Happy hours are an important part of our bar-heavy, nine-to-five capitalist culture. I’m not saying I’m a big fan of this culture, but it is true that sometimes you just need a cheap drink and snack after work.

Happy hours don’t need frills or fancy chef’s specials, just a solid list of discounted options that reflect the menu of the place. A comfortable atmosphere is key—a nice bar space or cozy seats by a window or fireplace, maybe some entertainment. Summer patios are great, but from winter into spring, we need indoor places to visit before heading home. I’ve been surprised walking around Santa Fe (or using Google) that it’s hard to figure out who offers a happy hour. Advertising can be as easy as writing “Happy Hour 4–6, Drink and Appetizer Discounts!” on a sandwich board outside the door. Since so few places do that, I thought I’d help out.

La Mama

Monday–Friday, 2–5
$2 discount on wines; “In Between” menu of snacks and sweets ranging from $3 to $25 

La Mama is still perfecting their happy hour game, but this place won me over with their atmosphere. The main floor is a bright, casual, communal space that combines café, grocery, and bar (though without bar seating). Soft alternative music plays as patrons chat at small round tables with wooden chairs. Upstairs is a cozy loft space that lends itself well to an intimate, responsibly sourced dinner. Downstairs, there’s a selection of pastas, tinned fish, chocolate, sauces, seltzers, and imported and local cheeses, so you can grocery shop and do happy hour all at once! 

Not being familiar with any of their natural wines, I went for a red blend without knowing it was chilled. But the Ruth Lewandowski Feints from California proved a pleasant choice—bright and fruity, a balance of sweet and bitter. 

Ordering at the counter, I added the house spreads with seeded crackers, a perfect companion to the wine. A red lavash cracker sits atop a wide bowl of hummus, olive tapenade, and crumbled feta, drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil, and sumac. It was a combination of simple, light, citrusy flavors, more reminiscent of spring than winter, a welcome feeling. Something about the natural wine with a hand-drawn label and the refreshing appetizer, combined with the familiar coffee shop atmosphere, all felt so cohesive. A breath of fresh air in a sunny spot next to the window gives that little boost you need to start your evening. 

San Francisco Street Bar & Grill

Monday–Friday, 3–5
$1 off beer, wine, well drinks, house margaritas, and appetizers 

This prime upstairs location reopened under new ownership in November after a COVID hiatus. San Francisco Street Bar & Grill got its liquor license as of December, so now is the time to stop by before it’s inundated with tourists. It has a spacious and bright interior, with a bar space separated from the dining area overlooking the plaza. There’s a blend of old-fashioned and contemporary design with copper pieces placed throughout, from punched light fixtures above the stairway entrance to paneling on the wooden bar. It’s saloon style, yet wholly fresh. 

In the casual bar area, a couple of TVs with the sound off showed sports games (they take requests). Their happy hour is straightforward, so leave the intriguing cocktails for a proper night out since they aren’t discounted. The house margarita is a solid choice, not too sweet, sour, or strong, served on the rocks with a salted rim unless you specify otherwise. It pairs nicely, of course, with the nachos, and I got the red chile hummus with veggies as a healthy add-on. The tortilla chips are obviously homemade, and come topped generously with black beans and jalapeños and served with fresh salsa and guacamole. The hummus is smooth and mild, but with a pleasantly spicy aftertaste. It’s served with carrot, celery, jicama, and red pepper sticks, plus some pita. Who needs to make dinner after solid apps like this? 

Pranzo Italian Grill

Monday–Friday, 4–6
$2 off libations, antipasti, and pizzas

The bar at Pranzo was bustling at 4:45 on a Friday. The bar seats were full, but my two friends and I got one of the five high-tops. This is a pricier choice for happy hour, good for a nice date or birthday night out with friends.

Two friendly servers took care of us throughout the evening. One of them, Lucio, had worked at the original location at the old Sanbusco Market Center (the new location on Johnson Street has been open for about three years). I started with a full-bodied sangiovese, perfect for pairing with pizza. Before the pizza, though, we tried some zucchini fritti, generous spears of perfectly fried zucchini with parmesan crust, truffle oil, and a side of mustard aioli. Then came the senza formaggi, chosen by me, the vegetarian. Anyone who insists on a thin crust would be impressed: the slices were paper thin, crispy, and just blackened. There were six, enough for three people to share, and they came loaded with whole garlic cloves, plenty of sun-dried tomatoes, plus spinach and shiitake mushrooms.

The adjoining dining rooms started to fill up around 5:30, and we left soon after. If you want to make a special night out of it, you could always get a table and share a pasta dish, but you may not need more than their high-end happy hour.

Hidden Mountain Brewing Company

Monday–Friday, 3–6
$5 beers, $9 wine and margaritas, various discounted appetizers

The old Blue Corn Cafe has a special place in my heart, but I’d never been to the cafe’s partner brewery, rebranded in 2021 as Hidden Mountain Brewing. It’s one of just a few bars on the Southside and an easygoing local hangout.

One Monday around 4 pm, I walked past the gleaming copper brew kettles at the entrance to a wraparound bar with plenty of seats, although the place was by no means empty. A few people sat in the booths behind me and groups gathered around the high-tops. Hidden Mountain is obviously a sports favorite, with the NFL schedule on the wall. But the sound of the TVs was thankfully off; instead, low-key reggaeton played. 

Three of their beers were on offer for happy hour: Mexican Lager, Road Runner IPA, and Feathers’ Brown Ale. Though tempted to go for one of their seasonal choices not on the happy hour menu (I was especially enamored with De Peche Mood, a peach wheat), I chose the Feathers’. It was nutty and smooth, with a perfect froth. 

There aren’t many vegetarian choices on the happy hour menu (the mac ’n’ cheese balls sadly cannot be made without bacon), but when I asked about the quesadillas, the bartender happily offered a veggie option with grilled onions and peppers. It was filling for one person and came with plenty of dips: guac, sour cream, pico de gallo, and a fiery salsa de arbol, making it a solid pairing with my dark beer. Copies of Green Fire Times were out for the taking, and I enjoyed a perfect solo happy hour reading a local paper at a local brewery. I left satiated just as the sun was beginning to go down. 

Aria Chiodo

Aria Chiodo originally hails from Taos, and after fifteen years in New York City, she is back in New Mexico, living in Santa Fe. In addition to food writing, she writes film and book reviews, personal and travel essays, and short stories.