.
I'm looking for three things when it comes to a great happy hour: discounts on food (smaller portions is fine) and cocktails, a casual and fun atmosphere, and an intangible "something" that makes a place special.
Take a look at the happy hours below, and invite me to join you at your favorite happy hour spot one afternoon. What am I missing? Where should I go next?
Beast + Barrel, 16 Frazier Ave.
The happy hour at Beast + Barrel is one of my favorite spots. You can't beat the selection—an ascending menu with options for $3–$6 each, including burgers, bone marrow, signature cocktails, house wine and beer. You can easily spend under $20 and be completely satisfied and tipsy enough to confront your problems. Beast + Barrel is also a prime location for people watching and solo drinking. I like to take a book and sip a Manhattan as the cool breeze comes in through the windows. Don't forget to order your complimentary popcorn. There's just nothing bad I can say. It's nearly my ideal happy hour experience.
The Social, 1110 Market St.
If casualness and a bit of style are your things, The Social (next to Public House in Warehouse Row) is hard to beat. With rotating specials throughout the week and a solid standing cocktail hour menu, there are plenty of ways to indulge after a long day. Wednesday's Hump Day Hacienda is my favorite day to attend. You get $12 pitchers of margaritas (the good ones, not that frozen stuff) and $2 tacos. I like to sit on the Warehouse Row side of the bar and chat with the regulars. And despite the name, The Social is a great place to steal away with a date and the perfect place for all that post-work office gossip with your co-worker.
Stir, 1444 Market St.
I love oysters. So when I learned that a new raw oyster/seafood/cocktail place was opening at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, I was excited about the possibilities. When I visited for the article, the restaurant was still working out kinks, although subsequent visits have proved flawless. Yeah, the "artisanal ice" is a cringe-worthy gimmick—and I'm not sure if it enhances the drinks as much as they claim—but I've never had a bad cocktail there. Happy hour is from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and offers discounts on beer, wine and liquor. I appreciate the weekly craft cocktail special ($7) that comes directly from the menu. But it's the $1 oysters that keep me going back. Stir isn't going to be the cheapest happy hour in town, but I'd argue that it's one of the tastiest and that you certainly can't beat the atmosphere. Click here for a menu. And be sure to suck the oyster liquor out of the shell like you should.
The Flying Squirrel, 55 Johnson St.
One the best ways to determine quality local restaurants is to go where the restaurant industry professionals go. That place would be The Flying Squirrel. I've sat at the bar next to more bartenders and chefs than I can count at Flying Squirrel. This fact, of course, is a testament to the staff and the all-around quality. Happy hour is from 5 to 10 p.m. and offers different specials each night. I'm particularly fond of Whiskey Wednesdays ($6 whiskey-based cocktails). The menu changes depending on the season, but you can always get fried chicken and pimiento cheese (with crostini). The setting sun can get bright as the evening progresses, so grab a pair of complimentary plastic sunglasses and keep getting happy. To be honest, The Flying Squirrel and Beast + Barrel are my two favorite places to happy hour in Chattanooga. So far.
The Foundry, 1201 Broad St.
It's a little bit off the beaten path and just a tad bit outside the downtown circle of restaurants. You may not even know it exists as an option for locals, but it does and you should go. The Foundry is the "lounge" for The Chattanoogan Hotel on Broad Street. But before you dismiss it as another typical hotel bar, I encourage you to give it a fair shake. Not only are the drink specials affordable—$3 draft beers, $5 well liquor drinks and $5 house wine—the outdoor fire pit is one of the coziest places you'll ever drink at. You can also enjoy billiards, shuffleboard and sports on a number of TVs. The real appeal for me, though, is the crowd: Visitors, tourists and people from all over the world stay at The Chattanoogan. I can be an ambassador for Chattanooga and drink at the same time. Could it get better? Nope.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.