Who said there's no such thing as dinner - or at least snacks - on the house?
Several area bars set out complimentary spreads for patrons on a regular basis. Usually, the buffets are laid on tables by the bar. So if you want first dibs, the best place to sit is at a bar stool adjacent to the dining area. You'll want to get there early, too - before other patrons gobble up the good stuff.
Here are five free happy hour buffets - and one that's nearly free.
The Bay Cafe
2809 Boston St.; 410-522-3377
On Fridays between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., the chef brings out simple dishes such as roast beef, chicken or pasta, depending on what's available. While the popular club attracts college-age partiers in the evenings, the happy hour crowd is usually made up of 30- and 40-somethings clad in business attire. If weather permits, the outdoor seating boasts an impressive waterfront view.
Mick O'Shea's Irish Pub
328 N Charles St.; 410-539-7504
Since no particular snack is predetermined, patrons are at the whim of the kitchen staff, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, given O'Shea's top-notch menu. Usually, the buffet, 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Fridays, features won tons, Buffalo wings or other pub grub. And if you decide to stay past happy hour, the neighborhood Irish bar has live music on a small stage.
Mount Washington Tavern
5700 Newbury St.; 410-367-6903
It's hard to go wrong with this bar's rotating free happy hour (5 p.m.-7 p.m.) menu: cheese platters or dip on Mondays, Buffalo wings on Tuesdays, made-to-order quesadillas on Wednesdays, oysters on Thursdays and steamed shrimp on Fridays. We're partial to the mound of Buffalo wings set out on Tuesdays. The tavern's interior has a comfortably worn-in feel and usually attracts a professional crowd around this time.
1702 Thames St.; 410-563-5423
The folks at Kooper's set up a pretty solid spread of finger food 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Fridays: Mussels, crab dip and vegetables, and make-your-own soft tacos. It's an impressive amount of food. Though the dip isn't loaded with lump crab, how could you possibly complain? It's free. In the heart of Fells Point, the bar brings in a wide range of patrons.
Rams Head Tavern
33 West St., Annapolis; 410-268-4545
This restaurant and live music club sets out a regular rotating buffet that rivals the Mount Washington Tavern: fajitas on Mondays, oysters and shrimp on Tuesdays, roast beef and turkey on Wednesdays, bratwurst and sauerkraut on Thursdays and wings on Fridays. The kitchen staff brings out the free food from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Wing night is the most popular by far. Expect to rub elbows with the business professional set.
7501 Old Telegraph Road, Hanover; 410-761-6188
Though it's not free, it might as well be. On Fridays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Cancun Cantina sets out a smorgasbord of food including chicken fingers, clams and lasagna. The best part: It only costs a quarter. Live bands play on a regular basis, and even if you're no good at it, you might get sucked into a country dance.