Best happy hour
Unlike in the rest of the Western Hemisphere, happy hour in Boston has nothing to do with cheap drinks. Drink deals encourage post-work binging, according to statewide regulation 204 CMR 4.03, and the liquor lords thereby prohibit any alcohol price-slashing. Happy hour could therefore more accurately be described as dismally-depressing-if-you've-got-three-bucks-and-itching-for-a-margarita hour. Or, conversely, happy-if-you're-hungry hour. Because in Boston, it's the food that gets discounted. The Cactus Club, a new winner in our readers' poll, offers half-price appetizers Monday through Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m., meaning you can get, for example, the cashew-crusted crab cakes, conch fritters, or empanadas for less than five bucks. All of which will surely whet your whistle for one of the trademark margaritas (which will undoubtedly cost double what you paid for the grub).
You'd think the happy-hour prohibition was a law left over from the days when people bartered a dozen hens for a barrel of mead. Nope. It was passed in the 1980s, probably around the same time Harvard Square started to lose its cool. You've heard the groans before: once a haven for non-conformity, Harvard Square's become a poster child for mallification. Grendel's Den, however, has resisted the tide of corporate homogenization and maintained one of the area's best mealtime deals. From 5 to 7:30 every evening, and 9 to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, spend three bucks on a drink and you get half off everything on the menu. Which means you can get pork chops, eggplant parm, and a hot-pastrami sandwich for under 10 bucks. Happy hour may not promote binge drinking, but binge eating's another story.
Cactus Club, 939 Boylston Street, Boston, (617) 236-0200; Grendel's Den, 89 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, (617) 491-1050.