“Margarita Mondays” was easy.
“Tequila Tuesdays” was a no-brainer. Because I didn’t set the bar high, soon I had “Wine-ding down Wednesdays” and “On-Tap Thursdays.”
But what would work for Fridays?
It may seem a ridiculous mental exercise, especially because I have no immediate plans to open a restaurant. But more preposterous is that if I did own one in Virginia, I couldn’t have written any of that on a sign outside my business before Monday.
The new “happy hour law” may seem silly, but its significance goes beyond pastel-colored chalk on a blackboard.
It is, at its core, a First Amendment victory. It is about the government finally recognizing that grown-ups can handle hearing the truth, at least when it comes to how we choose to de-stress after work.
That’s something we should all raise a glass to, whether yours is filled with a cocktail or a mocktail.
The issue was laid bare in a lawsuit brought forward by Washington-area chef Geoff Tracy, who decided to fight the law that was ultimately tossed aside by new legislation. As of July 1, the new law allows Virginia restaurants and bars to use creative terms to describe happy hours and to advertise what drinks will cost during those time slots.
“Now, prices and puns are legal in Virginia,” said Anastasia Boden, the lead attorney in the suit filed on behalf of Tracy.
The basis for the lawsuit centered on the argument that because happy hours were legal, advertising the truth about them should be, too.
“The reason we brought the lawsuit was to vindicate a deeper principle, and that is that the government can’t censor truthful information for paternalistic reasons,” Boden said. “All throughout the litigation, the government had argued, ‘We can do this. We are allowed to do this because we think this is good for you.’ ”
Boden, who works for Pacific Legal Foundation, described that as a “dangerous” stance when applied more broadly.
Some states ban happy hours completely, and others limit aspects of advertising them, based on the argument that it will reduce alcohol consumption and drunken driving. But Boden said the evidence doesn’t support that.
“If you look just across state lines into Maryland and D.C., it’s not as if you see more traffic accidents due to alcohol,” she said. And if reducing drunken driving is the goal, she said, “I think there’s a better way to get at that than by banning speech.”
Tracy, who operates restaurants in Maryland, the District and Virginia, said he is “thrilled” the restriction is gone.
“I just thought it was ridiculous you couldn’t tell people Budweisers were 3 bucks,” he said. He also couldn’t describe happy hour beyond those two words. “I couldn’t say ‘very happy hour’ or ‘ultimate happy hour.’ ”
Now, he said, if a restaurant allows dogs on a patio, it can advertise “yappy hour.”
“Virginia has always been a really good state to do business in,” Tracy said. “Now, it became a little bit better.”
He said he has heard from other restaurant owners who are also celebrating the change. In an email he shared with me, one wrote, “You don’t know me but I am a restaurant/bar owner in Norfolk Virginia. I wanted to thank you for your amazing efforts in helping VA ABC see the light on happy hour!”
Boden said that throughout the case, which lasted about a year in court, they heard from business owners, some who had been fined $500 by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority for advertising their happy hours.
She and Tracy both said they would have preferred to have seen the issue settled in court — rather than through legislation — so they could have set legal precedent, but both expressed satisfaction that Virginia ultimately did the right thing.
Tracy said it’s just unfortunate it didn’t come sooner.
Ten days before the law went into effect, he closed his Tysons restaurant, Chef Geoff’s, which was named in the lawsuit. The lease expired on that day, and he had made the decision earlier not to renew it.
“That was bittersweet,” Tracy said. “If it was there, we would’ve had to have had some sort of party.”
If the restaurant had remained open, Boden said, she “would have loved to have seen” the happy-hour description Tracy came up with.
I would have, too. I have no doubt it would have been much cleverer and customer-drawing than what I thought up in my car that night.
The best day of the week deserves better than “Fine-wine Fridays.”