by Heather Irwin for Sonoma Magazine
Happy hour has gone legit — even upscale — in Sonoma County, with craft cocktails, gourmet small bites and crowds looking to mingle and mix rather than simply get loaded on PBR and mozzarella sticks.
Mixologist Paul Ammerman at County Bench in Santa Rosa. (John Burgess)
Top shelf restaurants are now drawing crowds from 3-6 p.m. with deep discounts on many of their regular menu items (usually in petite form), hoping that you’ll stick around for dinner, or at least some top shelf booze.
And it seems to be working.
Though there are hundreds of great happy hours from Cloverdale to Petaluma, not all are created equal. Here are some favorite places that combine great food, drinks and crowds to make your post-work hours happier, at least for an hour or so.
HAUTE HAPPY HOURS
Upscale restaurants where you’ll find well-heeled movers and shakers enjoying a martini or three.
Stark’s Steak and Seafood
There’s no denying that Stark’s is the Grand Pubah when it comes to Santa Rosa’s happy hour scene. Packed to the gills most nights, It’s the perfect storm of top-notch bites under $5, well crafted drinks and a clubby, steakhouse atmosphere. Rather than trotting out nuked chicken strips and Bud lights, they roll out inspired tapas and sides from their steakhouse menu — tuna tartar taco ($1.75), prime rib banh mi, $5; potato skin fondue, sweet chili chicken wings and truffle fries for $3.95 and a quarter-pound burger with caramelized onions and truffle aioli for a thrifty $5. Plus a $2.50 Beefeater martini, Lost Coast Blonde Ale ($2.75), selected wines, $5 margaritas on Monday and Tuesday, along with several other old school cocktails for $5 and $6.
Monday through Saturday 3-6 p.m. 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 546-5100.
Small Bites at Stark’s Steak & Seafood in Santa Rosa. (John Burgess)
Starks’ Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg also offers an impressive happy hour. During “Locals’ 420 Hour,” look for gin and tonics, sangria, beer, goat cheese tostadas, duck meatball bocadillos, Spanish flatbread and cider braised chorizo and shishito peppers, all for the mind-bending price of $4.20.
420 Center St., Healdsburg, 433-7700.
Front Room at John Ash Co in Santa Rosa.
Front Room at John Ash & Co.
Sink into a leather seat and nibble on tasty small plates while kicking back well-crafted cocktails. Here you can steer clear of the bro-crowd, rubbing elbows with the hotel’s chic clientele, politicos and pinstriped professionals. Wednesday’s “Crush the Rush” includes complimentary appetizers from 5:30-6:30pm along with $2 off all cocktails, $4 wine/beer/weekly cocktail. On Saturday, it’s Pizza and Pinot from 6-9 p.m., with $10 pizzas and a featured $10 pinot of the month. Sunday you can build your own burger and fries for $10.
Front Room Happy Hour is 4-6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and 3-6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. 4330 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 527-7687.
Wine selection at Central Market in Petaluma. (Photo courtesy Central Market)
An amazing deal from one of Sonoma County’s best chefs, Tony Najiola, but it’s literally an hour, so you can’t dawdle. Chances are you’ll want to stay for dinner. $1 oysters, $5 wines, $3 beers and free pizza at the bar from 5-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday,
42 Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma, 778-9900.
Barndiva Studio Bar in Healdsburg. (Photo courtesy Barndiva)
Barndiva Studio Bar
We won’t lie, this isn’t a cheapo happy hour. This is a Wine Country experience. But sipping cocktails and bistro bites inside this eclectic gallery of performance and visual art is a must-do in Healdsburg. Chef Ryan Fancher’s restaurant vision has been adapted to a more casual bistro model with small plates of charcuterie and other apps. Barndiva has opened up the beautifully curated space to sip craft cocktails and be one of the beautiful people. Open at 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
237 Center St., Healdsburg, 431-0100.
The Pina Colada from the County Bench in Santa Rosa. (John Burgess)
The County Bench
Though Michelin-starred chef Bruce Frieseke (Applewood, Bella Vineyards) Ben Davies (Petite Syrah, Spoonbar, Mirepoix) have the spotlight at this new Santa Rosa restaurant, there are several other high-profile players that have influenced their menu. Chris John, the former sommelier for Cyrus Restaurant, has created a wine list that’s exceptional both for Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. There are four small production wines on tap, along with a novel-sized wine list that focuses on a few classic regions, with a depth of vintages. Paul Ammerman, who relocated from NYC, is obsessive about the restaurant’s craft cocktail program, and you’ll find incredibly unique offerings on the constantly changing cocktail menu.
Happy Hour Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. 535 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa, 535-0700.
Duke’s Spirited Cocktails
This newly opened cocktail bar in Healdsburg is all about seasonal craft libations, aka farm-to-glass drinks that include herbs, fruit vinegars, fruit purees and top shelf artisan booze. A couple examples: “Darling Nicki” ($11) includes Mezan Panama run, chai tea, Hamilton 151, Leopold’s Tart Cherry and Spirit Works Sloe Gin; “Rangpur More” ($11) with Opihr gin, rangpur lime shrub, pink peppercorn, saffron bitters and house tonic; or the “Barely Legal” ($12) with Charbay Meyer lemon vodka, Giffard Lychee, yuzu, lemon and grapefruit. Wine, beer and ciders are also on the menu for traditionalists, as well as non-alcoholic house-made sodas (burdock root beer, grapefruit) and teas.
Happy Hour Monday through Thursday from 4-6 p.m. 111 Plaza Street, Healdsburg, 431-1060.
Bar manager Alex Kaplan, second from right, jokes with customers while preparing their drinks at Jackson’s Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa. (Julie Grosse)
HIPSTERS & THE TINDER TRIBE
Young professionals on the prowl scooter, Uber and bicycle to these trendy spots.
