I’m checking out a new happy hour in Madison each week along with my girlfriend, Abby. I’ll report on the hits, misses, and best deals. Suggest your favorite happy hour via email.
We’ve been looking for an excuse to dine at Boar & Barrel on North Hamilton Street, so we headed there for happy hour on a Friday afternoon.
The restaurant opened this spring and is described as a wine, whiskey and tapas bar with a pork-centric menu. It’s got a bit of an elevated vibe, with some of the entrees exceeding $30. The least expensive dinner plate, the burger, is $14. I figured happy hour is the best way to afford Boar & Barrel on our pitiful millennial incomes.
We chose a table opposite the bar and took stock of our surroundings. It was about 4 p.m., and we were two of four patrons in the surprisingly small space, which is decorated in the retro-modern style best exemplified by the furnishings at Pieces Unimagined on Willy Street. It’s all about exposed-bulb chandeliers, bare brick and rustic wood surfaces. A boar’s head is displayed prominently above the bar itself. There are other nice touches, such as a rolling ladder allowing bartenders to reach the truly top-shelf booze.
The dedicated happy hour food menu offers stuff like Korean BBQ ribs with kimchi, teriyaki chicken wings and seared sea scallops, all in the $7-$12 range. We went the thrifty route and ordered a couple of pretzels for $7 with mustard and beer cheese. They were like ballpark pretzels, complete with those cartoonishly big grains of salt, except far higher quality. It was delicious.
Drink specials during happy hour include $2 off draft beers and wines by the glass and $1 off all other menu items. We both had a couple of draft beers you can buy anywhere, but then made the switch to cocktails. I ordered a Southside ($8 during happy hour), a gin-based cocktail made with lime and served in a martini glass with a mint leaf on top. It was stiff but went down easy. Abby went with the old fashioned ($9 during happy hour) — substituting whiskey for brandy — and we both took a minute to appreciate how the orange rind’s aroma unlocked hidden notes in the whiskey. After collecting a sample size of two beverages, we concluded that Boar & Barrel kills it when it comes to cocktails.
The big takeaway: Our bill for two was about $40 including tip, and we stepped onto the Square kind of buzzed. Boar & Barrel’s happy hour is great for discounted cocktails and wine, but don’t expect to eat an entire dinner for cheap off the happy hour menu. The atmosphere is best enjoyed by small parties having close conversations. If you’re on a date, even better.