Some of New York's Best Happy Hours May Be Illegal

By Mike Pomranz |
horse drinking cocktail

© Eric Raptosh Photography / Getty Images

Did you know “happy hour” is illegal in Massachusetts? I’d been to plenty of happy hours in my life, but had never considered the legality of bar’s offering alcoholic beverages at a discounted price until working on a story back in 2014. It actually makes sense once you think about it: Laws surrounding booze can be notoriously strict, so it’s understandable that some states wouldn’t want to incentivize its consumption.

In 2015, Money cited eight states -- Alaska, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont – as effectively banning “happy hours.” It would have been nine, but the governor of Illinois had just signed a law bringing back happy hour to his state that same week. Meanwhile, a 2014 article from Bustle found that, at that time, 27 states had some sort of restrictions on the types of drink specials that could be offered (and though Illinois has resurrected happy hour, the state still maintains a number of restrictions on these types of deals). Turns out happy hour isn’t as straightforward as you thought.

In fact, as the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, some purveyors of alcohol might be inadvertently running afoul of their state’s individual regulation – an issue which could potentially pose a problem in New York City where dirt cheap drink discounts have apparently become a hot trend. The WSJ cites examples like RDV Rendezvous Harlem offering up its $10 Moscow Mule for just a buck during happy hour. Or Dante in Greenwich Village slinging 99-cent happy hour martinis. Depending how you interpret the letter of the law, these deals might actually be illegal. New York is one of those aforementioned states where happy hours are restricted – specifically, NY.gov writes that drinks cannot be discounted “lower than one-half of the premise's normal or regular price for the same drink” – leaving some of these deals in question.

However, in speaking with the Wall Street Journal, New York State Liquor Authority Spokesman William Crowley said in many of these situations, decisions would probably hinge on interpretation. For instance, Dante’s 99-cent martini is slightly smaller than its usual $14 tipple, meaning it might not technically be “the same drink.” In situations like this, Crowley said, “We’d have to look and see.”

Thankfully, as a consumer of alcoholic beverages, it isn’t your job to adhere to, enforce or even understand that law. But just keep in mind that next time you see a happy hour deal that sounds too good to be true, it just might be. So drink up because those party-poopers at the state liquor board could possibly try to step in before the next 5pm Sunday to Thursday rolls around.

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