The concept of the three-martini lunch — that magical moment in the middle of the day when you sit down with your coworkers at a fancy restaurant with a glass full of diluted vodka — is a bygone relic from the era of Mad Men. But happy hour is here to stay, so might as well take advantage of it. Happy hour usually occurs anywhere between 5-9 p.m., and it was designed to get people who are just leaving work into the bar. However, for those of us who don’t have a normal 9-5 schedule, happy hour is a great reason to start drinking a bit earlier than planned. Which is why I would suggest checking out your local cocktail bar’s happy hour; what might usually be a $10 cocktail can be as cheap as $9, $8 or $7. If you’re lucky enough to find a bar or restaurant that peddles discounted happy hour cocktails, seize the opportunity to expand your palate and try as many cocktails as possible. There’s generally no cheaper way to do it.

However, some people may find that drinking cocktails at 5 p.m. can lead to a whole host of problems (or black-out drunkenness) by 9 p.m., so if you are drinking cocktails at happy hour, I must warn you: stick to the three-drink limit. A good cocktail is delicious and goes down easily, but be careful: you might be drunk before you know it, which is why some people wait until dinner time to enjoy a cocktail. Paired with a sumptuous meal, a good cocktail will compliment the food you’re enjoying. An excellent cocktail will elevate the experience, so if you’re delving into the world of cocktails, I’d suggest sitting at the bar the next time you plan on having your fancy night out. While the bar might lack the intimacy of two top by the window, sitting at the bar will give you the experience of watching the drinks being made, talking to the bartender, getting suggestions as to what to order next, asking questions like, “What the hell is that?” when some unbelievably pink drink garnished with violets comes out. (Just make sure to ask “what the hell is that?” when the bartender isn’t too busy. Asking at the wrong moment — like when the bartender has twelve drinks to make — might be met with a glare and curt answer, even from the nicest bartenders.) The bar is no longer the place to sit while waiting for somewhere else to sit — it’s the best seat in the house. Another good reason to sit at the bar? If you’re planning on cruising through the cocktail menu at dinner, it’s much easier to get your glass refilled quickly at the bar as opposed to flagging down a busy server.

If you missed the opportunity to drink your cocktails during dinner, don’t worry! There’s still the rest of the night left. Here in Oakland, you can find great cocktails being served up until last call (which, at bars that stay open until 2am, is usually between 1:30 and 1:45 a.m.). Any night of the week, can you find a bar where they serve up well executed Manhattans, gimlets and last words. Seeking out bars that specialize in cocktails will help you narrow down a good source for the rare and new cocktail, and meeting skilled bartenders who practice their craft in more unexpected dive bars and venues can offer a change of scenery from local upscale bars. Granted, not every bar (or every bartender) is going to make you a delicious margarita when the place is packed and the bar back is taking orders, so make sure to plan your cocktail consumption accordingly and try to avoid ordering cocktails at places that are best suited to a shot and a beer. And, as previously noted, drinking cocktails for hours upon hours is generally not a good idea, mostly because the more sugary drinks you consume, the more whopping your hangover becomes. So, after you commence your cocktail consumption, make sure to switch to something less lethal after about three cocktails.

For those who are privy to the location of various after-hours located throughout the East Bay, you already know that showing up to a sketchy, underground function at 4 a.m. is not going to be the best opportunity to peruse a shelf full of well-edited liquors hosted by a bartender who is keen to the nuances of mixology. Which is why anything from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. is going to be a bad bet for your cocktail pursuit. Likewise, showing up at those key bars that open up as soon as it’s legal at 7 a.m. to serve those early morning alcoholics is probably not going to be a good bet for ordering a well-executed Hemingway daiquiri. However, as soon as your trendy neighborhood brunch spot opens up, springing for a mimosa or a Bloody Mary to quench your alcoholic thirst isn’t a bad idea. Some places even have a long list of cocktails that are filled with sugar, orange juice, champagne and booze to make the rest of your day as pleasant as possible.

Lastly, if you’re the type of person who still believes in the three-martini lunch, well, you’re in luck. While neighborhood cocktail bars generally don’t open until 4 p.m., there are a few key bars and restaurants that can whip up excellent afternoon libations. Lunchtime is an excellent time to sit at a bar and get a drink; bars tend to be uncrowded, unfussy and in no way lacking in quality when compared to the fare you can drink any other time of the day. Lunch is also one of the slowest times of day when a bartender is working, which means that your bartender will be all that much happier to encounter a fellow drinker at that time.

So, drinkers of Oakland, fret not. Now is always a good time to get a drink when you’re living in Oakland. Now is always a good time to try a new place, so come join your fellow drinkers at the bar down the street. We’ll be cluing you in on good spots to drink throughout the day in upcoming posts.

About The Author

Pilar Vree is an East Bay native who bartends at Penrose. She runs the blog Oakand Alcohol, Fuck Feast, and the Instagram account @oaklandalcohol.

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