Hillsboro's Cabana and East Nashville's Village Pub restore dignity — OK, maybe that's the wrong word — to the humble happy hour 

Double Downing

Double Downing

If you instinctively cringe upon hearing the term "happy hour" because it conjures images of frat boys scoping easy targets or desperate single women enjoying half-priced cocktails, we're here to convince you that happy hour is actually one of the best ideas on the planet. What's not to like about discounted drinks, food, and an opportunity to drink plenty of water before you go to sleep so you don't wake up feeling like the bottom of your shoe?

In Nashville, happy hour options are plentiful and multifarious. We've come a long way from flat two-for-one beers and soggy nachos, people. While much of the local culinary attention of late has been focused on the incredible new restaurants popping up all over the city, we'd like to revisit two familiar friends who have been keeping us pleasantly buzzed, discount-style.

Let's start with Cabana in Hillsboro Village, the newest-kid holding of longtime Sunset Grill/Midtown Café restaurateur Randy Rayburn. Upon initial entry, Cabana's ambiance may scream "SINGLES," but the semi-private cabanas that line the walls indicate this is not simply a place to see and be seen. The cabanas, which received a facelift this year, offer comfortable seating for small groups. For those who really want some privacy, a curtain can conceal the table from prying eyes.

If you are in the mood to mingle — Taylor Swift and John Mayer dined here back in 2010, and they certainly weren't hiding behind any cabana curtains — there are plenty of opportunities for that too. The front deck is prime people-watching space (unless you get stuck in that table in the corner behind the giant tree). Inside, the U-shaped front bar gives you the best seat in the house for ordering and talking to strangers who are too cool to sit down. TVs line the ceiling, which gives you some conversation fodder.

But the best part of Cabana is its behemoth of a back "patio," which opens up to Wedgewood Avenue. Literally. In nice weather, the garage door-esque wall is retracted, giving patrons the opportunity to eat and drink en plein air.

Under the watchful eye of executive chef/co-owner Brian Uhl, Cabana's Southern comfort food with a twist provides the perfect light-bite happy hour fare. The happy hour nibbles pair well with drink specials, and Cabana doesn't skirt on those. Every day, from 4 to 7 p.m., you have several ways to increase your blood alcohol level on the cheap. All bottled and draft beer is $1 off, liquor is $2 off, and house wines are only $4. They also offer a $5 martini — there are seven to choose from, including the classic dirty martini and the more sorority-girl green apple martini. Beer drinkers, you get two-for-one drafts (Yazoo or Bud Light only) all day and all of the night on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. The wine list has something for everybody, from $5.50 glasses of sauvignon blanc to $300 bottles of cabernet sauvignon.

But the very best of the happy hour specials happens on Wednesday during Girls' Night Out (although the Sunday/Monday/Tuesday two-for-one pizza and beer deal runs a close second). Each Humpday, ladies, treat yourself with $3.50 house wines, house drinks, house martinis and $5 appetizers.

Even girls with big appetites can cobble together quite a meal with the variety of $5 app options. The mini brie grilled cheese, which includes a sliver of a dense, buttery grilled cheese sandwich paired with a mug of Cabana's rich homemade tomato soup, is a must-have, as are the incredible Tennessee sliders. You have your choice of fried chicken tenders or Benton's Smokey Mountain Country Ham, but there's really no choice: Get the ham, which is complemented nicely by house-made peach preserves on melt-in-your-mouth sweet potato biscuits.

If you're watching your girlish figure, opt for the organic field greens, a simple yet delicious salad comprised of grilled pears, candied walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, onion and a sweet yet slightly tart raspberry vinaigrette. (FYI: For a few bucks more, you can get the full-sized version.) Conversely, you can blow your diet on Cabana's ridiculously good house-made potato chips paired with gorgonzola dipping sauce. If you really like to dip things in cheese, throw in the fries, which are served with a creamy, warm cheddar-horseradish dip that has a modest yet bracing kick. Because ketchup is for wimps, right?

