I love Willy’s Pub and Valhalla as much as the next guy. The cheap craft beer and convenient location of both bars make it hard to justify schlepping off campus and ponying up $10 a drink at any “more fashionable” off-campus bar. Still, missing out on the enormous array of cocktail bars, ice houses and dives that make up Houston’s bar scene would be a real shame, and for those willing to hunt, a number of excellent bars nearby offer happy hours cheap enough to stay within your beer money budget.

Benjy’s

Benjy’s in the Village is the closest and most highly recommended happy hour in our area. Before discovering the swanky second-floor lounge, I had held Benjy’s to be the quintessential restaurant to visit with parents or a time someone else could pick up the bill. However, Benjy’s happy hour, served from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, offers $3 beers, $5 wines and $6 cocktails, plus a number of discounts on house specials. The Brussels sprouts with peanuts and bonito flakes is highly recommended at $6 a bowl, and the $8 burger and beer combo over-delivers with a fluffy, sweet bun and impressively juicy patty.

LUCILLE’s

On the pricier side of the spectrum, Lucille’s happy hour is still worth trying for its food specials and the wide range of botanicals used in their cocktails. Complex layered herbal house cocktails like “The Garden” are $3 off, leaving most around $6 or $7. The famous chili biscuits, while tiny, are also served in fours for $4 and additional discounts are offered on specials like fried catfish and oxtail gremolata. Happy hour runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

THE HAY MERCHANT

The Cease and Desist burger.

My personal favorite of the bunch, Hay Merchant simultaneously manages great deals, a relaxed atmosphere (You can just as easily catch a game or chat over a plate of nachos) and creative, delicious food. Happy hour runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and simply entails a subset of 23 beers from the massive beer list priced down to $3 a pour. Knowledgeable servers and helpful descriptions on the menu ensure you’ll find a beer suited to your taste. While the only food deal is a typical beer-burger-shot combo, dishes like the PB&J wings, crispy pigs ears and the Cease & Desist burger are already well priced at $14 and under. It’s not walking distance, but a quick ride on the 56 bus will get you a block away.

GRAND PRIZE

The Ted Cruz cocktail at Grand Prize. Photo courtesy Culturemap Houston. 

For a low effort trip, Grand Prize is a quick walk up Montrose from campus and has accurately been described as “divey yet dank.” Operating out of a converted, dimly lit house by Bell park, Grand Prize is among Houston’s best known hipster dive bars. Happy hour is fairly limited with $2 PBR specials, $3 wells and $5 frozen cocktails, but it lasts from 4 until 8 p.m., and the $5 cheeseburgers put more expensive burger outlets (I’m looking at you, Bernie’s and Hopdoddy) to shame. With straightforward, tasty drinks, and even better bar food, Grand Prize is well worth a trip while in the museum district. You may even end up sticking around and hitting the upstairs dance floor.

Dak & Bop

Photo courtesy Good Eats Houston.

Alternatively, why not try Dak & Bop while you’re in the Museum District? As far as happy hour goes, Dak and Bop is certainly the most limited, but it still deserves honorable mention for how well it accompanies the restaurant’s Korean fried chicken. The Korean double fried chicken is quite possibly the best in Houston; however the process means a consistent half-hour wait from order to table. Adding the restaurant’s popularity and no-reservations policy to the mix can mean truly grueling waits. Fear not though, the $2.50 wells offered during happy hour turn the wait into a win-win as showing up between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. means both a shorter wait and tasty drinks while you drool over your incoming fried chicken.