The nearly year-and-a-half-old eatery has become especially known for its rotating Kölsch service Monday through Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. Servers come by bearing trays full of 7-ounce pours of the ice-cold, German-style lagered ale for $3 per glass, which they continually rotate out until asked to stop.
“With happy hour, it needs to be fun, and it needs to be a deal,” Steuer says. “The Kölsch trays especially are something no one else does; it’s interactive and good for groups.”
Knowing the importance of playing the value angle, the beer hall also offers discounted boots of beer and its garlicky giant pretzel ($6 instead of $8). Specialty food items like Nashville-hot schnitzel and smoked chicken wings are only available during happy hour and brunch. The latter makes use of a byproduct of a favorite smoked chicken entrée; the smoked drumsticks are deep-fried and tossed in homemade fermented hot sauce, for $3 each.
The limits of alcohol discounts
Illinois is technically a newcomer to happy hour drink deals, having only overturned the statewide law banning discounted drinks during special times of day in July 2015. Because alcohol-related fatalities number among the leading causes of death in the U.S.—whether from drunk driving, intoxicated violence, or accidental deaths, many states unsurprisingly have laws on the books that attempt to curb consumers’ ability to drink a lot, really fast, for really cheap. Numerous states restrict deals like unlimited or two-for-one drinks, while eight maintain outright bans on discounting alcohol during happy hour (see sidebar).
Businesses have long found clever workarounds to such restrictions while still operating within the letter of the law, from eliminating cover charges to offering discounts on food instead of drinks. Even before Illinois lifted its happy hour ban, for instance, it was perfectly legal for bars and restaurants to temporarily lower the price of alcohol; they just had to discount prices for the entire day.
In 1984, Massachusetts became the first state to ban happy hour specials on alcohol. A year before, the owners of then-newcomer Harvard Square restaurant and bar, Grendel’s Den, had emerged victorious in a drawn-out legal battle challenging a Massachusetts state law allowing churches to veto liquor licenses, which reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The historic legal precedent changed similar laws in nine states and allowed Sue and Herbert Kuelzer to open Grendel’s Bar downstairs in 1983. But they were never allowed to offer $1 happy hour drafts or two-for-one drink deals to bargain-seeking graduate students and locals.
So the pub began plying customers with a free buffet of French bread pizza and pigs in blankets between 5 and 7:30 p.m. to go with their full-price microbrews. When the bar and restaurant merged in 2000, the legendary free buffet was replaced by a daily happy hour special from 5 to 7:30 p.m., during which the entire food menu is half price with $4 minimum beverage purchase.
Because Grendel’s Den offers the same menu all day, there’s no real need for service downtime; happy hour can roll right into dinner service without resetting the kitchen.
“Driving business early in the evening makes a difference on so many levels,” says second-generation owner/operator Kari Kuelzer. “People like to walk into a lively restaurant, especially for the type of service we do, as a casual establishment with casual food. It looks inviting. Plus, it’s a great way for our drinking clientele to get some food in their stomachs.”