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Originally published Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 11:44 AM

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The best-kept happy-hour secret on Capitol Hill

Café Presse, with its affordable wine by-the-bottle and delectable Gallic bites, is a little-known happy-hour gem in a neighborhood crowded with bars.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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And don't forget the French conversation group every Wednesday at 4 p.m. MORE

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Set between the hormonal mosh pits of Von Trapp’s and Unicorn, Café Presse feels like the grown-ups’ table of Capitol Hill.

It’s the place you and your date (or you and your dog-eared book) can turn to on a dark, late Saturday afternoon. It’s also the best happy-hour secret on the hill, and the place I send couples when they request a cheap or casual rendezvous.

Wine is cheap during happy hour, priced as it would be along the Canal Saint-Martin, as little as $10 a bottle. Pair it with a Croque apéro — a buttery, ham-and-gruyere sandwich coated in a béchamel, cut into squares and served as finger food ($4.50).

That’s under $15. How about that for a cheap date?

Sure, five summers ago, Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali plopped on the deck of this French cafe and drank copious amounts of wine. But Café Presse shone long before any diner in the celebrity firmament.

Café Presse comes from the same folks behind the splendid Le Pichet at Pike Place, but Capitol Hill dwellers are the ones who gave Café Presse its cool cred. Sleepy-eyed bartenders and line cooks stumble into here for an espresso after the lunch rush. Locals and underemployed dudes hover around the bar to watch fútbol.

Tuck in and read an essay by Jonathan Franzen in The New York Review of Books, the latest copy of Maison Française or any of a hundred other literary and foreign magazines and newspapers Café Presse sells.

Bottles of French country wine go for $10 to $15 from 4-6 p.m., better than many by-the-glass deals at other bars. A small happy-hour snack menu is offered, from pork rillettes ($4) with baguette to my favorite, the grilled head-on shrimp over a bed of citrusy chickpeas ($6).

Café Presse, 1117 12th Ave., offers happy hour daily from 4-6 p.m. with bottles of French table wine from $10-$15 and snacks from $1.50-$6. 206-709-7674 or cafepresseseattle.com.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle



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