Happy Hour at Duke's Chowder House Tacoma: Chatty with a view

By Ron Swarner on October 16, 2014

Happy Place: Duke's Chowder House, 3327 Ruston Way, Tacoma, 253.752.5444

The Hours: Daily from 3 to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close, in the bar and on the deck

The Deals: $4.90-$10.90 appetizer and specials; $4.20 wells; $4.40 draft beers; $4.90 wines by the glass; $4.90 straight shots; $5.90 specialty cocktails, $5.40 slanted high balls, $5.90-$7.20 local spirits cocktails, $6.90 traditional cocktails including Duke's Famous Bloody Bloody Mary

The Digs: In May 2006, Duke's Chowder House openedin the old Luciano's space on Tacoma's Ruston Way next to Katie Downs. Like its sister restaurants up north, this deck-oriented restaurant also sports blue and white checkerboard colors, heavy on the nautical motif, but this version offers large windows and a big deck overlooking the bay. Everyone sitting on the patio looks like realtors poking out of a real estate catalog. A crowded bar area can provide unexpected learning opportunities. It's a lively spot, with loud talkers and 50-something men who enjoy holding court. As I watched a huge container ship make its glacial progress toward the sea last Friday, I heard, through time-tested eavesdropping skills: "Now that you mention it, I have no idea who designed this shirt," "Show dogs are all ugly" and "Come meet Muffin!"

Why Here?: Starting the evening drinking shift on an empty stomach makes for a speedy - and not always pleasant - journey to drunkardom. Putting cheeseburgers, award-winning chowder and quesadillas between the booze and your belly, while kicking it with Modern English's "I Melt With You," helps ease you into the evening. The Laura Chenel goat cheese and homemade almond pesto quesadilla ($4.90) makes for one hell of an appetizer. Topless wild salmon sliders ($7.90) with more pesto, plus basil and tomato delights, especially served on bite-size molasses bread. The Dungeness Crab "Un Cake" ($9.20) is 99 percent crab with a winning zesty lime aioli. Next time: Might Mussels "El Duque" ($7.90) sautéed in a roasted tomato and garlic cream broth. Thought was put into the cocktails, with nods to Woodinville, Seattle and Bend distillers. My server was an absolute gem.

The Verdict: Sometimes happy hour is just a transition from work to playtime, a blip in the evening that allows us to wind down. Other times, happy hour can be a simple pleasant surprise, a spontaneous meet up with a friend where everyone feels obligated to let loose. And sometimes happy hour is a bona fide occasion to behold, such as the one at Duke's, an experience that outlasts the final glass of wine, with food that makes you want to return time and time again. The happy hour roster of plates avoids a super villain's shrink ray. Three plates and a drink, and I slowwwwly rose from my barstool. No one around me budged, so engrossed in conversation, alcohol and the view of the water.

Was I happy? Yes.