"See You At Happy Hour"
When is an hour not 60 minutes? Elementary my dear Watson, when it's happy hour
at countless bars across the nation and around the world. In fact, happy hour is
such an institution that happy hour apts for your phone are commonplace. Such a
happy hour can last up to 4 hours; let's call it creative time keeping.
Theatrical groups in Victorian England often used the phrase "happy hours" as a
Cockney-style rhyme for "flowers," but the origin of "happy hours" in that sense is not
clear. The most accepted view is that the term "Happy Hour" as we know it has it's
roots in Navy slang from the 1920s. It referred to a time for the scheduled period of
After the implementation of the 18th Amendment (that's Prohibition - it's upsetting
even to write that word) in 1920, drinking was supposed to be forever ended in the
USA. Of course the opposite happened. More alcohol was consumed during the
roughly 10 years of Prohibition than in the prior decade. Much of the beer and
booze - gin being a favorite - was served in illegal bars called speakeasies. The
speakeasies ranged from hole in the wall, make-shift bars to opulent nightclubs. One
thing they all had in common, aside from being breaking the law and making sure the
"fix was in" with local authorities, was the adoption of the term "happy hour". Now it
meant the time their patrons arrived to drink their "bootleg hooch" cocktails before
leaving to eat dinner at more law abiding restaurants. From that point, the term
quickly expanded to include the consumption of illegal liquor before dinner in the
home as well.
The Famous gangster and the king of bootlegging in Chicago, Al Capone, was often
known to stop his "business" meetings for happy hour at several famous clubs in his
hometown of Chicago. The term even appeared in several novels of the day along
with newspaper stories that often lamented the ever increasing defiance of the law.
With the passage of the 21st Amendment that repealed the 18th, the term quickly
retreated into the backwash of linguistic history. The nation was in the throes of the
Great Depression and not much was happy. Next came WW II and once again the
term was little used. As the nation emerged into the prosperous Eisenhower era of
the 1950's, restaurants and bars surged in popularity. Happy Hour was about to
make a comeback.
The term really kicked into gear thanks to an article in a 1961 issue of a very popular
magazine of the period, The Saturday Evening Post. The old concept of the Navy's
happy hour of entertainment time was featured along with a report that several
politicians were upset at having to give up their "happy hour" of drinking to vote on a
special issue in Congress. Bars and restaurants quickly jumped onto the concept to
increase alcohol sales prior to dinner service. Since the profit margin from liquor is
considerably higher than from food service many restaurants saw this as a sure fire
way to boost their bottom lines. And they were right.
Happy Hour today is typically held between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 pm a neat way
to convert three hours of drinking for one hour of pseudo- time. It's typically an after
work event where people get together to socialize and relieve the stress of their
labor. You'd be hard pressed to find any local tavern or popular restaurant that
doesn't boast of a happy hour that offers offering beer, wine, and cocktails at a
discount for those hours.
Along with the drink discounts many establishments also offer free h'ors d'oeuvres to
it's Happy Hour patrons. Some say this was in response to the tougher drunk driving
laws being instituted and vigorously enforced since the consumption of food can slow
the absorption of alcohol a bit. Others are convinced the addition of free food (often
heavily salted to increase thirst) is used as a way to draw more customers during the
lull before the dinner rush. Interestingly, in response to pressure from anti-drunk
driving groups and neo-prohibitionists, the military banned the use of the term
"Happy Hour" at military base clubs.
For most people, their enthusiasm for Happy Hour remains unabated. Happy Hour is
here to stay (I hope).