Nobody seems able to recall the details of Hayward's happy-hour ban. Ask bartenders and regulars in the city's watering holes about it and they'll squint into the distance, as if trying to summon from the hazy depths of their memories some regrettable shitfaced-drunk mistake from the city's civic past. But when the fog clears from their eyes, they'll admit they don't remember the ban.
But Hayward did in fact ban happy hour. It was the rip-roaring year of 2006. The city's killjoy leaders decided that discounted drinks, served in the jolly interregnum after work and before the true nightfall, were a moral plague. So they prohibited bars from selling cheap pours between 4 and 9 p.m., and justified this moral regulation by pointing to fights, shootings, and drunk-driving incidents.
The ban lasted until 2012, when less sober-minded but more reasonable heads prevailed. So, now, you can experience happy hour in Hayward once again.
Unable to resist a bout of day-drinking, and intrigued that any city could be so puritanical as to ban happy hour, I recently swung through downtown Hayward's bars.
As the bartender at the Fernandes Stein Lounge (939 B St., Hayward. 510-537-6770. TheStein.com) poured me a frosted mug of Anchor Steam, I asked about the happy hour ban. Did it hurt business?
"I don't think so," he replied. "But we never had a happy hour."
"Why not?" I inquired.
"Don't need it."
The Stein Lounge used to be owned by the Raiders' Al Davis. The Fernandes family bought it in the 1980s. And, except for safety wires strung through the handles of hundreds of beer steins dangling from ceiling hooks, the place hasn't changed since the Loma Prieta earthquake. Beer is cheap, but never happy-hour cheap. Pool is a dollar. In the afternoon, regulars keep to themselves by sipping Germanic cups of suds.
"Where should a happy man drink during happy hour?" I ask the bartender.
He's not sure. But he rattles off the go-to list for liver-wasters: Shirlene's Iron Horse (Cherryland neighborhood bar near the railroad tracks), Turf Lounge (LGBTQ-friendly tiki bar/club with dance floor); the Dirty Bird (middle of nowhere on Mission Boulevard — "looks crappy from the outside, nice on the inside though," he qualifies).
"What about that place around the corner?"
The bartender frowns. "Funky Monkey? There's pretty girls there. But you'll probably get stabbed."
So, of course, I pay the man and head to the Funky Monkey (22554 Main St., Hayward. 510-733-2334). It's dark inside. Several old timers at the bar are knocking back well shots and bottles of American pissbeer. Happy hour in Hayward seems to be synonymous with slow business.
One of the bartenders pours me a drink and says she doesn't recall the happy-hour ban. But she admits the Funky Monkey used to be "crazy" — in a bad way. Not anymore. There's a stage, music on the weekends, and it gets crowded late at night. But she says the old days of parking-lot brawls are over.
Right now, during happy hour, nobody's dancing. The bartenders and old drunks are instead talking about their kids, their favorite kinds of pie, and how much they loathe the old Christmas decorations above the door that they can't reach to remove.
"My son can tell you the name of a shark species just by looking at the teeth," says one of the bartenders, a proud mother of a precocious naturalist. The drunk guy next to me starts talking about his chess and dominos strategies. The thought of staying here all night and getting' drunk in this quirky company creeps into my head.
But still, seeking the elusive goal of a discounted afternoon beverage, I walk across the street. It's dead inside the Turf Club (22519 Main St., Hayward. 510-881-9877. WorldFamousTurfClub.com). Happy hour couldn't be slower. I pick up a glass of whiskey, which isn't discounted, and inspect the patio backyard. There's several stages and two dance floors. The Turf Club is probably a happening spot, but not during happy hour. I sit alone and start to get inebriated as the sun sets.
The virus of the happy-hour ban still seems to infect Hayward's bar culture. It's hard to find a cheap drink and an afternoon crowd you can mingle with. But that's not so bad. There's still a dozen great bars just in the downtown with welcoming strangers eager to share a drink with you.
But I begin to feel like I've failed. In search of a dollar-off pint, I wander up B Street, past The Bistro, Bijou, Brews and Brats, and Buffalo Bill's Brewery, all places that, odds are, have some sort of happy-hour special. But I keep going. I find myself, now with the night setting in, and the end of the customary happy hour approaching, at Curly's Place (2059 B St., Hayward. 510-886-2626).
A beer is $4.50. Nothing fancy. Lagunitas pale ale or Bud on tap. The woman sitting next to me orders a hot toddy, and the bartender doesn't pause for a second before throwing a switch on the teapot. Curly's is a neighborhood spot. As I settle in to throw back a few drinks and eavesdrop on a conversation about motorcycles while watching the Cubs bury the Dodgers, I realize I've failed to find a happy hour, or even a person who remembers Hayward's ill-conceived ban. Time's up.
But perhaps that's the moral of the story: All of Hayward's best bars never gave a shit about happy hour in the first place.