"He's a special guy," the employee says of his boss. "It's amazing what he comes up with."
Frankly, it's amazing to find any worthy free-feed spreads these days. I love both the casual atmosphere and the complimentary buffet spread out from 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays at Del Mar Crab House (1453 Larimer Street); the array of fried seafood items, as well as peel-your-own shrimp, earned Del Mar the Best of Denver 2001 prize for happy hours. And Fratelli's (1200 East Hampden Avenue) is putting its new patio to good use from 3:30 to 6 p.m. weekdays with drink specials and all-you-can-eat pizza.
While the food may not be free, other restaurants are recognizing the benefits of happy-hour specials. Zenith, Kevin Taylor's elegant, innovative eatery at 815 17th Street, is about as far away in atmosphere as you can get from Billy Bob's, but it recently introduced its own winning happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, when well drinks, red and white house wines and tap beers (including Guinness, Fat Tire and Bass Ale) are just $2 a pop (specialty drinks are $3.50). The real cause for happiness is the happy-hour food: Tapas that normally run $5 each are just $2.50 in the evenings. Get a load of this (literally): flash-fired langostinos and calamari with a jalapeño cocktail sauce; Prince Edward Island mussels with lemongrass and chiles in a coriander-lime broth; portabello and goat-cheese crostini with balsamic syrup; sashimi tuna and guacamole terrine with curry oil; veggie pot stickers with an Asian vinaigrette. The pièce de résistance, however, would have to be the stunning jumbo blue-lump crab cake with green-apple chutney and citrus butter.
Kudos to Chris Casson, who was sous chef for two years at Restaurant Kevin Taylor (1100 14th Street) before he replaced longtime Taylor colleague Sean Yontz as Zenith's chef a few months ago. Yontz is currently wowing the crowds at Tamayo (1400 Larimer Street), which will introduce its own special happy hour, Ora Feliz, in mid-August.
To celebrate its new sushi bar, Fins Fish Market and Grill (550 Broadway) is doing half-price happy-hour sushi from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; Coors Light, the healthy drink of choice with raw fish, is a buck during that time period. Not content to offer just a daily happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. -- during which martinis cost $3 (there are sixty to choose from), well drinks are $2, the good beers (Guinness, Fat Tire) are $2.50 and tapas-like appetizers are $2.50 -- the Purple Martini (1328 15th Street) offers the same deal all night on Mondays.
And Illegal Pete's just added another happy hour to the lineup with its new spot at 1530 16th Street, the first Denver outpost for this popular Boulder institution. (The six-year-old original Pete's is at 1320 College Avenue; the second is at 1447 Pearl Street.) "This one has the same atmosphere as the other two," says owner Pete Turner. "This one is so much bigger, though, and it's really gorgeous, if I do say so myself."
He does, and he also says that the Denver menu is the same one featured in Boulder: "Mission-style Mexican, with a Southern California bent, Baja-style fish tacos, quesadillas, sopaipillas, salads." That sounds just right for grazing at the bar -- and the best time to sit there would have to be from 4 to 8 p.m., seven days a week, when domestic drafts are $1.50 and all bottled beer (including Mexican) and well drinks ring up at just $2.
It oughta be illegal, all right.