LAKE STEVENS — Military innovations have given us so many cool things: duct tape, digital photography and the internet, to name just a few.
But did you know that our armed services also gave us the happy hour?
In the early 20th century, “happy hours” were held aboard U.S. Navy warships. But sailors didn’t slurp $2 PBRs and nosh on jalapeno poppers; instead, they were treated to short movies, vaudeville routines and boxing matches in which their shipmates beat the tar out of each other.
The drinking part of happy hour is said to have taken hold in the 1950s, when military personnel stationed at missile-tracking facilities on the East Coast unwound over cocktails after a hard day’s work of watching the skies for incoming doomsday machines.
In this era of doomsday commute times on I-5, happy hour is more of a blessing than ever to workers. (Let’s take a moment to pity the poor folks in Utah, where happy hours — and by this I mean discounted drinks — are illegal.)
Folks coming home to Lake Stevens have a particularly attractive place for happy hour: LJ’s Bistro & Bar.
LJ’s recently reopened after a major renovation that gave it sleek new decor to go with its well-executed menu. Gone is the 1970s basement rumpus-room look; in its place is a stylish, updated interior that emphasizes dark woods. Everything is brand-new, including the open kitchen, with its subway-tiled backsplash wall, and the spic-and-span restrooms. When warm weather returns, an outdoor seating area beckons — screened, thankfully, from 91st Avenue NE, a dire streetscape that will not rekindle fond memories of that charming Parisian back alley in the 4th Arrondissement.
The restaurant’s owners, the sister-and-brother team of Lindsay and Josh Herschlip, have created a great space for unwinding after the long, punishing crawl across the U.S. 2 trestle.
I found plenty to like about LJ’s during a recent happy hour visit with coworker Sara Bruestle — including one rather endearing detail: the staff is credited by name in the menu. I’d only seen that done once before, at a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, called Clyde Common. It’s a thoughtful touch — restaurant work is grueling and requires dedicated team effort.
I also appreciated the presence of only two TVs in the bar area. For me, it’s deeply irritating to always have ESPN2 in your line of vision when you’re trying to converse with your dining companion.
The renovations impressed Sara. “I would take a date here,” she said. “It’s romantic but not terribly romantic.”
She defined “not terribly romantic” as “not so dark that you can’t see each other.”
Sara and I ordered a round of happy hour dishes — clams with chorizo ($8), flatbread with warm goat cheese, squash and mushrooms ($6), truffle fries with white truffle aioli ($4) and a dish of olives ($4). We washed all this down with $5 glasses of chardonnay and a $4 IPA.
The flatbread was the star. The warm goat cheese paired beautifully with the roasted squash and mushrooms — and no sweet balsamic glaze, which you so often get with this combination of ingredients. It was the perfect fall appetizer.
The clams soaked in a broth bath that had a nice spicy kick, thanks to the ground chorizo. The accompanying two slices of toasted bread were insufficient to sop up the broth, so we asked for a loaf of bread ($5).
The truffle fries were ordered because Sara confessed unfamiliarity with truffles, which apparently are exotic fare in her native Nebraska. The fries were appropriately addictive.
The olives were ordered because I love olives. That said, fishing the pits out of your gob might not be in keeping with the romantic-but-not-terribly-romantic surroundings.
The happy hour menu also includes a half-size wedge salad (bacon, egg, blue cheese) and mini Wagyu beef burger with fries for $6, and Kalbi marinated steak skewers and bacon mac ‘n’ cheese for $8.
Happy hour at LJ’s is great, but I’d definitely return for the dinner menu. The braised beef short ribs and jambalaya sound especially tempting. LJ’s also runs a Sunday brunch that is likely the perfect way to fuel up for a Mountain Loop Highway expedition.
By the time we left at 5 p.m., the bar had filled up and the dining room was close behind. Obviously, word has spread in Lake Stevens about LJ’s.
But wait, there’s one more nice touch: LJ’s does happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m. every day, not just on weekdays. Two adults can eat and drink well there for less than 50 bucks — thanks to one of our military’s most lovable legacies, the happy hour.
Oh, by the way: The military abolished happy hours at base clubs in 1984.
If you go
LJ’s Bistro & Bar, 430 91st Ave. NE, Lake Stevens, is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Call 425-334-0604 or go to ljsbistroandbar.com.