The house wine options are fine, and an indisputable deal at $3.50. They include varietals from Gato Negro, Coastal Vines, Sycamore Lane, Kenwood and an Opera Prima Pink Moscato, which looks like something Barbie would drink. But really, it's Girls' Night Out, so have a martini powered by Little Black Dress vodka already. A caveat: These specials are just for the ladies. Sorry, guys, but at least the drinks you buy us are cheap.

If you're looking for happy hour action across the river, hit up longtime Nashville bartenders Jesse and Tracy Hamilton's Village Pub and Beer Garden in Riverside Village. A neighborhood favorite since opening in April 2010, the Village Pub doesn't actually have a beer garden, but it does have one of the coziest spots to enjoy an adult beverage in East Nashville.

Outside, the patio — which is smoker- and dog-friendly — wraps around the front and side of the establishment, offering year-round outdoor adventure drinking. (A plastic tarp protects patrons from the elements in colder months.) Inside, multiple TVs broadcast whatever sporting event is on at the time; Village Pub is the unofficial Preds HQ on the East Side.

The pub always has a decent selection of beers on tap, heavy on the local love with multiple options from Yazoo, Fat Bottom Brewing, Calfkiller and Jackalope. Prefer your drinking from a fancy cup? Try one of the pub's house cocktails, the mule, which blends your choice of poison — vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila, rum or scotch — with ginger beer and fresh lime, served in a pewter mug that makes you feel simply royal as you imbibe. The full bar offers a nice local whiskey selection, bottled and canned beer, and an abbreviated wine menu.

When it comes to happy hour, the pub doesn't mess around. They have an excellent weekday happy hour that runs from 4 to 7 p.m. offering two-for-one drafts in regular 16-ounce or troublemaking 24-ounce sizes. It's a boon for those of us who work late but still want a cheap cocktail. On the weekend, the happy hour runs from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., which will likely throw a wrench in any plans you had to be productive on your day off. If you drink so much that you fall out of your chair, the bartenders are really nice about it — they might even offer to attach a seatbelt to your stool. (Still waiting, guys.)

On Monday night, the pub celebrates Mule Mondays from 4 to 10 p.m. with half-price mules. Considering they're already a bargain at $5, getting one of these babies for $2.50 is absolutely insane. Pace yourself, lest the mule make a jackass of you.

In addition to pacing yourself, you're going to need some nibbles if you're downing those cheap drinks. For an establishment that doesn't have a full kitchen, the Village Pub offers a nicely edited bar menu. You simply cannot hit the pub without ordering the giant German pretzels —perfectly crispy outside and chewy inside, unlike those dried-out things you see hanging like dead leaves in a heated case at the movie theater. They're even better served with a side of Yazoo beer-cheese dip and stone-ground mustard. Meat lovers will fight over every last morsel of the sausage sampler, packed with beer-cooked bratwurst and sausage, while cheeseheads will get their fill of dairy with the delectable Kentucky artisan cheese plate, a platter of local cheeses dressed with Silke's bread.

If you're looking for something a little more substantial, the pub offers multiple stuffed pretzel sandwich options, including a standout bratwurst Reuben and two exceptional veggie options, the portobello mushroom — marinated in gluten-free Estrella Damm Daura beer — and the chipotle-black bean burger drenched in cilantro mayo and caramelized onions.

The Village Pub also encourages extracurricular drinking activities, as evidenced by the well-stocked game shelf in the back of the bar. Did you play Taboo when you were a kid? You don't know what taboo is after a few mules have kicked down the barn door holding back your inhibitions. If you really want to gauge the ethics of your drinking buddies, bust out the most evil game ever, Cards Against Humanity. On a first date? Sit at the corner of the bar and leaf through Barguments together. You'll learn enough to determine if there'll be a Date No. 2. And if not? Hitch up one o' them mules!

So, Nashville, it's your choice: East or West, martinis or pewter mugs, grilled cheese or pretzels, cabanas or board games. You might go down, but you can't go wrong.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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