When I’m on holiday, I make sure I’m always available for Happy Hour. You know that magic 60-minutes when you and a friend can enjoy a drink and nibble at half price. It primes you for dinner, puts a stop to the daily adventures, and begins the evening of conversation and relaxation. But, I’m back in Ontario and can’t find a Happy Hour anywhere in my town. That is until someone told me that Happy Hour is illegal in Ontario – what! Yes, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has outlawed Happy Hour and that delicious transition from an active day to an evening of relaxed conviviality.
Today, many restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Europe, the USA, Mexico and the Caribbean continue the trend of hosting Happy Hours with great success. But don’t be too upset, there’s nothing to stop you from hosting Happy Hour in your own home. So what does Happy Hour in your own home look like? Well it’s not about discounted cocktails and two-for-one appetizers. For me it’s more like sipping on a Negroni and noshing on pâté de foie gras spread on warm toast points, while my husband and I kick back in good conversation. What’s your definition of Happy Hour?
Every one of us has our own style but after hosting several 60-minute soirées, I have a pocketful of tips for a no-fuss, “thank goodness work is over” hour. And “work” is the key word here – because Happy Hour done right should be no work at all. Here are some things to consider.
If you have an entryway table, it’s the perfect place to set up your Happy Hour bar so guests can help themselves to a drink on their way in. A few really good quality bottles and mixers are better than a bar stocked with everything under the sun. If you like, forgo the bar and set out a pitcher of one signature mixed drink surrounded with stylish cocktail glasses. Arranged on a nice tray by the front door, your friends can simply pick one up as they come in. Decide where in your home you’ll be sitting and put out some nibbles. If you’re serving tropical mixed drinks, try nachos and salsa, a simple dish of cubed melon or a platter of cold shrimp. Serious cocktails go well with sushi, a bowl of baked olives and feta cheese or anything smoked, pickled or cured.
If wine is the theme of your Happy Hour, you can theme the colour, varietal or country of wine to appeal to your guests’ sense of wine exploration. Along with the wine, offer the delicious, no fuss options of cheese, charcuterie and crackers. Always include some non-alcoholic options like flavoured sparkling waters served in the same sexy mixed drinks glasses. Leading the popularity charts right now are craft beers and they make for a fantastic Happy Hour. Collect unique brews whenever you find them and pack them on ice for your guests to choose their own. Craft beers go well with spicy nuts and a block of really mature cheddar cheese, a side plate of jerky, or perhaps a course country pâté and crusty bread.
Then there’s the music. What’s trending today is old fashioned vinyl, so put a record on that record player that’s been gathering dust in the basement. I guarantee there will soon be a crowd gathering around it, and the mood will be relaxed and comfortable.
Small, spontaneous gatherings are a fun break from the day-to-day grind, and because they can be fuss-free and last for a limited time, it really is easy to make Happy Hour a tradition in your own home.
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to Look Local Magazine. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.ca.