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Happy Hours For The Late-Night Crowds

Nighttime Specials Help Pack People In At A Growing Number Of City Pubs

MaryEllen Fillo

April 01, 2011

Lana James of Cromwell peruses the scene at Feng Asian Bistro in downtown Hartford and takes a seat at the busy bar filled with an animated crowd. She and a girlfriend share a plate of assorted $2 and $ 3 sushi and hand rolls and sip on Feng's citrus-infused Fengopolitans, chatting about their day, a recent boyfriend break-up and weekend plans.

It's all part of that tried-and-true socializing-eating-drinking tradition, the "Happy Hour" but at 10:30 at night.

The late-night attractions have become the trend at a growing number of restaurants that already have the regular early evening food and drink specials but are intent on luring the night owls who want to indulge without breaking the budget.

"I work as a private-duty nurse and didn't get done until close to 10," explained James, 29, whose current assignment is in East Hartford. "So for me, this is my time to unwind, and it's great to be able to stop in Hartford on my way home to meet friends, have something to eat, a drink and not have to spend a lot of money."

PHOTOS: Late Night Happy Hours

At the Asylum Street bistro, part of Ginza Corp., the late happy hour is nicknamed "Feng Shui." And it's netting exactly what the owners wanted more people, some extra profit and a late-night burst of action.

"We're paying rent to be open at that time of night, so why not generate some revenue?" said Ginza partner Jim Kehoe. The reduced-priced items from 10 p.m. on include $2 to $4 appetizers, $2 to $3 sushi and $4 rolls.

"We don't want to be a nightclub. We wanted to keep the integrity of our food, and we wanted to attract more people after 10 p.m. college kids who are hungry, people who have been to the theater or a game or a concert at the XL Center," Kehoe said. "And we think it is working."

"During the early part of the week, before we started this a couple of years ago, we might have six to 12 people at the bar," Kehoe said. "Now we do anywhere from 25 to 50, and on some nights, the late-night happy hour is so busy, it extends into the dining room. "

At Feng Asian, the specials are for food only, with alcoholic drinks offered at regular prices.

"We're not promoting binge drinking," Kehoe said. "We figure people come in for the reduced-price food and maybe will have one drink with that."

'Tappy Hour'

Across town at the Wood-n-Tap Bar & Grill on Sisson Avenue, the new "Tappy Hour" late-night promotion includes reduced food and drink prices that reflect its traditional evening happy hour package.

"The late-night idea actually is something our staff has wanted for a long time," said Philip Barnett, a partner with the Hartford Restaurant Group, which owns the Wood-n-Tap chain.

"It not only drives our late-night traffic but showcases our bars and our restaurants," he said of the seven-day-a-week promotion from 10 p.m. to closing at all six Wood-n-Tap restaurants. "Our hope is that people will stop by for the late-night happy hour, see the restaurant and come back another time for dinner."

"Tappy Hour" includes such bar bites as mini-blackened-chicken sandwiches, soups, soft pretzels with mustard, hummus with vegetables, calamari and mini burgers from $3.50 to $11. There is also a daily "Tappy App," a special-of-the-day appetizer at a reduced price. Drink specials include $3 drafts, $4 specialty cocktails, $5 house martinis and select wines.

"We are getting more late-night business because of the discounts," said Barnett. "The most expensive seat in a restaurant is an empty one, and this brings people in.''

The late-night promotion is also adding to the customer base, according to some restaurant owners. It is giving people who work later shifts an economy-friendly opportunity to unwind.

"We get people from some of the other restaurants coming around later at night, after they are done working," said Rich Rosenthal, head of the Max Restaurant Group. Two restaurants from the group, Trumbull Kitchen in downtown Hartford and Max Fish in Glastonbury, both offer the late-night happy hours.

"We are not going to get rich off of it, but it is a way to include people who work until later in the night," Rosenthal said.

How It Started

Trumbull Kitchen is believed to be the first downtown Hartford restaurant to come up with the late-night idea, launching it about eight years ago. There, beginning at either 10 or 11 p.m., depending on the day of the week, the bar crowd can find $2 tapas, $2 drafts and $5 wine and drink specials.

"We didn't even know about this," said Mike Donavan of Farmington, who was at the bar with friends on a recent Wednesday night.

"We were at the XL Center for a game and were hungry," he said as $10 worth of small plates that included calamari, bruschetta and fish and chips were delivered. "It was a nice surprise to come in here and find out there was a happy hour going on. I have a lot of food and a beer, and it will cost me under $20."

Other well-known Hartford restaurants offering variations of the late-night happy hour include Tisane Tea & Coffee Bar on Farmington Avenue and Salute on Trumbull Street. Tisane has a late-night happy hour Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 to close. At Salute, there is one long happy hour marathon on Mondays from 3:30 p.m. to closing, featuring half-price appetizers and drink specials.

"Monday brings us a lot of regulars, for a lot of reasons, including the price, the fact they can get a seat at the bar because it's not as busy as, say, a Friday night, and it's a place to congregate," said Salute managing partner Andy Rizzo.

But there is yet another benefit the late-night action delivers as restaurants struggle to attract customers in a tough economy a lively appearance.

"When people walk by and look in our window on a Monday night, they see a lot of bodies having a good time at a time when there is not much going on downtown," said Rizzo. "Most people will walk by and wonder, 'What's going on in there?'" he said. "Create the buzz, and when potential customers see it, they will think, 'It's really busy in there. Let's go check it out."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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