Three Cheers to Happy Hour

How to make healthier and smarter decisions

So you maintain a Spartan lifestyle Monday through Friday, hitting the treadmill religiously, then -- bam!  It’s 5 p.m. on Friday and the happy hour alarm sounds in your head. 

The calorie counting, the waist measuring and the muscle flexing and the no-carb rule all fly out the window. Suddenly, there you are at the bar, five cocktails later, sitting in front of a steaming plate of bacon-laden cheese fries.

We’ve all been there. 

So what’s a social person to do? Chomp on celery and sip on ice water while swiveling on your bar stool?  While you don’t have to go to that extreme, there are alternatives.  First, start out by opting for healthier drinks.

“Go with a glass of red or white wine, or a light beer,” said dietician Sandra Pinney, who has been advising clients for more than 30 years in the area.  “In terms of cocktails, have something with only one or two ingredients in it.  The worst choices would be frozen drinks with extra sugars or high alcoholic beverages.” 

In other words, avoid the combination drinks like the Long Island ice tea or pina colada.  Flag your bartender down for cranberry or orange juice with a shot of vodka, instead.

Try also cutting back on the alcoholic beverages entirely, or maybe intersperse nonalcoholic beverages between the alcoholic ones.

“We have an entire list of mocktails, which are made of freshly squeezed fruit juices," said Tiffany Penn, special events manager of Policy (1904 14th St NW). "I would definitely recommend one of those. One of the mocktails is a lychee lemongrass fauxjito, made with mint, seltzer water, lime, and sugar."

Still, if alcohol’s your go-to, then skip the empty calorie beers and go with a lighter drink instead. 

“I would definitely say vodka and soda,” Penn said.

Other methods to cut calories include noshing on healthier foods throughout the evening so you’re not apt to splurge on big ticket items, like fried foods, later in the night.  Try the veggie-based finger foods, like the marinated olives and anchovies, the roasted red pepper hummus or lentils. 

“It’s not your typical bar food but it’s on the healthier side,” Penn said.  Policy offers tuna tartar to the health-conscious eater, as well.

At Ceiba (701 14th Street NW), general manager Janice Conner recommends the restaurant’s wide array of ceviche.   “We have a Peruvian ceviche, tuna ceviche, striped bass ceviche and shrimp cocktail ceviche,” she said.

“Think about popcorn, baked chicken wings, maybe some raw vegetables with salsa,” Pinney added.  “Peanuts in the shell take a little longer to eat and would give you more protein.”

Scott Clime, director of wine and beverage for Passion Food Hospitality, manages the bar lists for the likes of Ceiba, as well as DC Coast, TenPenh, Acadiana and PassionFish.  At Ceiba, he points the calorie-counting bar goers toward the red or white sangria, which are infused with vodka, rum or brandy.  “As for calorie content, that would rank up as two of the least. They’re not very filling or overwhelming,” he said.

The health conscious should steer clear from pre-made, processed drink mixes.  Clime explains that all of his cocktails and drinks are made with only fresh squeezed juices. 

“I hired a production person from the kitchen that does five hours a day of just cutting, prepping and squeezing fresh lime and lemon juice, picking all the mint leaves, and making all of the simple syrup,” he said.

Clime adamantly requires that all drink ingredients be of the freshest state:  the bars make their own grenadine, and they marinate their own cocktail onions and maraschino cherries. 

“We even freshly press our sugar cane for our mojitos,” stated Clime, “what’s going in the drink just doesn’t get much fresher.”

While happy hour doesn’t always scream “healthy,” there are still ways to kick back after a long work week without sacrificing your diet and workout routine.  So, think twice before ordering and continue to look forward to the Friday afternoon happy hours. 

Oh, and bottoms up. 

Contact Us