Happy Place: Seven 30 South, 730 South University Boulevard, 303-744-1888
The Hours: Monday through Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.
The Deals: $2.50 draft beers, house wine, and well cocktails; $3 you-call-its; $4 premium wine and cocktails; $4-5 food specials.
Were we happy? Flip the page to find out.
The Digs: Residing in a small strip mall in the Bonnie Brae 'hood, Seven 30 South is overseen by Larry Herz, the original proprietor of Carmine's on Penn (which, for the record, has slipped substantially since Herz's heyday). Open for over a decade, this laid-back restaurant and bar is a local favorite for lunch, dinner and brunch. The décor is simple: dark wood envelops both the dining room and the lounge, and large windows cast a natural light over the entire restaurant. Lunches are packed with retired women and trophy wives, dinner attracts neighborhood families and singles, and happy hour offers an eclectic combination of all of the above. The staff is personable, and a few faces behind the bar have been pouring drinks at Seven 30 South for years. Parking can be tricky in the tiny lot, but if you find yourself in a bind, hang a Larry on Bonnie Brae Boulevard, where there is almost always parking on the street.
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The Verdict: Aching from the workout from hell made us long for a cold glass of vino and some snacks, while visions of a quiet midweek happy hour danced in our heads. It became clear from the packed parking lot, however, that a serene happy hour wasn't in our future. The bar was packed to the brim with sharks playing cards; couples enjoying post-work libations; and drinking partners leaning their heads together in serious discussion.
While Denver is a social city boasting a restaurant scene that rivals major coastal metropolises, not to mention a high population of singles and tourists, even at the best bars, it's highly unlikely that you'll find an overflowing happy hour on a Wednesday night anywhere in town. This time, we felt fortunate to score a table in the bar -- the last one available. It's a neighborhood joint where patrons and employees truly seem to enjoy the time they spend there -- and that's enough to keep anyone coming back.
The wine list isn't anything to write home about, and the food isn't exactly innovative, but the happy hour menu beats the competition in both quality and portion sizes. Crab cakes, thick and delicious, are comprised of plump chunks of crab meat seared with jalapeno peppers and served with a spicy Sriracha dipping sauce that gives the dish the perfect kick of heat. The fried pickle spears are a novelty, and the cheesy heap of nachos kept us occupied while our friends argued about tequila. The calamari, which nabbed a Westword Best of Denver nod eleven years ago, went fast, each of us savoring the thick-cut strips of golden-fried squid drenched in a pungent garlic aioli. The bartender was witty and quick, and he even came around to make sure we had all the cheap booze we needed before happy hour officially ended -- a good man, indeed.
Overall Grade: A-