If you want to feel like you’re on a sunny beach vacation without leaving Bellingham, After Hours is the place to be! The combination of cozy seating, chill music, bright boho decor, and arrangement of tropical plants will make you feel like you’re lounging in a hammock with the sea breeze in your hair and sand between your toes.
After Hours first opened in March 2022 as a second Banter (formerly ANMLY) location, with Banter as the morning joint and After Hours as the evening joint.
“Our cafe space has come a long way, and we’ve figured out how to work within the confines of it, but at the end of the day, the physical space itself holds us back,” says Owner Emile Diffley whose ultimate goal with After Hours was to create a playful, cheeky environment that also serves high-quality products. “This was a cool opportunity to step into a space where we could expand our seating capacity, and have the resources of a fully equipped commercial kitchen to continue to get creative with.”
The After Hours menu is constantly changing as the inventive kitchen and bar tweak in-house recipes, play around with fun, unique ingredients, and search for ways to improve. Along with the food’s creativity, the menu is also intentionally set up to accommodate dietary limitations.
“We have an awesome team that is driven, passionate, and has the necessary skill set to make this restaurant thrive,” Diffley says.
One crucial member of his team is Chef Kai Despain, who works alongside Diffley to make mouthwatering creations using his keen palate and ingenuity. One of Despain’s favorite dishes is the Teriyaki Bowl ($15).
“I spent four years working at a Japanese sushi bar when I was 15, so teriyaki is very close to my heart,” Despain says, and Diffley is influenced by past experiences in a similar way.
“I was very fortunate to have the opportunities to work in some pretty amazing food and beverage operations between Los Angeles and Australia,” Diffley says.
Diffley has occupied almost every restaurant position from dishwasher to barista to manager and finally decided he wanted to return to his hometown, Bellingham, to open Banter and eventually After Hours as culmination of everything he learned while working.
To start, we had to try a signature share plate – the Fried Tostones ($9), another one of Chef Despain’s favorites, features crispy, warm plantains that are salty and savory with a hint of sweetness. They are served with a delectable mojo verde sauce made with citrus juice, cilantro and peppers that brightens up the dish and adds some spice.
Once your appetite is whetted, you can fill up fully with the All Time Bowl ($16), a beautifully arranged mix of shredded red cabbage, nutty cauliflower, harissa tomato chutney, avocado, and pickled fresno with turmeric cashew cream, lime, and Tajin, all on a warm bed of brown rice. This rainbow of colors is crunchy, fresh, and packs a perfect amount of heat.
As you move on to drinks, you’ll be met with creations that are equally as flavorful as the food. The Chupacabra ($12) is a good example. Its color resembles a soft sunset over the Badlands complete with a splash of red Tajin cascading down the side of the glass, and a lime garnish to brighten it up.
“Our Chupacabra is nearly addicting. It’s essentially a turmeric mezcal margarita,” Diffley says. “Easy sipping but has some zing, very refreshing – especially this time of year.”
And the perfect way to end your evening is sipping on The Beetnik ($12). This cocktail’s name and elegant reddish purple color reveal its main ingredient: beet juice, which pairs perfectly with the London dry gin, green chartreuse, lavender simple, and lemon. Its deep, earthy flavor is cut by a garnish of beetroot powder and sugar, but it’s all tied together and kept light by a frothy layer of aquafaba (a vegan alternative to egg white).
Despite After Hours’ flawless blend of delicious food, drink, and casual atmosphere, Banter hasn’t settled yet. Stay tuned for a third location coming to Fairhaven as the team continues their experimental food journey, this time with all-day brunch vibes.
114 Prospect St., Bellingham, 360.788.4849, banterhospitality.com