Virginia bars will soon be able to tell you if they offer happy hour

January 3, 2014
Galaxy Hut
Wondering whether or not Galaxy Hut offers happy hour? The bar will legally be able to tell you on Jan. 29.  (Photo by Xiaomei Chen/ The Washington Post)

Good news, Virginia bargoers! The state's Department of Alcohol Beverage Control has finally realized that in the year 2014, consumers might want to know whether a bar offers happy hour, and that bars might want to tweet about their happy hours.

Beginning Jan. 29, restaurants and nightclubs will finally legally be able to tell you, via social media or good old fashioned newspaper ads, whether they offer discounted drinks, and at what times. Previously, they could only announce their specials inside the walls of the restaurant. Get ready for the floodgates to open: You might see Galaxy Hut tweeting "Happy hour tonight from 5 to 7," or Mad Fox Brewing Company advertising that happy hour begins at 3 p.m.

You might notice, however, that those examples are maddeningly vague, almost to the point where they say nothing at all. That's the way the new state law was crafted, according to ABC Public Relations Specialist Carol Mawyer. An establishment can say they have "happy hour" or "drink specials" and the times they are offered, Mawyer says, "but they can't say 'margarita specials from 4 to 7' or 'two-for-one sangria specials', and they can't say the prices," Mawyer explains.

It's still pretty useless as far as consumer choice goes. We all assume that most bars will have a happy hour, even if it's $1 off a draft instead of two-for-one margaritas. When you're in an area as bar-heavy as Arlington, Alexandria or Falls Church, if would be nice to know what you're getting into before you walk through the doors: If, for example, one bar on Wilson Boulevard sells craft beers for $3 while another offers domestic bottles for the same price. But hey, at least it gets rid of the wink-wink advertising Virginia bars have resorted to in the past, such as saying they had "25-cent wings and other specials from 4 to 7 p.m."

Now, with the ban on happy hour advertising over, maybe Virginia can get around to killing some of my other "favorite" rules, including:

  • All happy hours must end by 9 p.m., and no specials can be offered after that. They can, however, begin again at 6 a.m.
  • Mixed drinks, including margaritas, cannot be served by the pitcher.
  • Open bars with unlimited drinks are not allowed under any circumstances. That's why New Year's Eve parties at Clarendon Ballroom or Clarendon Grill include a couple of drink tickets with the admission fee instead of access to an open bar, as many bars in Washington and Maryland do.

Another inclusion in the new ABC rules: As of Feb. 26, Virginia mixologists will finally be allowed to legally infuse spirits with "fruits, herbs, seasonings, vegetables, etc." to create their own flavored vodkas, gins and other liqueurs.

Baby steps.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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Fritz Hahn · January 3, 2014