The Happiest Hours: Chasing down affordable cocktails in the Ann Arbor area
For local cocktail lovers, finding good cocktails at a reasonable price can be a challenge. Lots of us enjoy a nice evening out, but a few $15 drinks can really add up.
After spending the last decade combing Ann Arbor and the surrounding areas for good drinks that I can actually afford, I’ve found some pretty sweet deals that don’t break the budget:
Knights -- all times
Knights is the absolute classic for an affordable-and heftily poured-cocktail, and you don’t even need to go during happy hour! I personally prefer the original Ann Arbor location (that golf carpet on the upper level!), but either there or at the newer Liberty St location you can get delicious classic cocktails for under $10 any time of day. And don’t even get me started on the breadbasket they provide if you’re ordering food as well. Drool.
The Earle -- happy hour
I went to The Earle for the first time last year and was delighted. Make sure to ask to sit in the bar area, where they have a happy hour so long and amazing that I double-checked with the server to make sure I was reading the menu correctly. The happy hour itself runs from 5-8 pm, but try to arrive between 5-6:30 pm to enjoy $3.75 mussels with your wine or cocktail. There are also $6 martinis on Thursdays and lots of other specials throughout the week. The Earle, please never change.
Ravens Club -- happy hour
Ravens Club can be tricky for those on a budget because their drinks are delicious, but definitely on the pricier side. But if you can sneak in between 4-6 pm, you’ll be able to enjoy $7 cocktails and $5 bar snacks (those deviled eggs are so good!). Thursday nights the happy hour starts back up again from 9 pm-close, making it a great stop if you don’t have to be up early on Friday mornings (or, frankly, even if you do, live a little why dontcha?).
Black Pearl -- Mondays
I love a good vodka martini (bleu cheese olives, please!) and Black Pearl makes amazing ones, but unless you can make it there between 5-6 pm, you won’t be getting one for less than $10. But Black Pearl does have a super fun Monday deal featuring 50% off bottles of wine and oysters. What a great post-work stop!
Habitat Lounge at Weber's -- Sundays and Mondays
First of all, the Habitat Lounge is amazing and features lots of great local music. Second of all, it has great drink and food deals. The Tuesday-Friday happy hour is pretty typical and runs only from 4-6 pm, but the Sunday and Monday happy hours are really something to talk about. Food specials on those days run from 4-9:30 pm and drink specials run all day. One of the happiest days of my life was when I got an Old Fashioned and a bunch of mussels there one Monday evening for a total of $13.
MASH -- late-night happy hour
I’m sure we can all agree that MASH used to be better before so many people knew about it and the line for the bathroom got to be 12 people deep on weekend evenings, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that their drink specials are pretty darn good. They don’t start until later in the evening (10 pm-close), but they feature $6 cocktails and half-off beer. It’s fun to grab a couple of these inexpensive libations and check out what the live music act is that night.
Aventura -- happy hour
I can never escape Aventura without spending a minimum of $50, but they do have a good happy hour for those readers that have some semblance of restraint, unlike this writer. Running 3-6 pm and again from 10 pm-12 am Monday through Thursday, you can snag $5 cocktails, half-off beer, and $5 sangria (they make red and white and both are wonderfully refreshing). If you buy a drink, you can enjoy 25% off some of the tapas they have to offer, too. I adore sitting outside in their little courtyard during the summer, with its exposed brick walls and great lighting. Make sure to try and get a seat out there if you can.
Isalita -- happy hour
The post-work Isalita drop-in was taught to me by a friend several years ago and I still don’t do it enough. The yummy Mexican restaurant has different food deals each day of the week to go along with happy hour and those can be a little hard to keep track of, but don’t worry -- they’re all delicious. Whether you’re there for queso Monday or taco Tuesday, you can’t go wrong. It can also be a little confusing which days of the week happy hour is only in the bar area (Tuesday and Friday) and which days it’s in the whole restaurant (Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday), so when in doubt, I always hang out in the bar space. Happy hour runs from 4-6:30 pm each day and if you can get to Isalita before 5 pm, there’s usually plenty of space. During happy hour the classic margaritas, which are made with real lime juice and simple syrup, not that nasty pre-made mix, are $5. Have a couple of those and a few cheap and delicious tacos and you’ll be a happy camper for under $20.
The Fillmore -- happy hour
Those of us that can recall when The Fillmore was Terry B’s are still jarred when we drive by and don’t see the big purple Terry B’s sign that was inexplicably created using the Curlz MT font. But it has been The Fillmore for going on two years now and, like Terry B’s before it, The Fillmore has a good happy hour! Running from 3-6 pm every day, you can snag $5 classic cocktails and glasses of wine and various appetizers for $7 and under. In the summer, sitting on the big wooden deck and observing Dexter’s small-town charm is lovely.
Mac’s Acadian Seafood Shack -- happy hour
Getting deals at Mac’s in Saline can prove complicated if you don’t know what you’re doing, but once you do know what to do, it’s definitely worth stopping in. Their happy hour runs from 4-6:30 pm every day and I love to swing over there when I get out of work a little early on a Friday. Make sure to ask specifically to sit in the bar area (or just at the bar) to get the deals. Various affordable drink deals range from $2.50 for bottled beer to $6.50 for martinis and Manhattans, and if you order a cocktail you get a FREE order of mussels! Seriously! If they don’t offer them to you, make sure to ask. They also offer $1.50 oysters and appetizer discounts and various additional happy hour deals are available depending on what day you’re there. It can get pretty crowded, so try and get there before 5 pm to get a good spot.
Bobcat Bonnie’s -- happy hour
The Ypsilanti location of Bobcat Bonnie’s is new to the area (there are also locations in Wyandotte and in Corktown). Known for yummy and funky food and drinks, Bobcat Bonnie’s cocktail menu offers a wide range of selections, all for $9. During happy hour you can get things for even cheaper: $5 cocktails and wines, and appetizers for under $7. I love happy hours that extend 'til 7 pm and Bobcat Bonnie’s runs from 4-7 pm every day and all day on Thursdays. Get there!
Maiz -- happy hour
If you’re craving a margarita but don’t want to venture into downtown Ann Arbor for Isalita, Maiz Mexican Cantina in Ypsilanti is a good bet. One of the rare restaurants that offers happy hour Monday through Saturday (so unfair that more places don’t do this!) from 3-6 pm, Maiz is a low key and fun place to grab some deals. During happy hour margaritas and appetizers are half off, and draft beers are $3. You can sit outside there, too, which makes sipping on a jumbo margarita seem slightly more authentic.
Happy imbibing, readers! Let us know if we missed any great cocktail deals! And won’t it feel nice to come home and still have money in your bank account?
Elizabeth Pearce is a librarian at AADL.
➥ "Washtenaw County Dive Bars: A thorough review" [Pulp, Nov. 21, 2018; June 7, 2018]