There’s a moment between when work ends and the rest of our lives begin, to socialize, graze on appetizers and sip a low-priced libation. We have collectively dubbed this the happy hour.
Boulder Weekly’s food and beverage writers—John Lehrendorff and Matt Maenpaa—joined forces, combining their considerable experience and well-tuned appetites, to discuss the idea of happy hour in all its glory. The venue for this meeting of the culinary minds was The Roost, a restaurant that’s become something of an establishment in Longmont over the six years it’s been open.
Sharing a table full of appetizers and sipping on a couple happy hour cocktails off The Roost’s menu, John and Matt happily dig into the idea of happy hour. But first, we set the table with a little history.
A happy history
According to U.S. Navy historical records, the “happy hour social” started in 1913 aboard the U.S.S. Arkansas, following similar social club names from the 1880s.
During the Prohibition era, speakeasies would host a “happy hour” for folks to have a cocktail before going off to dinner at a proper restaurant. The phrase “happy hour” itself is fairly common throughout history, with most attributions relating to cocktail hours anecdotal at best.
The origins of the happy hour as we know it can likely be tied into legends like the beginnings of the Buffalo wing or Chicago’s tavern-crust pizza: low-cost options to get regulars to come in earlier and entice new customers while selling a few more cocktails or pints of beer.
By 1984, the state of Massachusetts banned happy hours outright. The U.S. military followed suit, abolishing happy hours on military bases. Ten other states would join Massachusetts in an outright ban, citing varying reasons including preventing drunk driving, public nuisance and overconsumption of alcohol.
Fortunately, Colorado never had such a ban. The happiest hour will reign supreme.
John recalls his earliest memories of happy hours gaining prevalence, working in Boulder restaurants during the ’70s. Free shrimp cocktails for people that came in to enjoy a few drinks were the name of the game.
“When I was working at Pearl’s, one of the things they specialized in was peel-and-eat shrimp,” John says. “Eventually they got to a point where food cost with these shrimp and taco buffets meant they couldn’t do it for free anymore. But it worked to get people in the door.”
Small plates and social snacks
If you’ve never been, The Roost offers up classic Colorado and California-style Americana. Burgers, sandwiches and entrees, with some locally sourced ingredients properly cooked from scratch. The restaurant swept most of the categories in Boulder Weekly’s Best of Boulder East County last year, and its sister restaurant, Jefe’s Tacos, won best happy hour.
The happy hour menu at The Roost—actually a happy three hours, running from 3-6 p.m.—has a tight selection of food and drink at a nominal discount. The menu is an even dozen, six appetizers and six cocktails, with all but a few sitting at an equally easy $6.
For our spread, we started with the Bangin’ Cauliflower—tempura-battered cauliflower tossed in a spicy sriracha sauce—and the polenta bites—parmesan polenta deep-fried and served with tomato sauce, goat cheese and balsamic. To drink, a bourbon and gin concoction called The Hobo and a happy hour classic, the Aperol spritz.
The cocktails were light and refreshing, perfectly balanced summer sippers.
Eventually we added on the blistered shishito peppers and the ahi poke bowl. As a whole everything was light, easy-to-nosh bites that packed a lot of flavor in small plates. There was a little mess if you try to eat them without a fork, but that’s not really a complaint. There’s more than enough on each plate to sate an appetite when shared with some friends.
The restaurant perspective
While we were dining, the director of The Roost restaurant group, Alishia Moore, dropped by to say hello. With the fortunate turn, we availed ourselves on Alishia—what is the appeal of happy hour?
“I think it’s a great way for people to come in and try a menu when they aren’t sure if they want to have a whole meal there, or maybe they’re just socializing,” Moore says. “They can come out and snack, get a good idea of what they’re in for.”
From the restaurant perspective, it’s all about offering something light and interesting that won’t affect the bottom line. Nothing too heavy on the food side, or too alcoholic on the drink side, and the costs need to be low enough to make sense.
“We try to make something that’s really valuable. For happy hour, you aren’t going out to get a $12 cocktail,” she says. “We want it to have value so that guests come out to socialize and have a snack.”
Adding to that, Moore says, the traditional happy hour times are also during lulls in restaurant service. A time when the lunch rush has ended and dinner service hasn’t really started yet. Happy hour is a perfect time to lure in some new customers and provide them with a relaxed atmosphere to unwind in.
Paying the tab
For the hour we dined, sipped and savored, we discussed what makes a good happy hour. A few points were agreed on:
• The menu items should be inexpensive
• Small bites are ideal.
• Cocktails should be on
the lighter side, low in alcohol.
With all the fine establishments in Longmont and the surrounding, there’s plenty of opportunity to sample happy hour offerings and find a favorite. It doesn’t need to be a culinary adventure, but the potential is there if you’re willing to explore.