So THAT’S Why It’s Called Happy Hour


Whether you’re a cocktail aficionado or you just can’t pass up a good deal on nachos, we can all agree that happy hour has become a sacred ritual in America.

But have you ever wondered when the tradition of cheap libations after work began?

Ironically, you can thank prohibition for the boozy practice as we know it today and the U.S. Navy for the upbeat name.

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If Prohibition taught us anything, it’s that drinkers will always find a way to drink. Here, a group of rebels drink at an illegal New York “speakeasy” in 1932.

The first documented “happy hours” in the United States were held by the Navy as early as 1914 — but they had very little to do with alcohol.

For Navy sailors during the first World War, a “Happy Hour” was a weekly entertainment program held to help alleviate the boredom that comes with life at sea, according to Peter Jensen Brown, an amateur pop culture historian who catalogs his research in the Early Sports and Pop Culture History Blog. News articles dating back to 1914 described the events as having live music, dancing, movie showings or boxing matches.

But it wasn’t until Prohibition (1920-1933) that Americans began using the term specifically for drinking.

For those law-breaking Americans who wanted to imbibe in secrecy, a kind of a 20th century pre-game emerged. Friends would meet at speakeasies or someone’s home before going out for dinner, thus creating the cocktail hour.

Eventually, civilians adopted “happy hour” as a euphemism for that secret and festive hour.

By the end of Prohibition, the concept of a “happy hour” had caught on. Restaurants and bars, however, wanted to force the practice out in public and began holding regular “happy hours” in the 1960s with discounted cocktails and bar food as bait.

As the decades rolled on, businesses continued to play with different happy hour strategies and drinkers continued to take the bait — so much so that some states had to place restrictions on, or outright ban, happy hours in response to spikes in alcohol-related accidents. In fact, happy hours are still illegal in a number of states, including Massachusetts, Indiana and Vermont.

So the next time you and your co-workers sidle up at your local watering hole for happy hour, make sure to toast in honor of the sailors and Prohibition rebels who paved the way for your reasonably priced chicken wings and $2 margaritas.

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So THAT’S Why It’s Called Happy Hour