“It’s five o’clock somewhere!”
That’s the rallying cry for the time-honored tradition called happy hour, a ritual in which colleagues, friends or perfect strangers convene after work at a local pub or restaurant to relax over their favorite libations.
These days, the title is a bit of a misnomer as most happy hours extend well beyond 60 minutes, with restaurants offering discounted beverages to lure patrons to linger longer.
But not in the Sunflower State.
“There’s no such thing as happy hour in Kansas,” says Jerry Neverve, owner of the Red Lyon Tavern.
No such thing in the notorious sense. Kansas law requires establishments to sell drinks for the same price all day. That means no happy hour specials, at least not where cocktails, beer and wine are concerned.
That law, and increased public awareness of the dangers of drunken driving, have forced restaurant owners to get creative in the way they entice weary workers to their businesses after the whistle blows.
“It’s not about doing tequila shots or having some raucous party before you go home,” says James Ferguson, manager of 23rd Street Brewery. “Maybe it’s a little more food-centric now than it used to be.”
23rd Street offers pizza specials in the late afternoon hours.
“I’d rather people overindulge on pizza than overindulge on beer if they’re going to drive home during rush hour anyway,” Ferguson says.
JB Stouts’ Sports Bar & Grill promotes a special menu in an effort to draw the crowds between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Danny Williams, a manager, says so far, it’s working well but it’s traditionally been a challenge getting the word out.
“For the most part,” he says, “it’s pretty tame.”
Rarely tame is the early evening scene at Free State Brewing Company, where the porch is crowded on warm evenings with a sundry assortment of regulars.
“For some people, it may be every Monday night,” says Free State owner Chuck Magerl. “For others, it might be Fridays. I’m going to say there are probably 200 people who are regulars in the course in the week.”
The brewpub doesn’t rely on discounted food specials to pull customers in but, on Mondays, cuts prices on selected beers all day.
“The whole Monday special took off for us simply because we wanted to offer it as a thank-you to our regulars, who really keep us going,” he says. “The weekends here are crowded and hectic with lots of tourists coming in, and sometimes the locals might feel elbowed out.”
Magerl speculates that faithful patrons enjoy a sort of “Cheers” environment where “everybody knows your name” — from the bartenders to the wait staff to the customers.
“I think a lot of places have that same sort of feeling. You can find a lot of the same kind of regulars at Johnny’s and Conroy’s and the Red Lyon,” he says. “In many ways, there is so much isolation with internet and email and what not, that the ability to have a place to park yourself and interact with human beings face-to-face, it’s great old-fashioned way of blowing off steam.”
Of course, not everyone chooses to blow off steam after work by hoisting pints of pale ale to their lips. Fitness enthusiasts opt to lift heavier things, like dumbbells, to get happy the natural way — with exercise-induced endorphins.
Local gyms typically see a rush in business around 5 p.m. Cyclists hit area bike trails, and runners hit the road in rush-hour traffic.
Red Dog’s Dog Days, the free community exercise program, draws 500 to 600 participants at the daily 6 p.m. sessions.
Linda Elwell has been a Dog Days regular for nine years.
“The whole reason I started Dog Days was, I was sitting having my bourbon and water one evening, and my son came in and said, ‘put that down and come to Dog Days with me,’” she says. “So, I did, and I got hooked. It’s amazing how many people you get to know.”
Two-year veteran Michelle Martin says some Dog Days regulars have the best of both worlds.
“What I like about Dog Days is that 20 to 50 of us will occasionally meet at a local pub after one of the 6 p.m. workouts, still dressed in our workout gear, sweaty and smiling,” she says. “We have already unwound from our day and just visit about the fun and interesting things happening in our lives. We always seem to have a great time, even though the other patrons in the bar may look askance at our sweaty attire!”