“It’s five o’clock somewhere,” so the song and the story go. This phrase is used by those wishing to justify drinking alcohol at some point during the day instead of waiting until the usual evening hours.
But a happy hour is not always just an hour.
In thirty-nine of the fifty states, some restaurants, bars, and nightclubs have happy hour from 5 to 7 on Monday through Friday, or at some other period of time that is more than an hour. During happy hour, discounted drinks and food are offered, and sometimes along with some other perks.
However, in eleven of fifty states in the “land of the free,” there is no happy hour. Happy hour bans are in effect in the states of Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont.
But happy hour may be getting a little happier.
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, state representative for the Twenty-Sixth Middlesex District Mike Connolly, a self-described “activist, attorney, renter, proud progressive Democrat and DSA member,” has introduced a bill (HD.3896) to “revisit the state’s ban on Happy Hour, in place since 1984.” The bill is technically “an Act providing for immediate and long-term relief for restaurants and bars in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Connolly cites a new Massachusetts poll showing that “70% of Massachusetts residents [polled] support allowing bars and restaurants to offer discounted after-work drinks.”
Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker said he wasn’t interested in reversing the ban, however, because of the “awful, horrible, terrible experiences on a very regular basis that came with happy hours back in the day.”
Surprisingly, the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says it doesn’t have a position on whether a happy hour ban should be lifted: “MADD isn’t against the consumption of alcohol by those 21 and over. It’s simply if you drink, don’t drive. It’s about making the right choice, planning ahead if your plans include alcohol and using a rideshare or having a designated driver.”
The ban was introduced in Massachusetts after an incident that occurred in the parking lot of a Braintree mall on the night of September 9, 1983:
On that Friday night, Kathleen Barry, 20, of Weymouth, met her friends at Ground Round, where they had won free pitchers of beer in a “name that tune” game, according to a Boston Herald story and George McCarthy, then chairman of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission [ABCC].
After leaving the bar, Barry and a friend climbed on top of another friend’s 1975 Chevrolet sedan for a joy-ride around the King’s Plaza parking lot in Braintree, according to a Boston Herald account. Barry fell under the car and was dragged 50 feet, breaking her neck, arms and legs. The driver had consumed at least seven beers, according to the ABCC.
As a result, on November 21, 1984, then governor Michael Dukakis “approved a new ABCC regulation that banned bars from giving out free drinks, selling more than two drinks at a time to one person, offering discounted drinks or offering them as prizes.” At the time, Massachusetts was the only state that banned happy hours, but the ban soon spread to some twenty other states.
But note that the issue here was not that the government was seeking to limit the number of alcoholic drinks that someone could consume during a given period. The real issue was the price of the drinks. In fact, happy hour laws don’t say that bar patrons can purchase only x number of drinks during happy hour. To the contrary, anyone can go to a bar during happy hour and purchase any number of drinks he chooses to, as long as he is willing to pay full price. All these laws generally say is that alcoholic drinks can’t be discounted during a particular time.
So, in reality, happy hour laws are merely just another government attempt to regulate prices. Thus, these laws are related to price-gouging laws, predatory-pricing and -lending laws, dumping laws, and ticket-scalping laws.
The difference between happy hour laws and these other price-control laws is the reason that the government gives to justify the law. Governments in every state have taken it upon themselves to regulate, control, and even prohibit alcohol and all manner of things associated with alcohol.
Governments regulate the price, the manufacture, the distribution, and the selling of alcohol; the opening and closing times of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol; the days of the week on which alcohol can be sold; the hours of the day during which alcohol can be sold; and the drinking age. Thirty-three states allow localities to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages. Seventeen states are “alcoholic beverage control” states, in which the state government controls the wholesaling, and often the retailing, of distilled spirits and, in some cases, beer and wine.
What is even more tragic about all of this is that most Americans accept the role of government as the alcohol gatekeeper.
In a free society, however, manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of alcohol are treated as any other business.
In a free society, businesses decide the days and hours that they will sell or serve alcohol.
In a free society, individuals decide how much alcohol they wish to purchase or drink.
And in a free society, any business can have a happy hour.