Jackson’s Bar and Oven
Happy hour stretches from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and on weekends from noon to 6 p.m., with $2 Jacksons Pale Ale, $4 selected wines, $5 well drinks and the specialty cocktail — orange fennel drops (a new take on the Cosmo). Take half off on buffalo wings and truffle parmesan or chipotle fries, and pay $5 for sliders or tacos on weekdays. On the weekend, $6 Bloody Marys.
135 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 545-6900.
Sonoma’s hippest new eatery features mole braised short rib tacos, Korean buffalo wings and Sangria. Plus, we hear they’ve finally got some outdoor patio space. Happy hour is 5-6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
9 E. Napa St., Sonoma, 931-6926.
Pork belly biscuits with maple glaze and pickled onion – and cocktail – at the Chalkboard Restaurant in Healdsburg. (Conner Jay)
Chef Shane McAnelly uses his happy hour menu to playfully explore cuisines and dishes that might not make it to his regular menu. Currently, he’s stoked on Fillipino cuisine, and his 4:30-6:30 p.m. menu includes rock shrimp and avocado lumpia, chicken adobo, tamarind braised pork ($6). The theme extends to inspired drinks like Paquiao Plum Punch with Batavia Arrack, an historic sugar-based spirit; Singapore Sling; plus beer and wine. The chef will be visiting Spain next, so stay tuned.
29 North St., Healdsburg, 473-8030.
El Barrio in Guerneville. (Chris Hardy)
Guerneville’s tequila-haven is another cool-kid spot from restaurateur Crista Luedtke. From 4-6p.m. Thusday through Monday, $2 Tecate, $5 Sangria, $7 margaritas with chips and salsa. Winter Wednesday posole nights begina again in October.
16230 Main St., Guerneville, 604-7601.
Dr. Cocktail #7 at Spoonbar restaurant in Healdsburg. (Heather Irwin)
Sit and watch the world — or at least Healdsburg — go by at this open-air eatery inside the H2Hotel. Miyagi oysters, fermented chili glazed chicken wings, grilled chorizo skewers ($5), crafty cocktails like the Blind Tigers (St. George Absinthe, Benedictine, Aperol, lemon, yuzu, hibiscus, $6), wines ($6) and Death & Taxes, Proving Ground IPA ($4).
5-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. 219 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 433-7222.
Happy Hour at Brew in Santa Rosa happens twice daily. (Photo by Heather Irwin)
We love the laid back, inclusive vibe of this combo coffeehouse and pub. Sip on pour-overs and cold-brewed coffee from SF’s Ritual Roasters, local microbrews and ciders that change frequently, along with wine and tea. Their TWO happy hours are from 4-6 p.m. and 8-10 p.m. daily, with $1 off beer and cider on tap, as well as wine by the glass.
555 Healdsburg Ave., Santa Rosa, 303-7372.
The view at the Villa Restaurant in Santa Rosa is spectacular. (Photo courtesy The Villa Restaurant)
This popular Happy Hour on the Hill is a mix of old-timers and youngsters, both of whom appreciate a bargain and a shrimp cocktail. There’s nothing fancy here, but the view is spectacular, and you can get a Bud Light, fried calamari and mozzarella sticks or a pizza for a song from 3 -7:30 p.m. Retro-cool eats, including the aforementioned shrimp cocktail, spaghetti and meatball, fried zucchini and even a straight up hot dog, start at $2 and top out at $5. Bud, Coors, PBR and wine are $2.
3901 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa, 528-7755.
The bar at La Rosa in Santa Rosa. (Heather Irwin)
Favorites of the beer and spirits crowd for whom happy hour is just a warm-up
Folks in Petaluma give a hefty thumbs up to this relative newcomer downtown. They’ve doubled their happy hour on Friday and Saturday (4-6 p.m. and 9-10 p.m.). The menu is extensive, with filet mignon skewers, pork belly banh mi, salt and pepper calamari, citrus cured salmon, mac and cheese, tacos and the ultimate beer food, onion dip and chips. All are $6 and under. Drinks include the George Clooney margarita, whisky punch, rye martini, wine and beer from $2.50 to $7.
170 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 762-5997.
La Rosa Tequileria
Welcome to Sonoma County’s favorite Margaritaville. Tequila drinks and approachable Mexican fare make this an easy choice for kicking back with a few friends from 4-6 p.m. daily. House margaritas and shots, $5; well cocktails and microbrews, $4. Cheese nachos, quesadillas, hot dogs, ahi tostada and other mini bites for $3-$5.
500 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 523-3663.
Pulled Pork Sliders from chef Gray Rollin at Belly Left Coast Kitchen & Taproom in Santa Rosa. (John Burgess)
Belly Left Coast Kitchen
When isn’t it happy hour at this downtown Santa Rosa restaurant? They’ve got food and drink specials from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with your best bet being Taco Tuesday from 2 p.m to close, with solid tacos and an impressive collection of craft brews. The rock star vibe and beer-centric drink list makes for plenty of fist-bumping fun.
523 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 526-5757.
Tequila flight at Maya Restaurant in Sonoma: Chamuco Blanco – 7 Leguas Reposado-1921 Añejo, 100% Blue agave tequilas served with a shot of Sangrita. (Photo Courtesy Maya Restaurant)
Not just nachos, but “Really Good Nachos,” are part of this Yucatecan menu, along with specially priced tacos, sliders and margaritas from 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you want something a little more special, ask for the fresh-squeezed margarita or taste your way through Maya’s 100+ tequila list.
101 E. Napa St., Sonoma, 935-3500.