I had a wonderful first job out of college. Great people, great opportunities, bagels every day (every day!). But there was one major detriment: The office, while otherwise quite large and, inexplicably, covered with giant hand-painted reproductions of our magazine covers, was located a good hour and a half outside the city. Which meant I had to drive over an hour to and from work every day (every day!).
So at 22, my only regret as I made my way home on the slow-mo Edens Expressway was that I was missing out on the after-work part of city social life. I imagined throngs of just-out-of-college coworkers pouring from their office buildings on the strike of five, congregating at hip local bars and ordering pitchers by the dozen. All the good things in life: Laughing, free appetizers, hot men in suits.
Sure, by the time I rolled up at 7 or 8 p.m. I could meet some friends for a drink. But I was never able to walk outside my office and head to the corner pub to recap my workday with friends. (If I walked outside of my office then, I would have been in the woods, actually.)
But now I'm older, hopefully wiser and—most importantly—I work downtown. I live downtown, too, but even with all that convenience, I had yet to attend one happy hour: a situation I planned to remedy last week by researching and attending whatever I could find to be Chicago's finest.
So, after a little Internet research and a couple of phone calls, I confirmed that swank steakhouse Nine was indeed still having its infamous happy hour from "around 5 to 6:30." The things I'd heard about Nine's happy hour buffet were exciting: fresh shrimp, calamari and more. High-quality snacking.
My coworker Matt and I were undaunted when we walked in and saw two giant vats of guacamole and pico de gallo-type salsa next to a plate containing two—yes, two—tortilla chips. "There must be other stations at the end of the bar," I told Matt, as we ordered our first glass of wine. But when Matt and I got up and made the rounds, we quickly realized there wasn't any other food in sight. Just some people in suits sucking down cocktails.
I was confused. So I made my way over to our waitress, who we'll call Waitress Barbie, and asked her where the buffet was. She blinked like a deer in headlights. "Well, um, I mean, they usually just put an appetizer out," she said, looking away. Her voice was suspiciously similar to the person I'd talked to on the phone.
"Really?" I said. "Is it just the dip out there?"
"Yes," she said, then, leaning in. "I mean, it usually lasts longer but I guess people were hungry."
No kidding! I was too, and, because I hadn't eaten, was now slightly drunk. For lack of a better plan, we ordered another round. But then, just before I was about to openly discuss my plan of tying the guacamole bowl on like a feedbag, a waiter appeared with some new chips. Score!
Still, I can't say this was the happy hour deal I had hoped for. The dip was so-so, the place was almost empty and the drinks weren't any deal (we ordered the more reasonable wine but two glasses each still ran us almost $40).
And just like that, 6:30 had come and N9NE's happy hour was ann9hilated. Matt and I ambled out into the street, disappointed. "It's just hard because there aren't a lot of happy hours in Chicago," Matt said. And based on my research, he's right. But I'm still determined to find a decent one. And if it's back somewhere in the suburbs, I will kill myself.
Want to check out Nine's happy hour for yourself? It's at 440 W. Randolph, Monday through Thursday, 5-6:30 p.m.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap. If you know of the mythic happy hour that she missed, do clue her in.