[EDITOR'S NOTE: The subject of the following article, author Cindy Anderson, generously bid in December's Mercury Online Charity Auction and won the item entitled "A Glowing Mercury Feature about YOU!" Happily for us, both Cindy and her book are sincerely awesome.]

If welcome wagons were no longer passé, people moving to Portland for the first time would receive the following items: a raincoat; selected samples of Portland craft beer, booze, and wine; a guide to public transportation and bike routes; an ironic T-shirt; a facial hair grooming kit; and the Portland Happy Hour Guidebook by Cindy Anderson.

I will admit to initially being a bit cynical about the Portland Happy Hour Guidebook. Reason A: I did not write it. Reason B: It has one of the cheeriest book covers I've ever seen, right down to a smiley face on a star fruit garnish. Reason C: The fine print on the book's back cover reads, "Alcohol not required." (WTF?!?)

However, here I am, grateful that this assignment gave me the opportunity to open the book and interview the author. Not that it's necessary to speak to the spunky and passionate Anderson in order to understand her happy hour guidebook—in fact, the bright pages aptly reflect her attitude toward life and design. More than anything she is an explorer, and a joyous one at that.

I say explorer because the first pages of the book offer a selection of maps, each reflecting the location and ending time of selected happy hours in a certain neighborhood. It's almost impossible, within these first few pages, to look at the maps and not be immediately struck by how many happy hours are out there. Oh happy hour, how we've taken thee for granted!

Anderson, however, does not take happy hours for granted. After all, she's from Chicago where the no-fun-niks have put rules into place that essentially quash any possibility of happy hours.

"When I moved [to Portland] I was flabbergasted. The happy hours here are phenomenal," she says. "It's a great way to check out the city and all the different restaurants for a lot cheaper."

Anderson remembers her first forays into the city's dining culture. She's not sure if it's because she'd been spoiled by Chicago's food scene, but she found herself walking away from some of Portland's best restaurants feeling disappointed. She soon discovered that happy hours were a great way to sample a restaurant's menu without dropping a ton of cash.

It wasn't long before she found some like-minded souls who could appreciate an evening idly spent munching and slurping their way through an inexpensive menu.

"I kind of fell into a good crowd right away," she says. "I was the coordinator and I had the extra responsibility of picking [the happy hours]."

Anderson found that it took a good deal of research and exploration to find the better happy hours. Eventually, she became quite the authority on the subject, and friends were beginning to suggest she compile her insights into book form.

Her efforts are our rewards: The Portland Happy Hour Guidebook is a rated compendium of some 100 happy hours throughout the metropolitan region. All the pertinent information is included: hours, prices, menu description, and notes on atmosphere. It's quite easy to navigate, and almost every listing can be cross-referenced with the maps at the beginning of the book.

There's even a section in each listing where readers can take notes on their own experience—with space for date and time visited, and personal rating. Much of this is because Anderson knows that her own scores are subjective and every person will have their own experience and opinion. Still, Anderson packs enough information on each page that it's easy to get a very good overview of the happy hour before you even step through the door.

It's important to note that Anderson is not particularly interested in the boozy side of a happy hour. She is more interested in the fact that a happy hour is a great way to have an affordable meal.

"I chose to make my book more about the food and the fancier restaurants," Anderson admits. "Because I'm most impressed when I can go to a place like clarklewis and get out of there for $15. Or less if you don't drink, which isn't necessarily required."

It's the "drinking not required" thing that may stick in many a drinker's craw—but rest assured that drinks play a very important role in each of Anderson's ratings. In order to get a good score, a restaurant must have at least a beer or wine discount. A signature, discounted cocktail is definitely a bonus.

After speaking to Anderson at Pambiche over a reasonable happy hour selection and sangria, I had been converted. I grudgingly came to the conclusion that I'd viewed happy hours more as a drunkard's paradise than a very useful life tool. But then I thought, "Less money on eating means more money for booze!" Useful!

Singles can consider happy hour a great resource for dating. Just think about it: The joint can be fancy, the prices cheap, and due to the inherent time limitations, if your date sucks you can ditch them as soon as happy hour is over. Useful!

Fatties can benefit from the fact that happy hour menus usually rely on tasty small-plate fair. Anderson admits that, now on her third edition of the book, she has been trained to eat smaller portions. She has even considered creating a happy hour diet. Useful!

Anderson suggests that men, in particular, could get good use from her book—impressing their partners by taking them someplace beyond the borders of their neighborhood for a change. It's also a great way for couples to turn hours generally spent nesting on the couch into adventurous, cheap, culinary expeditions. Useful!

But perhaps the most practical portion of the Portland Happy Hour Guidebook is the coupon section. The value that can be recouped here rivals the price of the book. And that's exactly the point, says Anderson.

"If people are going to buy it every year to keep up," she says, "I thought this might help get their money back." And it wouldn't be hard to do. The two-for-one dinner coupon from Wild Abandon could in itself recoup the $15 cost of the book.

I believe my happy hour conversion came when Anderson revealed a little-known happy hour gem: The Uptown Billiards Club, which receives a starred "10" rating (the highest rating) in her book. For parties of two or more, a 10 spot each will purchase a full five-course dinner based on a seasonal ingredient. Add 10 more bucks and each course is paired with wine.

I know my days of taking the Portland happy hour for granted are over. And it took a spunky lady from Chicago and her cheery black-and-yellow book to show me the way. From here on out, the Portland Happy Hour Guidebook will be a constant companion—except when I want to just get blotto.

Hey, it happens.

For a list of stores that sell Cindy Anderson's Portland Happy Hour Guidebook, hit happyhourguidebook.com.