At some point in working-life trajectory, happy hour transitions from being mostly an excuse to get sloshed and fed on the cheap to being mostly an excuse to take the last meeting of the day over a couple of drinks (or skip out on the last meeting entirely, especially on a nice day). Most establishments, then, play to one of those two crowds: Rock-bottom prices on rock-bottom booze lure those in the mindset of getting obliterated, while up-market sippers and snacks at discounted prices play to the meeting-seekers.
Wayward could very well be the establishment that bridges the gap, or, perhaps more likely, eases the transition from the former to the latter.
When the restaurant first subsumed the former Zengo space beneath the sparkling towers of apartments at 1610 Little Raven Street, owners Chad Michael George, Jared Schwartz and Kade Gianinetti knew immediately they’d need to entice crowds to revisit the sprawling grotto, which the former occupant had long had trouble filling. Part of that strategy meant luring young-professional neighbors for after-work drinks. Casting around for a feature that would set the restaurant apart from options across the Millennium Bridge in LoDo and Union Station, or across the 16th Street food bridge in LoHi, the team implemented a bottomless happy hour.
It sounds like the deal to trump all happy-hour deals, particularly because Wayward does not peddle low-rent alcohol. Pay $20 and you can drink as much of anything from the happy-hour menu as you can handle (though the bar does reserve the right to cut you off), as long as it’s between 4 and 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Better yet, you don’t have to stick to any one thing: You’re free to start with a glass of wine and then drink your way through the cocktail list before finishing with a beer.
If you’ve transitioned away from using happy hour as a cheap way to get hammered, it’s a bit of a challenge to get your money’s worth: every beverage besides beer on the happy-hour drinks list costs $6, which means you’ll need to knock back four (six, if you’re sticking to $4 beers) to come out ahead. If you’re generally a two-drinker who occasionally lives a little with a third, better to go à la carte. But if you plan on starting strong on a big night, or need to blow off real steam after a hard work day or just want to porch-pound on a sunny afternoon, this is a good place to do it economically. And if you ask nicely, as we did, your bartender might let you start à la carte and switch to the happy-hour deal if you drink enough (we did not).
As for what you’ll actually be imbibing, Wayward’s high cocktail IQ indicates that that’s the section you should peruse first. If you’re hoping for a more affordable take on Wayward’s inventive drinks menu, however, you’re out of luck; the happy-hour list comprises bright classics only, including a whiskey sour, daiquiri, gin and tonic, Greyhound and Sidecar. That shouldn’t be reason to shy away: Not only are these palate-lifters ideal for pre-dinner drinking, they showcase the bar staff’s mastery of the basics. The daiquiri, tightly balanced between tart and sweet, is a great place to start, and don’t miss the Sidecar (not least because when was the last time you had a Sidecar?), a sour cognac cocktail enriched and smoothed with orange liqueur and garnished with a slice of blood orange and a sugared rim. One variety each of red, white and sparkling wine are also on offer, as is one beer.
Snacking is a bit more hit-or-miss (and food is not, it should be noted, part of the bottomless happy-hour deal). At the Way Back, Wayward’s older sibling, which is currently closed and moving to Tennyson Street, wildly inventive seasonal compositions spun in a food-truck galley propelled the restaurant to beloved status. Wayward has a large professional kitchen and a tamer sensibility — there’s a burger on the dinner menu here, a pappardelle with Bolognese and a wedge salad, for example. The happy-hour menu, which offers items priced from $3 to $9, is tamer still. Skip the croquettes; the soft potato orbs are fried crispy, but they lack seasoning, inside and out, and so become monotonous before the small bowl is empty. Potato chips with dip are a better drinking snack; the house-fried crisps come with what tastes like a take on sour cream and onion dip, making for a straightforward and session-friendly, if not exactly memorable, snack. The best dish we tried was the hot carrots, which takes inspiration from Nashville hot chicken and comes pooled with the same lip-tingling oil you’d find on the famous Southern poultry. Swipe your sweet roasted carrot liberally to get the full effect: The oil doesn’t cling quite as well to produce as it does to breading.
There are plenty of places in Denver for bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys at brunch, but dropping the bottom out of happy hour looks like a smart idea for Wayward.
We're revving up a new weekly look at Denver's happy-hour scene, so join us as we explore newcomers and classics every Friday to find out if the food, drinks and discounts are what you need. And if there's a happy hour you love, let us know at email@example.com.