Jul 25, 2022 - Food and Drink

Mass. Senate fights to bring back happy hour

A sign advertising happy hour discounted drinks.
A bar in London, a real city, offers discounted drinks specials during "happy hour." Photo: Richard Baker/Getty Images

Happy hour drink discounts could be coming to Massachusetts, if the State Senate has its way.

Driving the news: The Senate's version of a major economic development bill set to pass the legislature this month includes a provision allowing cities and towns to let bars and restaurants offer discounts on booze.

  • Current law limits pricing changes on alcoholic beverages, making it nearly impossible for drinks to be temporarily set to promotional prices.
  • Prohibitions on happy hour pricing were put in place in 1984 to crack down on drunk driving.

What they're saying: "We want to learn from lessons from the past and see if we can enable happy hour as a tool that many, many other jurisdictions and most other states allow in some way," Provincetown Sen. Julian Cyr told the State House News Service last week.

How it works: Cyr slipped his amendment into the economic development package late Thursday as the Senate debated the $4.5 billion package.

  • Individual municipalities would each need to vote to approve happy hours.
  • Proprietors would need to announce a happy hour promotion at least three days in advance, and the discounts would have to end by 10pm.
  • The state would support places that legalize happy hour by forming a new advisory group with expertise on intoxicated driving, alcohol licensing and public safety.

What's next: The legislation has to jump a few hurdles to become law.

  • House of Representatives leaders need to agree to include it in the final version of the economic development bill that both chambers will pass before the end of regular sessions on July 31.
  • Republican Gov. Charlie Baker opposes bringing back happy hour on public safety grounds, and may veto the measure.
  • Even though legislative Democrats have veto-proof majorities in both chambers, they've already ceded their ability to override Baker's vetoes by taking up the legislation so late in the session.

Mike's thought bubble: Can you even imagine the glorious renaissance of Massachusetts drinking should this pass? There are whole generations who have only experienced the wonders of cheap well drinks in other states.

The bottom line: Breweries and those pop-up beer gardens downtown and along the Esplanade could discount varieties they're introducing or trying to push.

  • And restaurants still struggling to recover from the pandemic would have another way to lure people in for evening service.
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