Are we a nation of whiners, as John McCain's chief economic adviser would have us believe? Are we merely suffering the effects of a "mental recession"? Well, judging by some of the charitable happy-hour deals around town, I just may have to agree. Never before has there been such an abundance of good, cheap grub. Here, in no particular order, are some of our favorite steals and deals.
If the view at Pier W (12700 Lake Ave., 216.228.2250) were any better, we'd be forced to dismount our bar stools and walk toward it. As it stands, the $4.50 wild-halibut tacos win out by a fin. From 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday through Friday, bar patrons can also polish off lobster bisque ($4.75), Kobe sliders ($5) and shrimp tempura ($5). To toast the skyline, domestic draft is $3.25 and select wines are $5.25.
Dispensing two dozen of the finest handcrafted draft beers, Tremont Tap House (2572 Scranton Rd., 216.298.4451) does its name justice. During happy hour, every one of those brews is discounted by $1.50. Good deal, to be sure, but that's just the tip of this economical iceberg. From 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, diners can enjoy a monster soft pretzel for $4 or a great pizza for $5. Sweet and spicy calamari: $5. Tap House burger with lettuce and tomato: $5. This is beginning to sound like an Arby's commercial.
At Prosperity Social Club (1109 Starkweather Ave., 216.937.1938), both the vibe and the prices are retro. On weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m., owner Bonnie Flinner practically gives food away. Where else do two bucks secure a dozen garlicky steamed mussels? A bratwurst sandwich for just three measly dollars? Why, thank you very much. Add a bottle of ice-cold beer to that sammy, and you've got a square meal for a fiver. If it's Tuesday, you can order five-dollar cheeseburgers all blessed night long.
Ponte Vecchio (2100 Superior Viaduct, 216.556.8200) is a beautiful restaurant. And from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, it becomes even more radiant, thanks to its liberal happy-hour pricing at the bar. Not only are cocktails, beer and wine discounted by half, but many of the food items are slashed even more. A grilled Brie and sausage appetizer that normally goes for $13 is just $5. The bruschetta is $3, Caprese salad is $5, and rigatoni with prosciutto and peas is $6.
Chef Jeff Fisher definitely has the touch. Since taking over the kitchen at Ohio City's Touch Supper Club (2710 Lorain Ave., 216.631.5200), Fisher has injected the club with fresh energy. For proof, just stop in on any given Friday and see how fast the free sushi swims away. That's OK; we prefer the quieter weekday happy hours (4 to 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight), where tempura calamari, ham-laced mac and cheese, and lamb ravioli go for $5 each. Domestic beers are two bucks a pop.
Lovely Lolita (900 Literary Rd., 216.771.5652) - your juicy hamburger, girded with bacon and dripping with egg yolk, is in a class by itself. That I get to wash it down with two-dollar Sierra Nevadas is a seduction too hard to resist. Other tantalizing specials include fire-roasted chicken wings, silken mac and cheese, and chorizo-studded mussels. Come early (5 to 6:30 p.m.) or come late (9:30 p.m. to close), the deals will be waiting. Light Bistro (2801 Bridge Ave., 216.771.7130) offers a little light at the end of a brutal day. Show up at the bar on weekdays before 7 p.m. and, after you've drained your first of many $3 mojitos, set about ordering some food. Items change, but recent treats have included crawfish Sloppy Joe, fried chicken livers and lamb burgers. No surprise here: Each dish costs $5.
Far West Siders deserve a good deal too (some would say more so), and at Henry's at the Barn (36840 Detroit Rd., 440.934.6636), that deal comes in the form of complimentary pimento cheese and flatbread, $5 peel-and-eat shrimp and heavily discounted booze. The $5 bar menu, available Tuesday through Friday (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.), also features ground tenderloin burgers, steamed mussels and praline hushpuppies. Come on Wednesdays and suck back fresh-shucked oysters for $1.25 each.
Rocco Whalen is a well-traveled chef. Don't believe it? Take a look at Fahrenheit's (2417 Professor Ave., 216.781.8858) "World Happy Hour Tour," sprinkled throughout with globally inspired food-and-drink pairings. Order the Bavarian soft pretzel with Gouda sausage ($5), and chase it down with a Paulaner Hefe-Weizen ($3). Or try a glass of country-style chardonnay ($5) alongside a pulled-pork slider ($6). Feel free to mix and match, weekdays 5 to 7 p.m.
It always feels like happy hour at Bar Cento (1948 W. 25th St., 216.274.1010), what with the affordable chow and sauce. But things get even more economical daily from 4:30 to 7 p.m., when a dish of warm olives costs $3, the world's best frites are $4 and Ohio beef burgers are $6. Pair them with a glass of house white, house red or beer for another $4.
One Walnut (1801 E. 9th St., 216.575.1111) has perfected the "Five for Five After Five" deal. Weekdays at the bar mean $5 martinis, wines and light bites. Snack on chicken and pork kebabs, bacon-wrapped shrimp and tuna lettuce wraps while sipping Hob Nob pinot, Castle Rock chardonnay or a pomegranate Cosmo, all - wait for it - $5.
Table 45 (9801 Carnegie Ave., 216.707.4045) is too cool for school. And its after-school special, billed as "Chill Out Happy Hour," gives bar patrons free tastes of chef Zack Bruell's world cuisine. Weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m., snacks like tandoori chicken pizza, corned beef Wellington and open-faced bison sandwiches are absolutely free. Better yet, drinks are half-price, and valet parking is on the house.
Head east to lively Bistro 185 (991 E. 185th St., 216.481.9635) weekdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. for a host of $5 plates, mugs and glasses. Asian-inspired crab cakes, Coquilles St. Jacques and homemade potato pancakes with sour cream are just a few of the delicious deals. Glasses of pinot, pints of beer - all $5.
Brothers Lounge (11609 Detroit Ave., 216.226.2767) rocks every day of the week, thanks to its never-ending music lineup and happy-hour deals. Daily from 3 to 7 p.m. and all day Sunday, sliders, quesadillas, nachos and wings are served in the bar for $5. Killer draft brews like Chimay, Dogfish and Rogue are all a buck off.
Who doesn't yet know of the fab Flying Fig (2523 Market Ave., 216.241.4243) happy hour? As if those wildly addictive potato chips aren't enough, this "Small eatery and bar" dishes up fleshy $5 burgers. Better still, those burgers are capped off with bacon and blue cheese, and paired with hand-cut fries. Not into cow? Go green with tempura green beans, also $5. These and $5 cocktails, wine and beer are available in the lounge Tuesday through Friday, 5 to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday 3 to 5 p.m.
Other notable happy hours: Corner Alley (402 Euclid Ave., 216.298.4070); Z—calo Mexican Grill (2071 E. 4th St., 216.781.0420); Crop Bistro (1400 W. 6th St., 216.696.2767); Grovewood Tavern (17105 Grovewood Ave., 216.531.4900); Boulevard Blue (12718 Larchmere Blvd., 216.721.5500); Players (14523 Madison Ave., 216.226.5200); Melange (2101 Richmond Rd., 216.378.9755); Velvet Tango Room (2095 Columbus Rd., 216.241.8869); Le Petit Triangle Café (1881 Fulton Rd., 216.281.1881).