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.
Established in 1950, Paisan’s is still a popular spot for pizza and Italian. It’s moved four times over the years and currently has a patio with hard-to-beat views of Lake Monona. In the late afternoon, the circular-shaped bar facing Wilson Street is usually hopping.
Happy hour prices are good in the bar only, so that’s where Abby, a couple of friends and I sat on a recent Friday around 5 p.m. The place was packed. It’s a warm, inviting space year-round, but doubly so right now since it’s decked out for the holidays.
We ordered chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks — that’s right, non-curd fried cheese — and garlic bread, all $5 or less. The fried stuff tasted pretty much the same: like a deep fryer. The garlic bread was crispy and buttery and delicious, but overall we were left with the impression that Paisan’s happy hour serves up surprisingly typical pub grub, given that it’s not a pub. Which is fine, just don’t expect to fill up on fine Italian food on the cheap.
Speaking of cheap, Paisan’s has the most affordable happy hour drink prices of any restaurant we’ve visited in Madison so far. Specialty cocktails like old fashioneds, cosmopolitans and Long Island iced teas are $3 to $3.50, as are glasses of select wine. Rail mixers are just $2. They have craft beers on tap like One Barrel’s Commuter and Ale Asylum’s Hopalicious, but to my disappointment they aren’t discounted for happy hour. Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller 64 and other domestic beers are $2.50, but those sort of suds haven’t thrilled me since I was a 19-year-old prone to shotgunning Rainier. Suffice it to say, I ordered a Commuter.
For me, the whole point of happy hour is to enjoy high-quality food and drinks that are discouragingly expensive during peak dinner hours, to sample what a restaurant excels at. We found that Paisan’s happy hour menu isn’t necessarily representative of the restaurant itself. It’s certainly easy on the wallet, but it’s also light on stuff I wanted to try on the main menu.
The big takeaway: Our bill for two was about $25 including tip. Paisan’s happy hour is perfect if you want to cut loose with a couple of cocktails or Millers while you munch on a basket of chicken tenders after work (or at lunch; happy hour starts at 11 a.m.!). Don’t expect to snag fine Italian fare for cheap, and go elsewhere for discounted craft beer.
Happy hour: Sunday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.