Nearly four decades after a panic about drunk driving led state legislators to push for bans on ‘happy hour,’ some states still don’t want people getting a late-afternoon deal on booze.
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This, despite the fact that lawmakers and constituents alike are reckoning with the fact that the “War on Drugs”, much like Prohibition before it, has been a unmitigated failure.
To that end, the debate around legalizing all kinds of drugs has gained momentum in the last decade, with a major push for marijuana and, more recently, psychedelics like psilocybin shrooms and ketamine.
Strangely, however, a form of prohibition still exists – statewide bans on happy hour drink specials.
Eight states have laws today banning businesses from offering discounted afternoon drink specials. Massachusetts was the first to shut down a happy hour ban back in 1984. Alaska, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont later added similar laws.
Despite a number of attempts to repeal the happy hour ban in many of these states – most recently in 2021 with legislation in Massachusetts – it lingers on, though research to confirm the policy has any real impact is lacking.
The expression “Happy Hour” originated in the United States Navy. In the early 1900s, a weekly entertainment program called Happy Hour was created aboard the USS Arkansas to help relieve the boredom of being at sea. There were a variety of activities during a this time, including boxing and wrestling matches, music, and dancing. These programs grew more and more popular and by the end of World War I, “Happy Hours” were being held throughout the entire Navy.
‘Happy Hour’ as we now know it came into its own around the time of Prohibition. When alcohol became illegal across the country, people began hosting secret afternoon “cocktail hours” either at the local speakeasy or at a friend’s home. Then they’d often go out to dinner – at a restaurant where alcohol was not served.
Over the years, the term became more about drinking than entertaining. According to a 1959 Saturday Evening Post article detailing the lives of government contractors and military personnel in the Caribbean, it was a term used for afternoon drinks in a bar.