By Dr. Ink
While staining my lips red at an Uptown wine bar recently, a group of friends moseyed in flaunting a cache of plastic coins from Gossip Grill’s happy hour. “You’ve got to check it out!” they exclaimed. “Each chip is worth a free drink redeemable whenever we go back!”
Within days my little wine gang was sitting knee to knee at a long and narrow communal hightop on Gossip Grill’s smoke-friendly patio, surrounded by potted plants and friendly girl groups slugging down Shock Top draughts from tall “big mama” glasses. Sure enough, as we irrigated our throats with cold ales and vodka tonics, we began amassing the color-coded chips and slowly turning them in for free drinks of equivalent value. What we didn’t cash in went straight into our pockets for another visit.
Gossip Grill’s happy hour from 2 to 7 p.m. daily is among the most generous Dr. Ink has seen in San Diego. The buy-one, get-one-free deal extends to a plethora of hearty beers, including Bass, Guinness and Alaskan IPA, as well as to cocktails using Seagrams gin and vodkas, Sauza Silver Tequila and Early Times Bourbon.
For those suspicious that the happy-hour bargain is a ploy to sell drinks at jacked-up prices—you’re wrong. Bottled and “big mama” beers range from $4 to $6, and generously spiked mixed drinks average $6.
Within no time at all, our table started appearing as though a poker game was in progress by heavy gamblers. And then came the grilled Buffalo-style chicken strips with blue cheese, the reasonably endowed Thai shrimp skewers and a full-size “moe-jo” burger (named after chef Maryjo Testa)—each for only $3. With steals like these, the Gossip Grill has mastered the art of generating gossip about itself.
The food was good, with the exception of rosemary-garlic potatoes slathered in vegetarian chili and cheese. When drinking beer, especially a crisp organic Green Lakes ale from the bottle, Dr. Ink prefers to ying and yang it a little by matching such healthy liquids to flavorful beef fat. But the vegetarian in our group, who has long forgotten the mouth joy of greasy chili over spuds, rated the dish as “swell.”
Gossip Grill’s happy hour is confined to the back section of the patio, which offers a full bar and limited seating in addition to the main hightop table that we partially occupied. The crowd is largely lesbian and the vibe is welcoming and festive, much like its sibling restaurants, Urban Mo’s and Baja Betty’s, owned also by entrepreneur Chris Shaw.
As my friends who visited before me attested, the staff is swift and friendly, although drink and food orders must be placed at the bar no matter how many “big mamas” you’ve downed. During our visit, Missy the bartender kept a growing influx of customers serviced at lightning speed, and with an easy smile to boot.
If you demand elbow room with your cocktails, get there before 5 p.m., otherwise get ready to gossip with the throngs who start filtering in quickly afterward as though a rumor of juicy importance just leaked out.
1440 University Ave.
Happy Hour: 2 to 7 p.m., daily
Domestics and imported ales are served in bottles and tall drafts called “big mamas.” A full gamut of liquors includes rum, tequila, bourbon, gin and a dozen flavored vodkas. There are no signature concoctions, which means you call the shots.
The Thai shrimp skewers scored high in flavor, and if you trust our hazy recollection, we counted 10 medium shrimp on each. Burgers are plump and charred, and the chef understands that blue cheese (not Ranch dressing) works best with Buffalo-style chicken strips. Other reduced-price options include flatbreads, Chicago-style dogs and rosemary-garlic potatoes covered in so-so vegetarian chili.
For every drink purchase, a colored plastic chip is bestowed for a free second drink. The antidote for regaining equilibrium after trading them all in is a menu featuring the above-mentioned foods priced at only $3 apiece.
Although customers must approach the bar for food and drink transactions, the staff is fast and alert, and the wait time is short for plates to arrive at your table.
Five hours, seven days a week! We challenge other bar owners to match it.