E: You can do a lot with one hour. We thought we would get a drink.
If we could find a bar open before 5pm, we would meet at 4:30 for a cocktail, before Michelle went into work at 6. She sends me a link. “Perfecto!” I say, “See you there.”
M: Thanks to the MTA, it was more like the happiest 10 minutes by the time I made it to the bar. Operating under what should have been normal circumstances, I swipe in to the Bedford L stop only to have the Manhattan-bound train boot its passengers off, announce it would not be going to its intended destination, and consequently sit in the station. Confused, I wait for further instructions as no signage has been posted about service interruption.
E: The Happiest Hour has a vintage paradise theme–appropriate for a drink on a warmish Saturday afternoon. It’s easygoing, unpretentious: the palm frond wallpaper, mid century modern interior, with kitschy resort details (staff is outfitted in mismatched Hawaiian shirts). The dining room in back is deserted; everyone’s up front by the U-shaped bar. I edge in and ask for a cocktail list.
M: The train sits, an astonishing amount of people waiting on the platform. I push my way out to find a cab. A low number of the yellow or green creatures roll down Driggs Ave. The ones I spot are full. Knowing Lizzie is already waiting at the bar, I give her text by text updates.
“Where are the cabs?”
“Traffic on the bridge.”
E: A glance at their menu reduces a list of seven signature cocktails, all preparation-based with a choice of spirit. I like drinks that are built with intention, and so my eye wanders on. The featured classic cocktails include a Gibson, Young Grasshopper, Daiquiri and Sazerac. On the other side of the menu is appealing diner fare: chopped salads, burgers, sandwiches and snacks like salt-and-pepper broccoli. Signature cocktails are $13; everything is accessibly priced. I order a Negroni.
M: The driver holds me in relative hostage, meandering through the LES far less astutely that I prefer. “Just let me out here,” I plead. I can walk the remaining distance faster than his crosstown pace.
E: It’s before 5pm and this place has a bouncer on a duty, and a buzz. Passersby take notice. More people come in. It isn’t long before two guys introduce themselves, trying to make conversation. One of them is having a Miller High Life nip, the 8 oz minibeer for $3. I can’t resist making fun of him. A woman interjects, laughing, brandishing her 8oz water; they clink bottles together. The atmosphere is frat-like and communal, a place to make new friends.
E: “Maybe once I get there you want to walk to [work] with me after a quick drink?” Michelle texts. “I need one now.” I ask what she wants to drink.
M: I thought for a moment about my frustration in opposition to the spring air in February. “Anything crisp, refreshing, slightly bitter? Maybe Mezcal?”
E: This is what she specified to me, and this is what I specified to the bartender. He nodded, stepped to the back bar, reached for the bottle of Aperol. He referenced his phone, built the drink into a shaker and strained. Served up, this is everything we wanted and more: rounded in sweetness, bitterness, tangy acidity that’s cut with smoke. “It’s a Death & Co. cocktail,” the bartender said. Made with yellow Chartreuse, Aperol, mezcal and lime, garnished with zest.
M: The palm tree wallpaper perfectly matched the unusually warm weather; the Happiest Hour is exactly the tiki-influenced bar I hoped. It was pre-summer in my mind, and in the air. With 10 minutes to drink, the cocktail (a take on the Last Word) is exactly as requested, served up with a few well-shaken ice particles twinkling on the surface.
I meet the two men who had entertained Lizzie during my delayed arrival, one drinking the nip Miller high life bottles, the other now in a long-form discussion regarding the shells hanging from my ears, and their relation to the geography of Long Island. The back bar looks sleek and elegantly-lit from the corner of my eye. I try to take in the whole space in my peripheral.
You can do a lot with an hour. And as it happens, even a lot with 10 minutes. A well-balanced cocktail, in a bar that feels like summer in February, was worth the stress of crosstown travel.