I often prefer hitting happy hour when I'm not hungry. After all, many pre-dinner bar noshes are nothing more than subpar afterthoughts or miniaturized versions of a restaurant's least-healthy menu items. In these cases, I'd rather drink my calories and save the snacking for some ice cream on the way home. But last week, when looking for a last-minute happy hour in my ’hood, Señor Bear made me regret my late-afternoon bag of Doritos.
I try not to default to Señor Bear, even though it’s right on my route home, but after a busy workday, I discovered that several spots on my radar are closed early in the week and so was left in a pinch. With its close-to-home daily happy hour (from 3 to 6 p.m.), the Bear is an easy, accessible stop for me — especially now that it has added widely spaced picnic tables on either side of the corner building.
I arrived alone, but the chipper host still offered me one of the new tables, set up on a curbside spot normally reserved for parallel parking. (I wish for these restaurant spillovers to have a lifespan beyond COVID; what a lovely way to repurpose our asphalt.) Sure, it was hot along Tejon Street, and yeah, that much-diminished rush-hour traffic can still be a bother, but the drinks menu promised to cool things down and whisk away worry.
Officially called “Hora Loca,” Señor Bear’s happy hour is in fact loca for how much cheaper it is than the dinner options. Bocaditos (little bites) range from $4 to $6, while the cheapest dish on the dinner menu (that's not a side) clocks in at $14. And these aren’t stingy bites, either. Better yet, cocktails and wine pours are all $6, including one of my favorite summer refreshers, the michelada.
Knowing that I’m taking up a whole table, I asked the server for her recommendations for two bocaditos that I knew I would not be able to finish, then dialed up my roommate to see if she wanted to stop for a snack on her way home, too.
After ordering a mezcal margarita, I witnessed one of Señor Bear’s congelados (frozen drinks) go by on a tray, and my jealousy immediately kicked in. I’m normally not a fan of frozen beverages because they melt too quickly on the hottest days — when you crave them the most — so you give yourself a headache trying to slurp the thing before it’s lost its allure, or you’re left with a sad and unappealing separated cocktail. Not to mention that frozen drinks are often made so sweet that you're left with the sort of gut rot that ruins an evening. (Just thinking about it left me angry with myself for being suckered into the frosé trend in the first place.)
But Señor Bear's congelados looked light and properly blended to maintain slushiness right to the end, and both the blueberry and guava options — each made with your choice of rum or tequila — were built as a perfect heat-wave panacea. So I double-fisted it with my margarita and a magenta-hued blueberry tequila congelado, which blew my expectations away with a bright and tangy flavor far more intense than standard cantina margs and palomas.
My food, an empanada and a small pot of bean escabeche, arrived to distract me from ordering another frozen drink at full price. Before sinking my teeth into the hot fried pocket, I wasn't sure what to expect, since the menu described the empanada as "chicken, avocado, poblano, tomatillo, crema," but didn't give any other details. But the first bite offered flaky pastry followed by cheesy goodness that oozed into my mouth. It hit all the right empanada notes, despite the initial mystery.
The beans hit the opposite end of the texture and flavor spectrum. Though I wouldn’t call them escabeche (they were mild, not at all vinegary and tasted almost Italian), I would call them tasty, toothsome and healthful, with the predominant flavor of a decent olive oil that left me wanting more. The accompanying plantain chips were sturdy enough to hold the beans, but not much more than elegant shovels.
Now that I know what to expect — from the frozen drinks as well as the vague menu descriptions — I’ll be back, especially for two-fisted congelados.
Señor Bear is located at 3301 Tejon Street and offers happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. every day. Call 720-572-5997 or visit the restaurant's website for details and online ordering, in case you'd prefer your happy hour at home.
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