Your Happy Place

Whether single or married, I suspect few people’s happy place is connected with Valentine’s Day.

The holiday can be contrived and clichéd, and restaurants are often packed with displays of affection that should have been demonstrated when your significant other actually did something – like loan you fifty bucks or scrape off your windshield.

But I have to say, I’m a sucker for dinner reservations and making a guy sweat over a forced attempt at romance. Enter alcohol. Before you join the lovelorn masses at some of the city’s most popular joints, a nearby happy hour cocktail can take the edge off executing the perfect romantic evening.

The following happy hours are located in neighborhoods full of viable Valentine’s Day options. This way, you can spend less money on your booze and more time on your schmooze.

Arena District/Short North
If you go cheeseball, do it to the max. Send her flowers with a card that reads, “I Knead You Tonight. You know where to meet me.

If you only order one drink, that drink must be the Tapatio Margarita. Originating in the Arena District’s Foodie Cult Classic, Tapatio, this cocktail is special. It tastes like it was made with hundreds of fresh key limes and agave fairy dust. While many places make their margaritas too sweet, Knead (505 N High St.) serves them up perfectly balanced, and from 4:30-7 p.m., it’s only $3. I am relieved to know the beautiful drink found a new home at Knead, but be careful: these things are legendarily potent. Many a Tapatio Margarita night has ended with the question, “Where are my pants?” which could be good or bad depending on how you feel about your date.

If the night turns sour, stay and indulge in a half-priced “grandwich,” including their famous fried chicken sandwich, The Motherclucker. If it’s going well, stop next door for dinner. DeepWood’s gourmet food coupled with its cozy inn-like atmosphere makes this an ideal place for a romantic meal.

German Village/Brewery District
If you plan on painting the town red, make a quick stop to Columbus Brewing Company (525 Short St.) – especially if you want to treat your date to Lindey’s or G. Michael’s after. The food is flawlessly prepared and presented, but they carry a pricetag that might make total satisfaction a little cost-prohibitive.

Why not do your appetizers at CBC first? From 4 – 7 p.m., they are just five bucks, including the sweet and sour calamari. The Pinefin Martini is also $5. Garnished with vodka-soaked pineapple, it’s refreshing, and – you guessed it – strong. If your date isn’t into getting that liquored up, craft beer is $1 off and domestics are only $2.50.

You know what is better than flowers? Scotch, scotch, scotchy, scotchy scotch. You can let it go down into your belly for under $5 if you get to Manifesto Tuscan Grato and Scotch Bar (21 E State St.) before 6 p.m. There are plenty of wine and beer specials to get less enthused enthusiasts in the mood.

Or perhaps you are just soooo in love, alcohol is of no consequence. Congratulations. The cranberry meatballs are $6 and give you that post-partem-holiday mortem fix. And the beef cheek atop broccolini risotto for only $9 will no doubt have your date praising your ability to ditch dollars without sacrificing quality.

The beauty is that the happy hour menu is available at lunch, so theoretically you could double book: Valentine’s day lunch at Manifesto, followed by dinner at a nearby fixture like the Elevator or Duo Amici.

While Guiseppi’s Ritrovo could easily be the place you have dinner for Valentine’s Day, with its refined Italian dishes and European flair, their bar creates an equally picturesque ambiance for cocktail hour on the cheap. Martinis that usually cost $12 are just $6 from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m., and domestic beers are only $2. Plus, ordering the Italian Wedding Cake Martini might be a subtle way to drop a big hint.

Leave Guiseppi’s (2268 E Main St.) promptly at 6:30 p.m., and you can still make it in time for an early reservation or happy hour part two at the classic Top Steakhouse. Select wine and martinis $5 dollars in addition to a bar menu comprised of equally refined but less expensive items until 7 p.m.