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October 24, 2008 at 12:14 PM

A toast to those “toasts”: We’re getting happier by the hour

Dinette, that charming little dual-storefront bistro on Capitol Hill, has a new bar — as well as a new happy hour where there’s priced-right snacks to enjoy alongside your adult beverage. If you’re not familiar with Dinette, you should probably know that people in-the-know rarely discuss the place without also mentioning the word “toast” (which is what we used to call such schmear-laden constructs, till we got all hip and Euro and started referring to them as “crostini” and “tartines”). Last Friday I stopped in during the late-night happy hour (9:30 to 11 p.m.), replicated earlier in the day (from 4 to 6 p.m.) and guess what I ordered at $3 a pop?

That toast in front was so swoonifying, I had to eat half of it before pulling out my camera. At which point the one behind it said, “Whaddaya think I am, chopped liver?” While there, I had a nice chat with chef/owner Melissa Nyffeler, pictured below, who gave up some real estate in her former kitchen work-space late this summer, to install a cozy lounge with two bay-window tables and a bar with a half-dozen seats:

That bar-top, by the way, is not marble (it’s plastic-coated milestone) and the “zinc” around its edges is pressed tin. Just like the rest of us, Nyffeler is going for value over va-voom these days, and she’s hoping the bar will help bring in additional business as well as bucks. “We’re usually booming in the fall and winter,” Nyffeler says, but business has clearly slowed this season. In the dining room, where her rustic fare regularly gets raves, she’s seeing fewer diners. And even on busy nights, those folks are spending less. “People are sharing things, and their checks are smaller,” she notes. (And she’s not alone, I recently heard Tom Douglas say essentially the same thing about his restaurants on his radio show .) “We may have a lot of people in there, but a five-top will spend maybe $100.”

Luring warm bodies has reached new levels all across town, which, in part, explains why happy hours have gone from the juice that drives the pull-tab joints, to de rigueur at restaurants everywhere. A look at my inbox finds that neighborhood bistros are doing the same all around town, dropping prices on drinks and the accompanying eats in order to keep everybody happy.

Stumbling Goat Bistro just announced a new happy hour menu in their Enchantresse Lounge (Tuesdays through Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m.). Monsoon just added one nightly from 5 to 6:30 p.m. — with $5 bites serving as previews for the Bellevue outpost. And Artemis recently expanded their daily happy hour (5 to 7 p.m.) to include a late-night version on Thursdays through Saturdays from midnight till 2 a.m..

So: What’s the deal? Been to any good happy hours lately? Got a favorite?

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