Happy Hour at McCormick's: Defending the Champ?

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Back before LoDo was stuffed with happy hours pushing all manner of liquids and solids, McCormick's Fish House and Bar -- an outpost of the McCormick's and Schmick's empire that opened in the Oxford Hotel in 1987 -- was legendary for its cheap time, when everything was $1.99. And that included a burger and fries that was renowned as the best deal in the area. Today the prices are much higher and McCormick's is part of colossal seafood conglomerate Landry's, but the franchise was still named best happy hour in America last year by The Daily Meal and USA Today. Does this old standby still have the goods, or has it been shown up by its spunky neighbors?

See also: Happy Hour at La Biblioteca: Study Hard

I came not to bury McCormick's, but before I had walked through the doors I was already nursing a grudge against Landry's and its ocean of mediocrity -- especially after what that company did to the once great, now okay Cruise Room. Happy-hour prices now range from $2.99 for hummus and pita chips to $6.99 for fish tacos. But to get in on any of this food necessitates a beverage purchase of at least $3.25 -- that's not tough hurdle, there are happy-hour drafts in the $4 range and $6 cocktails -- but I've never seen a one-drink minimum at a happy hour before.

Happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close Monday through Thursday and 2 to 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with a second late-night happy hour from 10 p.m. to close on those days. The afternoon happy hours can be busy; the after-work crowd didn't bother to remove their ties and sport coats before settling down with $3.25 Bud Lights and plates of oysters. A Mariner's Mojito ($6) came to me, looking pretty ugly with a wad of mint leaves on top (wha?) and a floater of dark rum. Refreshing but too sweet and light, it's a classic example of a chain-approved cocktail.

There's still a cheeseburger and fries on the happy-hour menu, but it's now $5 rather than two bucks. A Lincoln gets you an average-sized burger (mine was burned to a crisp), fixings and a fistful of fries. I also tried a roasted mushroom flatbread ($7), which will go down as one of the top worst things I have ever eaten. Ever swallow a mouthful of white flour as a kid? Then eat some soggy mushrooms and plastic-y mozzarella? If so, you can grasp the experience. I asked for a box rather than the trash can to save the feelings of my server, who was kind and attentive in the midst of happy-hour hysteria.

Though some of the old McCormick's spirit remains in the cheap eats (and the $1 Irish coffees during snowstorms), savvy diners know what to expect from franchise restaurants, and the offerings generally pale compared to their independent neighbors. Saving a few bucks is great, but between soulless food and soulless atmosphere, your afternoon happy hour is better spent elsewhere.

Perfect for: When you need to eat for nothing more than $8.25, but will settle for nothing less than white tablecloths and mahogany. Also, picky grandparents.

Don't miss: The Irish Coffee is still made with care and perfect on a cold night.

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