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Woo! Solved! It was hasLayout after all.

So what I added was:

/* triggering hasLayout */
ul.nav-sub {
  /* has position: absolute; */
ul.nav-sub li {
  width: 200px;

That got rid of the disappearing menu bug.

It was also apparently sufficient to remove the gaps at the tops of the <li>s. Kingslayer, your fix on the <a>s also removed the gaps, but hasLayout on the <li>s seems to catch both problems.

Thanks again to everyone who commented. I’ve always respected the CSSTricks community and now I know firsthand how helpful you all are.