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Working 9 to 5

Reflecting on the merits of celebrating the survival of the workday with cheap drinks in cool spots

By Leyla Shokoohe · May 15th, 2013 · Drinking Issue
drinking_neonsNeons Unplugged - Photo: Jesse Fox
I’d always scoffed at the notion of a “happy hour” at a bar. Aren’t most hours spent in a location with free-flowing booze “happy”? Then I got a big-girl job, working 9 to 5 for an arts nonprofit. I love my job and find a level of personal and professional satisfaction in helping further the arts in Cincinnati that is near a seventh-heaven high, but sometimes it is stressful and hard and I just want to sit in a neighborhood bar with my good friend Jack Daniel’s. And also my real, human friends. 

And so I became initiated into the “happy hour” society. 

To be honest, I’d always been slightly irrationally jealous of the fancy-schmancy YPs, all fresh in their pantsuits and collared shirts, name tags left hanging nonchalantly, declaring for all the world to see that they had done something productive at a place that paid them for the past eight (or nine or 10) hours. I envied that. Working from 5 a.m. to noon at my previous job put a serious damper on my social life. When my friends were getting off work, I was usually considering the merits of an 8 p.m. bedtime. My schedule was off and I was perpetually on the outs as far as interactions with my peers during the workweek. No more! Now, I work downtown and don’t have to travel very far for a cool happy hour spot, often outdoors, sometimes with dogs around.

My happy hour initiation began at Japp’s Since 1879 on Main Street. I’d been to Japp’s many a night, and when my bestie, Ana, informed me of the glory that is Japp’s 33-cent martini happy hour, how could I say no? It’s a throwback to their pre-Prohibition-style roots and cocktails. The 33-cent martini special is available for the first martini ordered from 4 to 6 p.m. and is, specifically, a Bombay dry gin martini. I hate martinis, but I love saving money, so I figured, what the heck, it’s cheaper than a downtown parking meter! So I ordered one and came to the conclusion that while I still don’t like martinis, I dislike them less when they are dirty. 

For other drinks, listed on a huge hanging blackboard to the right of the bar are five wittily named cocktails (Secretariat to celebrate Derby Day, the Losantiville Highball, etc.), curated by owner/mixologist Molly Wellmann, that rotate out each week and have an old-timey flavor.

They’re made using homemade flavor concoctions, a variety of bitters, liqueurs and other alcoholic supplements not found at most local watering holes. The quality is remarkable and worth the $7, $8 and $9 price tags — if you’re a true alcohol epicurean. 

The atmosphere is probably my favorite thing about Japp’s happy hour. Besides flirting with the multitude of attractive bartenders, I love sitting at the bar top, contemplating my mortality with my girlfriends after a long day and, seriously, watching the sunset through the open front door with a handcrafted cocktail. It’s kind of an awesome moment. And then it’s usually 8 p.m. and I’m really exhausted so I end up going home and falling asleep by 9 p.m. anyway.  

Because I work downtown, the Main Street and Vine Street strips of OTR are where I end up for convenience’s sake for every happy hour I’ve actively participated in recently. 

Neons is a favorite, too, with the outside bar, dog-friendly patio, bocce ball court, giant Jenga (unintentional alliteration) and — drum roll, please — Bill’s grill! The best, no-frills hot dogs and burgers are found here. Cash only, but there’s an ATM inside. Neons is maybe my favorite place for what I like to call “Happy Hour People Watching.” There’s nothing quite like sitting on the patio with a dollar-off whiskey and ginger at 5:45 p.m., watching the YPs, regulars and hipsters filter in. You can play the “Does that person work at P&G or GE?” game, or find a doppelganger for just about every person you’ve ever dated. Heck, sometimes, it might even be that person you once dated, and they just a got a ridiculous haircut. Life’s weird. 

The other awesome thing about Neons is how much room there is. Need to hide from that person you once dated? Go upstairs. There’s a huge flatscreen TV and couches and a pool table. Did he follow you upstairs? Go back down the back staircase and hang out at the shuffleboard table in the corner, or stare intently at the jukebox and pretend like you didn’t just pick Hall & Oates (or own it, whichever). Listen to the musicians playing on Friday evenings from 6-9 p.m. in the front patio corner. You can even stand by the patio entrance and stare at the ancient hospital name engraved in the stone, and then start to wonder if you’re standing on a grave. Maybe close out your tab at this point, since you’re starting to sound really paranoid. 

Feeling good and hungry at happy hour? Head to Bakersfield. If you’re looking for whiskey, tequila, tacos and awesome, they’ve got you covered. I went there twice in one day recently — once for their new lunch menu and then again for happy hour. It was perfect: The windows to the (unfortunately teensy) patio were open, and just the right amount of people were inside for quality people watching. There are $3 shot specials every day of the week and assorted beers and liquor. Also, the most delicious chorizo queso known to man. Bakersfield’s communal-style seating is another nice twist, forcing people to get out of their comfort zones when seated next to total strangers. 

Happy hour is a fantastic invention. God bless the tired soul who decided they needed to celebrate surviving the workday, every day, with discounted alcohol. You, sir and/or madam, are my new hero. You’re the Dolly Parton in life’s 9 to 5 musical. ©



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