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A Brief History of Happy Hour

It’s so ingrained in American history that it might as well be a national pastime.

Posted by The PLATE Team on November 12, 2018

Sit down, relax, and let me tell you a story about the happiest of hours, and how it slowly rose to fame throughout the 20th century. Unlike most articles out there that are full-length novels about the history of the happy hour (there’s even a documentary… seriously), I’ve gone ahead and highlighted 3 areas of time that I believe paint the best picture of how the happy hours we know and love today actually came to be.

Shakespearean Times: Thoust Happiest of Hours

Yep, you read that right. Even ol’ Willie Shakespeare indulged in a few brews every now and then,.. Just kidding; it had a different meaning back then as cited in King Henry V (act 1, scene 2) which reads, “Therefore, my lords, omit no happy hour/that may give furthermore to our expedition…”.

I’m almost positive that happy hours then were nothing close to the happy hours we hold near and dear now, but it’s worth noting that the idea of blocking off specific times for entertainment isn’t a relatively new idea. Think back to the days of Roman emperors and “Panem et Circenses” or “Bread and circuses”, in which politicians realized that to keep the morale of Rome’s citizens high (thus helping them gain political power), it was necessary to keep them fed and keep them entertained. However, in reference to the advent of the modern-day happy hour specials, we need to travel to the early 1900s to better understand the beginning.

God Bless the Navy

The year is 1913, and “home-makers” of the early 20th centry are looking for creative ways to entertain sailors docked in New York’s Harbor. “Happy Hour Socials” became designated times when the ship would become somewhat of a mixer (or what they referred to as “smokers”), involving boxing matches, music, libations, and more. Pretty soon, this idea for entertainment hours for sailors began to spread to other ports, and by the end of WWI, the “Happy Hour” was a naval staple.

But then, a little thing called “Prohibition” came along in 1920, which meant that drinkers needed to be a little more creative with how they were going to consume their adult beverages of choice. Because the restaurants of America’s metro areas could no longer serve alcohol, “speakeasies”, or secret bars, began popping up to attract patrons for a round or two of libations before they went to their dinner reservations. This was a radical (and illegal) new form of the Navy’s “Happy Hour” that ultimately transferred over to restaurants and bars when Prohibition ended in 1933.

The Sixties

If you’ve seen the first 10 minutes of the very first episode of AMC’s “Mad Men”, then you know what I’m talking about. The climate for business changed dramatically during this decade, most notbaly on Madison Avenue, where you were no longer required to be in an office setting to close deals. Lounges and restaurants competed with better and better pricing in an effort to bring in these top level executives and their potential customers, ultimately resulting in the happy hour being expanded from 1-2 hours to the now standard 3-4 hours. Fortunately, the mixture of alcohol and business dealings was short lived, and as the end of the decade, “clearer thinking” was need by most executives, reinforcing the fact that happy hours were a strictly “after work” affair.

And there you have it! Fast forward a few years and the happy hour is as strong as ever. With the advent of mixology, craft beer, and other new additions to the lineup, more and more businesses are diversifying their offerings to fit customer tastes and trends, ultimately resulting in better turnouts! Some restaurants have begun to catch on and even offer food specials in tandem with the “happy hour” specials to make their offerings even more appetizing!

Have a great happy hour? Let us know about it and we’ll get the word out for you!

Written By: Thomas Trahan, Co-Founder of PLATE