There’s nothing like sipping away a happy hour while mesmerized by an eye-filling body of water. It can be a slip of a stream or stretching away to a vast ocean; it just blends with the enjoyment of a tipple at the day’s end. Have yourself a local experience or go farther afield to find cocktails with some spectacular water views within a two hour flight of home. Here are some of my favorites. – Jay Lloyd
A picturesque stone building with a deck directly over the Schuylkill Canal is a favorite suburban happy hour haven. Fitzwater Station’s wooded setting provides the backdrop for some cocktail chatter or a relaxing gaze over water populated by families of geese and ducks. Happy hour here nets $1 off all drinks on weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. All the usual suspects are on the appetizer menu, but somehow, I always order the crab balls and steamers. If you want a little waterborne tour before tippling, Fitzwater will rent you a canoe or kayak for a paddle on the canal.
The expansive window views from table or lounge make the Chart House on the Delaware an ideal happy hour spot for aqua-grazing. The nautically-themed eatery and bar is anchored directly across the river from the Battleship New Jersey. At sunset, the reflection of light infuses the grey hulled dreadnought with the quality of a portrait in oil. Happy hour here runs from 4:30 to 7 p.m., with deeply reduced prices on specialty cocktails, bar spirits, wines and beer. Semi-exotic appetizers from $4 to $7 include tempura shrimp and prime rib sliders. And if your glance strays from the river, the lounge and dining room is filled with a visually tempting collection of maritime artifacts, ship models, photos and artwork.
The Annapolis outpost of the Chart House has to be included here, because the home of the U.S. Naval Academy is a favorite getaway stop for Philadelphia area fun seekers and the restaurant provides one of the most dynamic cocktail hour views of the bustling harbor. The building itself is steeped in maritime history. It’s a converted boat yard that built WWII torpedo boats, and the presidential yacht, Sequoia. Scoring a window table in the lounge is the goal. We spend hours here, alternately sipping, snacking and watching over our boat, which is moored just off the Chart House dock. This Chart House has the same happy hour deals as the one in Philadelphia.
There are more water view lounges at the New Jersey shore than you can shake a dock line at, but a favorite is the Schooner American on the Cape May harbor. Rope spools act as tables, and the quarter deck is now a bar. The schooner-rigged vessel is docked firmly alongside a commercial fishing fleet at the venerable Lobster House. If you come by boat, just tie up alongside. The schooner is a symbol of the working fishery at the heart of Cape May, and the raw bar here complements the stunning sunset panorama.
My daughter Kathryn, a bank of knowledge on New York hideaways, tips us to the “Honorable William Wall.” It happens to be a barge which doubles as a double-deck bar and cocktail lounge anchored right off Ellis Island with an up-close view of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Lower Manhattan. The floating sippery is operated by the Manhattan Sailing Club and is open to the public. Kathryn, who often watches sailboat racing from the barge, reports that drinks are reasonable, but there’s minimal food service. Picnic baskets are welcome. The bar is reached by a launch that leaves its Hudson River pier every half hour. Launch tickets are $18 round trip.
Okay. This is a long schlep to sip great Canadian beer, but if you’re planning a getaway with a spectacular view, it’s worth considering a jaunt to Cape Breton and the small fishing village of Pleasant Bay. Sitting at an outdoor table on a high promontory, the riveting view is of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A main attraction to feed the eye is a fleet of whales sounding in the gulf just off shore. A more enjoyable water view cocktail hour is hard to come by. The Rusty Anchor, a casual and nautically themed restaurant, provides the sips and fresh-from-the-Gulf lobster to cap off a perfect happy hour decompression. Fly U.S. Airways from Philadelphia to Halifax and drive to the north shore of Cape Breton — you can’t miss it.