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The Happiest Hour 

Local restaurants are getting hip to the idea that parents need to unwind

click to enlarge The Little Garden Cafe is known for its kid-friendly happy hour. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • The Little Garden Cafe is known for its kid-friendly happy hour.

Parenting is a series of joy and misery, pleasure and pain. We give up a lot to be parents, and that's just fine most of the time. But there is no denying that one's social life can take a hit when kids enter the picture.

Securing a babysitter, wading through illnesses, teething and attachment issues, even being able to stay up past 9 pm can quickly make parents feel like pod people. And if you're able to manage all of this and get out for a night on the town, there's the resulting punishment of exhaustion the next morning, complete with a human alarm clock demanding your attention.

So how can parents maintain a social life while balancing quality time with their children? Consider the benefits of dining out at happy hour: Early meals minimize the strain of the witching hour. Parents have a chance to unwind with spouses and friends. Discounts on food and drink abound, and everyone — you and the kids — can stay awake through their meals. Luckily, restaurant owners have taken the challenge to heart, opening their menus and spaces to kid-friendly pursuits and making happy hour happier for everyone.

Corina Little, mom of three and owner of the Little Garden Cafe, loves children. When discussing her journey as a mom and business owner, her eyes light up. The idea for the cafe came from Little's own experience having children and being unable to find a place to take them so she could socialize with her childless friends.

Little's diligence and foresight have paid off with her seven-year labor of love.

"My focus is community and having a place for community to meet. Personally, I enjoy getting to know everyone. We have moms come in when they are pregnant and then we see the kids grow up," Little says.

The cafe's clientele runs the gamut from families and parent groups to students and neighbors.

"Audubon is a big walking neighborhood," says Little.

Patrons stop in for a glass of wine, latte or light meal after spending the afternoon at the park or nearby Bowl & Pitcher. The cafe's atmosphere is quaint, warm and well-divided. The front of the cafe boasts bar and outdoor seating with a panoramic view of Audubon Park. A private front room offers a haven for those searching for peace and quiet while a separate back room has ample space, tables, and numerous toys for the tot set.

The cafe's full menu is available all day, and Little plans to offer an array of drink specials, including sparkling sangria and hard lemonade, this spring and summer. Healthful cooking is important to Little and her crew. All pastries are made in-house. The kids menu features the popular dinner roll sandwich, made using Little's grandmother's recipe. Panini are heavy on vegetables and served on whole grain, organic ciabatta.

Parents have reacted favorably to Little's endearing cafe. Cara Quien, a mother of three, drives all the way from Mead in support.

"It's a small business, and I like to support the local economy. They offer more beverage options and real food options. Most importantly, they have a kids area that keeps my children occupied. They are happy, so I am happy!" gushes Quien.

Little and the owners of Chairs Public House have a common goal: cultivating a sense of community and providing a welcoming place to eat, drink and interact. Open for just four months, Chairs occupies the space of the former Bulldog Tavern. Owners Chris Nichols, Mitch Moczulski and Scott Wilburn have taken great strides to create an atmosphere hospitable to children, students, sports fans and community groups alike.

Nichols and crew have cleverly divided Chairs into a bright, open space. Those of legal age can enjoy drinks at the bar poured by local bartending sensation Cody Winfrey, whose Disney-centric cocktails were featured in a recent Inlander profile. Families and large groups can congregate at large tables, and a video request system keeps children and adults entertained.

Chairs emphasizes healthier bar food, promoting trends with paleo pancakes and starting trends with its mind-blowing avocado fries. Local favorites Roast House coffee and Victor's Hummus are featured on the menu, and New Leaf Bakery, a local nonprofit, provides pastries. With a happy hour that includes $1 off draft beers, well drinks, and lattes and $2 off appetizers, as well as an open-minded attitude, there's something for everyone.♦


Tips to dining out successfully with kids

Bring something quiet, such as a coloring book and crayons, to keep your child entertained.

• Pick up after your kids.

• Skip the appetizer course and go straight to mains.

• Go early: you'll avoid the looks from other patrons when it's 9 on a Friday night and your overtired/overstimulated child is screaming.

• Know your child's limits, and have a plan B if things go south.

• Unless there is a designated play space, keep your kids at the table.

• Restaurants are not a playground, and it is not the job of the restaurant staff to entertain or even notice children underfoot.

• Tip accordingly.

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