Happy Hour Scene

Happy Hour and a Pop-Up Dinner at Grand Prize Bar

Driving into town from the Southwest side for happy hour is especially challenging for me, as I always seem to run into traffic. Luckily, Grand Prize Bar's happy hour lasts from 4 to 8 p.m., which means that I can get there a little later and still partake in the drink specials. Two nights ago, it also meant that I could eat a gourmet meal on the cheap if I stayed beyond happy hour, because the guys at Mockingbird Bistro were doing their Tuesday pop-up dinner.

I'd been there before for Grand Prize Bar's infamous Monday Ghetto Dinners, when there was hardly an open seat in the house. But last night everything was easy. I got easy street parking just outside the door, there was ample room at the bar, and I could actually hold an easy conversation with my girlfriend and talk to the bartenders without raising my voice.

"We're more of a late-night bar," one of the bartenders told me when I commented on the easy parking and scanty attendance. "The industry crowd comes in after 11 p.m., and we're usually busiest at around 1 a.m."

This would explain why their happy hour runs until 8 p.m. Specials were as follows: $1 Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, $2 wells, $3 Buffalo Trace, $3 Jager, 50 cents off most beers, and $4 frozen classic cocktails. It was kind of hot and stuffy when I arrived, so I ordered the frozen classic of the day, the Aviator.

With the consistency of a frozen margarita, the Aviator had this different herbal quality to it. I asked the bartender, Claire, what was in it, but just one drink and my mind gets a bit fuzzy. Was it lavender? I'm not sure, but it was aromatic and herbal-y, with an olive greenish tint to it.

I had arrived close to the end of happy hour, so by the time I finished my first drink it was over. Oh, well. Their signature cocktails cost less than $10 outside of happy hour, which isn't bad considering the quality of what you get, so I ordered one of my favorites, The Repair, which has Limoncello, fresh orange, lime, and a liquor that I can't remember either. Like I said, my mind gets fuzzy when I'm drinking.

By 8 p.m., the guys from Mockingbird Bistro were set up and ready to serve in the kitchen, where you go and place your order if you want some food. I ordered everything on the menu for my girlfriend and me: a trio of hummus, truffle Tuscan bean and eggplant caponata dip for $6, a spaghetti with meatball puttanesca sauce for $9, and their grilled cheese of smoked white cheddar on brioche Texas toast, tomato basil bisque, sand truffle fries for $12. I even got an extra side order of truffle fries.

"It's the best kind of food for when you're drunk," said one regular, who had been there over the weekend when Feast was in the house. So true. I wasn't quite drunk, but the food was hearty, the truffle fries delish, the puttanesca sauce so flavorful that I guzzled everything down within record time.

I ended up leaving around midnight when the crowd started to fill the bar area. While sitting at the bar I met all kinds of people in the industry. I spied Jeramie Robison, the Executive Chef at Cinq, with his girlfriend Michelle, met a sometime bartender, a server from the Hotel Zaza, a server from Strip House downtown, the Chef de Cuisine at Mockingbird Bistro. In the end, my tab for six drinks came out to $45. Not bad, considering the fact that I only had one happy hour special.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham