Happy Hour 101

The Quick and Dirty History of Happy Hour

Ever wondered when the tradition of half-priced cocktails and apps came about? You might be surprised to learn that the phrase ‘Happy Hour’ didn’t even begin as a time between 4-8 where we drank margaritas and divulged our work-day problems to our crew. Actually, the term has a much deeper historical meaning than you might think, and, in some states, Happy Hours have been legally banned! Impress your friends at your next Happy Hour by getting the Haps on how America first started using the term ‘Happy Hour’ and where it actually comes from:

1. Sailors and Prohibition, oh my!

We can first trace ‘Happy Hour’ back to the 1920’s, the age of prohibition, when sailors in the Navy began to use the phrase to designate the time when they could take a break from their everyday duties onboard and just chill out. The phrase then spread to civilians who would drink before going to dinner. We can think of this as pre-gaming, except alcohol was illegal back then. Basically the same, though.


The Washington Times. May 1st, 1914

2. Bellbottoms, beehives and ½ priced drinks

Fast forward a few decades and you get the 1960’s, the time when Happy Hours as we know it came to fruition. Think Mad Men style after (and during) work drinks. Working class America would frequent local bars for ‘The Three Martini Lunch,’ the martinis always being drank ‘straight up’ and never with vodka. As we know from Mad Men, the 1960’s were also a time where the ad industry boomed. Restaurants and bars took note, marketing their time restricted Happy Hour specials.


Photo Credit: Lovethisgif.com

3. Food please.

During the 1970’s, drinking laws began to get tougher and workplace drinking, in general, became greatly reduced compared to the 1960’s. Not wanting to miss out on the money that is Happy Hour, restaurants changed their marketing strategies to include food in their specials. So, the next time you’re eating half priced Lil BRGs at STK, be sure to say a silent ‘thank you’ to 1970’s culture.


4. “Happy hour banned.” The scariest true story ever.

It didn’t take America long to react negatively to the chaos that comes along with alcohol when used irresponsibly. In 1984, Massachusetts became the first state to ban happy hours. The law specifically states that bars and restaurants can’t change the prices on alcohol during specific times of day. Bummer. After Massachusetts, a few more states followed, including Rhode Island, Utah and Indiana. Illinois and Kansas were also part of the ‘no happy crew’ for a while, however they overturned their ban in 2015 and 2012, respectively. A few other states, like Virginia, have restrictions on Happy Hours, but no full-out ban.

5. The Current United States Of Happy Hours

Although it seemed like the United States rallied against Happy Hours in the 1980’s, the HH culture has not weakened. On the contrary, it’s evolved into something much broader and prevalent! No longer is Happy Hour only one hour. Common happy hour times range from 5 to 7PM, but they can start as early as 4PM and go as late at 8PM. We can’t forget about late night Happy Hours, like El Camino’s 10:30 to close HH, because who wouldn’t love those? The number of Happy Hours per city has increased dramatically as bars and restaurants caught on that people kind of love half priced drinks and apps. The Happiest cities in the US? Seattle rings in at #1, with DC coming in hot at #4. Happy Hour is no longer just a time to de-stress after a long day at the office with co-workers, it’s a time to catch up with friends and sample new and exciting drinks and apps. Moral of the story: Happy Hours are here to stay.

So, thanks to some good ole’ sailors who wanted a little fun in their lives, we now have the Happy Hour we know and love today. Now, who’s up for an after-work glass of wine at Vinoteca? Oh, and remember, Happied lovers, drink responsibly, okay?



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