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Houston's Happiest Happy Hours

Two things make me happy during the holidays after a long day of Christmas shopping and mall crowd fighting: cocktails and saving money.

Plenty of Houston bars and restaurants offer happy hours. But -- as we've seen in Paul Knight's series of Happy Hour Scene posts -- many of them are disappointing, either due to poor food/drinks, poor service or highly sketchy patrons.

High-quality happy hours are what you deserve, and high-quality happy hours you shall have. Some of these deals are longstanding, well-known treats while others are brand-new. Either way, here's your guide to Houston's happiest happy hours -- may your bartenders be merry and bright, and may all your milk-based cocktails (what?) be white.

VOICE 220 Main, 832-667-4470

Although no longer open for lunch, the bar at VOICE is still going strong at night. And on Wednesday evenings, gather round the circular bar in the gorgeous amber-bathed, two-story dining room for a truly civilized happy hour if there ever was one. Classic gin martinis (two olives, please!) are only $1 from 4 to 7 p.m. on these Wednesday evenings, and because VOICE is both downtown lounge and swanky hotel restaurant, you never know who you'll end up next to at the bar.

13 Celsius 3000 Caroline, 713-529-8466

Every Sunday at one of Houston's only legitimate wine bars (sorry, but it's true) is indeed one of the happiest days in town for oenophiles: all open bottles of wine -- and that's usually a lot here -- are 50 percent off. If you aren't into wine, don't despair: Bottles of beer are 25 percent off, too. And this special runs all day Sunday starting when 13 Celsius opens at 4 p.m.

Fleming's Three Houston locations: River Oaks, CityCenter, The Woodlands

Those in search of a more upmarket happy hour would do well to find their way into the bar at one of the three Fleming's steakhouses around town. This isn't the cheapest happy hour you'll run across, but it's one of the most elegant. The steakhouse's 5 for $6 until 7 deal gets you a choice of five cocktails (all made with premium, not well, liquor), five high-end wines and five appetizers like tenderloin carpaccio or seared ahi tuna for $6 apiece from 4 to 7 p.m. every day of the week.

t'afia 3701 Travis, 713-524-6922

Aside from the Midtown Farmers Market, the Green Plum Cooking School upstairs and Chef Monica Pope herself, t'afia is also famous for its weekday happy hours that take place every Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m. With the purchase of any drink, you can also get a free appetizer -- and there are lots to choose from. Keep in mind, however, two important caveats here: the 20 percent service fee added to your check and the fact that because it's so popular, happy hour gets more and more crowded as the night goes on.

Oishii 3764 Richmond, 713-621-8628

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I always hesitate to write this happy hour up, knowing that it will simply drive more and more patrons into this little sushi restaurant's already-packed booths. But you just can't keep something this lovely to yourself: That's why we named it Best Happy Hour in our 2009 Best of Houston issue. On weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. (and on Saturday -- score! -- from 4 to 6 p.m.) at Oishii, all appetizers are buy one, get one. And since all appetizers are only $3.50 to begin with and come in huge portions, that's a pretty good deal. Sake is cheap, too -- $3 for a large glass -- and beer is only $1.25.

Piola 3201 Louisiana, 713-524-8222

Sticking with the tradition of saving the best for last, this is truly my favorite happy hour in town and one of the best food deals you'll run across anywhere. Every weekday (Monday through Friday) from 4 to 7 p.m., appetizers are free at Piola as long as you sit at the bar and purchase a drink. And it's not just one appetizer: the kitchen keeps sending them out -- plate after plate of gnocchi, pizza, polpettini, polenta with ragu, prosciutto crudo and more -- until you cry uncle. Just try to last for all three hours; I dare you.

Bonus: As I was scouring the web for deals (and refreshing my own, sometimes blurry memories of happy hours past), I ran across Cheap Eats In Houston's awesome $1 section. This blog, as any fans of inexpensive dining should know, is already updated with daily food and drink deals every day. (Note, however, that Cafe Rose is sadly closed, an untimely death to be sure.) But the $1 section -- listing everything from $1 cocktails to $1 espressos, from $1 sliders to $1 bruschetta -- is something that should go straight into your bookmarks.

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