10 Things You Didn’t Know About Happy Hour
It’s a simple concept that’s created the equally simple (and fantastic) custom of co-workers rolling out after the day is done to regroup over a round of drinks at the nearest watering hole. It’s happy hour, that magic, usually-longer-than-60-minute segment of time during which bars offer discounted adult beverages. (And it’s best enjoyed responsibly.)
You know it, you love it (for those are one and the same), but do you know where it comes from? Turns out the answer to that question, unlike the pleasure of happy hour, is not so simple. The same goes for a bunch of other happy hour factoids, including the truly explosive one about the USS Arkansas and Bikini Atoll (more on that coming right up).
It appears in Shakespeare
Shakespeare coined phrases that have become permanent parts of the lexicon, from “wild goose chase” to “pure as the driven snow” to “it’s all Greek to me.” Yet somehow “omit no happy hour,” which appears in Act I of Henry V, missed the boat. Pretty surprising, given the wisdom of the sentiment. Published in 1599, this happy hour reference may be the first appearance of the phrase in print.
The French developed their own version of it well before ours
In the 19th century, when absinthe was wildly popular in France, five o’clock marked the start of l’heure verte, or, the Green Hour, when people gathered in cafés to drink absinthe, with its signature green hue.
Eight states don’t allow it
Believe it or not, Alaska, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont all have outright bans on happy hour. Geographically speaking, that's a pretty wide range of anti-happy hour legislation, starting on the East Coast, rumbling through the South, the Midwest and over Utah’s mighty Wasatch Range before stretching off the continent up to Alaska.
In 2011, Pennsylvania and Kansas reinforced the majority opinion on it
On July 28, 2011, The Keystone State legally extended happy hour from two to four hours—a move that, as far as we’re concerned, ticked at least the last two boxes of their state motto, ‘Virtue, Liberty, and Independence,’ if not all three. That same year, Kansas lifted a ban on happy hour that had been in place since 1985. Clearly, the people had spoken in both states.
In 2015, Illinois reinstated it after a 26-year ban
This was huge news throughout the state, but especially in Chicago, where there are approximately one kajillion bars and taverns. Liquor tax collections rose, bar and restaurant owners were happy, and so, of course, were consumers.
The first step toward happy hour as we know it happened on a Navy battleship in 1914
That was the year Lieutenant Jonas H. Ingram, a former football star for the midshipmen, started organizing “Happy Hours” for sailors on board the USS Arkansas, putting together long programs composed of boxing matches, movies, and song and dance (including the “feminine-less tango”). Ingram was looking to occupy the men for the extended periods of downtime during a military siege in the harbor of Veracruz, Mexico.
It was a term for secret cocktail sessions during Prohibition
From 1920 to 1933, the 18th Amendment—aka the Volstead Act, aka Prohibition—was the law of the land in the United States. But as you most likely know, drinking did not cease entirely during this period. People gathered in speakeasies or at friends’ homes for on-the-DL cocktail hours to kick off their evenings. They jacked the name from the Navy, dubbing these gatherings “Happy Hours.”
The Saturday Evening Post ushered it into the modern era
A 1959 Saturday Evening Post article gave “Happy Hour” its final push into the mainstream. Titled “The Men Who Chase Missiles,” the story profiled US airmen stationed on remote island bases, tracking intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. It mentioned how they were able to save a lot of money because they had nowhere to spend it—“except during ‘happy hour’ at the bar” on their distant outpost. With that, the phrase and the custom took off in the US (The Saturday Evening Post was a huge deal back then). Restaurants and bars have incorporated both ever since.
Virginia has its own unique rule about it
It’s perfectly legal in the Old Dominion, but touting happy hour outside a drinking establishment’s walls is illegal. Tavern owners can post their time-sensitive drink specials up on the board behind the bar, or on tables, but they can’t advertise them anywhere beyond the venue (newspapers, signboard etc.). Several other states put their own idiosyncratic restrictions on happy hour, but in all, 42 states green light the practice, with or without modifications.
The ship that launched a million happy hours came to a truly spectacular end
Remember the USS Arkansas from a few entries ago? The ship that hosted Lieutenant Ingram’s groundbreaking, morale-boosting happy hours back in 1914? Cut to 32 years later when, in military-speak, the Arkansas “was expended as a target” during Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll. Another way of saying that would be, the Arkansas “was completely obliterated as it rested on the surface just 170 yards from the blast point of an atomic bomb test.” Operation Crossroads consisted of two nuclear bomb tests conducted by the US at Bikini, which is part of the Marshall Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The second test destroyed the Arkansas, along with eight other ships placed at varying distances from the blast.