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Downtown’s Newest and Best (though still could be better) Happy Hour

Hi again –

Today’s post has me ruminating about happy hour. Happy hour in Downtown LA is deceptively hard to find. And I mean a real happy hour: food specials that go beyond chips or sliders, and drink specials that aren’t just a couple of beers on tap or a watered down Jolly Rancher martini.

Remedy has a couple of happy hour food and drink specials (the food is actually good), but it tends to be empty and you feel like you’re there too early – which I actually like sometimes, but it’s not a ‘happy hour’ vibe. Ciudad offers some decent food specials that do change from time to time, and it’s the only place offering drinks like caipirinhas, but aren’t we all a little bored with Ciudad by now? Library Bar definitely has the happy hour vibe, and they recently (finally) started offering food, but their drink specials typically consist of Stella on tap and Washington Apple drinks for $5 – snooze.

Well, may I introduce you to Chaya Downtown. It’s a little hard to find because it’s tucked in between the City National Plaza buildings (5th & Flower – I still call it Arco Plaza), opposite the new Drago Centro. A couple of weeks back, I went to the grand opening and while I was immediately impressed with the design, I haven’t written about it because I hadn’t really eaten there – just snatched food off of passed plates. Well, I ate there last night and, while the food was quite good (a more thorough review will come later), the happy hour is what caught my attention.

First, the drinks aren’t to die for, but they’re unique and thought out – and they are five bucks. I had both the Seeing Red, which is an orange- and lavender-infused tequila concoction and the Russian Blues, which consisted of citrus vodka and muddled blueberries (the Seeing Red was better). They’ll also serve you a cosmo, a margarita, or a selection of wines and beers (including Sapporo on tap and some unique bottled beers) for the same price.

The drink menu needs to expand and the quality needs to improve – that’s how Chaya’s happy hour could (and, I think, will) get better. But for now, at least their offerings go beyond the ho hum.

Second, the happy hour food is not an afterthought. How many times have you ordered something off of a happy hour menu and gotten a half-warmed over, half-thought out dish that’s slapped on a plate, almost begging you to switch over to the (more expensive) “real” food? Not here – and it’s all between three and five bucks. The calamari had a light crunch to it, and the jalapeno aioli added just the right kick. The hummus was soft and flavorful, and the pita bread was warm and pleasantly chewy. The happy hour special last night was short rib ravioli with goat cheese – on a happy hour menu! – that had us ordering another plate and wanting more. And for $5, why not? The shrimp tempura roll was one step less inviting, but still flavorful and not disappointing.

The wait staff was attentive – they didn’t all of a sudden disappear with 15 minutes left for happy hour prices – and the food came out promptly. The crowd had a nice after-work vibe, neither too empty or too loud (though that might change as word spreads). The space is inviting without being too stuffy (read: Drago) or too casual. The bar is beautiful, with stamped mirrors that are lit from within, and a very cool light fixture of “found objects” hanging overhead (you have to see it to understand).

So, next time you want to grab a true happy hour with friends, check it out and let me know what you think. (and just for a little teaser, if you stay for dinner, save room for the warm milk chocolate croissant bread pudding for dessert, complete with caramel ice cream. Mmmmmm…)

P.S. – For those of you who wonder if they still make music videos, they’re showing on Chaya’s bar TV, which faces the back – you have to be sitting in the seats against the window to see it. You can’t hear them, but Jessica Simpson sure seemed angry about something…