Diner: Holiday Cheer

Local spots to enjoy a happy hour of food and drinks

slim Jim Puvee

Now that we have Thanksgiving out of the way we can concentrate on some real celebrating. 'Tis the season to socialize, after all, so on your way out the office door make a stop with coworkers and friends for some holiday cheer at its finest. Many local restaurants are offering happy hour menus to give you a break between work and shopping or work and dining. In the spirit of the season, CityBeat's dining writers would like to share a few of our favorites.

Happy Power Hours
I doubt Morton's — The Steakhouse had the drinking game in mind when they named their happy hour the Power Hour (which runs from 5-6:30 p.m. and 9:30-11 p.m.). The swanky 1950s-style steakhouse, complete with a Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett soundtrack, has an executive club atmosphere, but you don't have to be a high-powered executive to enjoy some of the high-class appetizers and drinks.

While Morton's offers its full menu at the bar, during Power Hour you can also get $4 Bar Bites. I started of with a glass of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc ($11.95) from Australia with crisp, grapefruity undertones. My husband couldn't resist the call of the shiny frosted vodka bottles lining the shelf behind the bar and had an Absolute martini with olives ($11).

From the $4 appetizer menu we chose the Four Petite Filet Mignon Sandwiches, the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail and the Blue Cheese French Fries.

The shrimp's name didn't lie — they were massive and meaty. And while husband was eyeing the three prime miniature cheeseburgers of the gentleman next to us at the bar, I fell in love with the steak sandwiches. They came with a dollop of mustard mayonnaise, but I couldn't taste it. All that came through was medium-rare steak in all its velvety glory. The server eventually had to take the fries away from me at my own request. It's amazing how many you can eat in an hour and a half. (Lora Arduser)

Morton's — The Steakhouse, Carew Tower, 441 Vine St., Downtown, 513-621-3111.

Happy Hours
Palomino is a prime location to spend a happy hour unwinding with friends. And with a happy hour that starts daily at 3 p.m. and lasts until 7 p.m., no one has an excuse to ignore an invite.

One evening last week, a group of friends and I sat in Palomino's sophisticated bar area, surrounded by a bunch of downtown sophisticates, to sample the happy hour menu, which includes a good selection of half-price appetizers, $5 pizzas and a range of $3 beverages, including all draft beers, a mojito, a margarita, a house cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. For appetizers we selected the brick oven-roasted clams ($6), the roasted garlic with cambozola ($4.75), a prosciutto and Roma tomato pizza ($5), a sausage and roasted mushroom pizza ($5) and the king crab and artichoke dip ($7).

I tried a mojito; it's good and lip-smackingly sour, strong and filled with fresh mint leaves. It goes wonderfully with the roasted clams, which are heaped generously on a hot metal dish, served fresh from the oven with flavorful rosemary butter. The pizzas are delicious, with a thin bread crust that cracks with a bite. The roasted garlic is intensely satisfying. And on a cold night in November, nothing beats the king crab and artichoke dip, washed down with a pint of Guinness or two. The bar was packed and loud, people were having fun and the service is friendly and efficient. At Palomino it's easy for a happy hour to last two or three hours, or maybe even four. (Chris Kemp)

Palomino, 505 Vine St., Downtown, 513-381-1300.

Happy Polished Hour
If your significant other says he or she is going for a drink after work at Via Vite, trust them. No one is dumb enough to have an illicit affair in this glass house on Fountain Square! Everybody's watching — inside, you've got the perfect vantage point to see skaters take a twirl; from the outside in, admire the polished granite bar topped with ruby red glasses of Montepulciano d'Abruzzio and the sparkling white dinner plates whisked from the open kitchen to tables filled with happy diners. It's a beautiful thing.

All this polish can come at a price, but happy hour is offered from 3-6 p.m. every day at Via Vite, and it's an affordable opportunity to get a taste of this new hot spot. The aforementioned Montepulciano and a white Trebbiano, the house wines, are $4 for a generous glass. Try a Negroni, an Italian aperitif of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari ($6) or a Sgroppino, icy cold with vodka, Prosecco and lemon sorbet, for $1 more.

Share a wood-fired pizza for just $7 — you can choose the meatless Margherita, a heartier Italian sausage and onion, or the luxe prosciutto with mushrooms. We tasted the Bruschetta ($6 during happy hour), a tray of toasts topped with the chef's creation of the day, ranging from fresh tomato relish to rich, velvety pate. Molto bella! (Anne Mitchell)

Via Vite, 520 Vine St., Downtown, 513- 721-8483.

Happy Thrilling Hour
The logo at One Restaurant & Lounge reminds me of Manhattan; I can see the piers running all up along the West Side. Maybe it represents One's earnest attempt to create a modern, sophisticated vibe in these suburban hinterlands. Or maybe I'm crazy.

In any case, One's 202 Lounge is a contemporary study in red that feels like a really classy mid-century Parisian bordello. Grab a table and some warm, salty tortilla chips. There's no charge, so add a hearty helping of creamy guacamole ($4). Nibble on these while you peruse the extensive martini menu that includes a refreshingly tropical Peach Cooler ($9). Wines are offbeat and well chosen, like the 2005 Santa Barbara Winery ZCS ($8.50/glass), a delicious (and unique) blend of zinfandel, carignan and sangiovese.

The food here is no afterthought. The bar menu includes interesting choices for grazing or a light meal. For example, four delicious, distinct tastes comprise the Share a Plate ($16): a moist crab cake; an egg roll filled with carrots, ginger and sesame; a single cheesy ravioli topped with prosciutto and mushrooms; and a tuna tartare tower, layered with red bell pepper, avocado and pickled ginger. Another tasty, shareable alternative is the Trio of Bruschetta ($8), toasts topped with BBQ chicken, Feta Portobello spread and classic tomato-herb salsa.

Need something more substantial? The 8-ounce Filet Burger ($11) is topped with sun-dried tomato jam and served with addictively well-seasoned Cajun fries. Those fries also come with the Crab Cake Sandwich ($12) topped with a garlicky remoulade.

With live music on weekends (happy hour runs 5-7 p.m. daily), this is a great spot to enjoy some "thrilling combinations" cooked up by the chef and mixed up at the bar. (Michael Schiaparelli)

One Restaurant & Lounge, 202 W. Main St., Mason, 513-336-0042. ©

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