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Shhh! Virginia Bars Can Host Happy Hour, but Can't Talk About It

Advertising "half-priced drinks" is legal. Advertising "two-for-one" drinks is not. Huh?

CHARLES PLATIAU/Reuters/NewscomCHARLES PLATIAU/Reuters/NewscomIn the annals of weird state liquor rules, save a special spot for Virginia's happy hour regulations. Bars and restaurants are free to offer discounted drinks, and are allowed to advertise those "drink specials" or "happy hour" deals, like anywhere else. But the specifics can get pretty confusing.

For example, advertising "half-price drinks," is completely legal. Calling the same discount a "two-for-one special," is, however, a violation of state law and can get an establishment's license suspended for seven days.

The same punishment applies if a bar is caught advertising deals under terms like "Thirsty Thursday" or "Sunday Funday."

Weird, yes. But also possibly unconstitutional. A lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court argues that Virginia's happy hour advertising restrictions prevent business owners from communicating truthful information about their offerings, and makes it more difficult to attract customers. Geoff Tracy, who owns three businesses in the Washington, D.C., metro area (one of them in Virginia), the plaintiff in the lawsuit, says he cannot legally use the same advertisements for all three of his locations because of the Virginia law. Even posting those ads on social media or his restaurant's website could run afoul of the state law.

"If the government wants to curb drinking, it can engage in public education campaigns about the dangers of irresponsible alcohol consumption," says Anastasia Boden, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing Tracy in the lawsuit. "It cannot, however, stifle speech; there's simply no 'vice' exception to the First Amendment."

Virginia's happy hour rules are actually less restrictive than they once were. Until January 2014, bars and restaurants were only allowed to advertise happy hours or drink specials inside the establishment itself. Even though bars can now announce "happy hour" on social media or advertise it on sidewalk placards, they are still prohibited from specifying what the discounts are—so consumers are still mostly in the dark until they walk inside.

Advertising specific prices is "never going to happen," state Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) told The Washington Post in 2015. He said anti-teen-drinking advocates "freaked out" when he proposed a bill to allow such speech.

That makes about as much sense as Virginia's happy hour laws do in the first place. Teens are already forbidden from consuming alcohol, so how does an additional ban on bars advertising cheap drinks change that? It doesn't. If teens are going to drink, they're probably going to do it regardless of what happy hour specials are on-offer at the corner bar, because teens don't drink at the corner bar.

Meanwhile, real business owners are subjected to unnecessary limitations on their First Amendment rights in order to stop this theoretical threat.

"Virginia is a great place to do business," says Tracy. "Eliminating this ridiculous law will make it even better."

Photo Credit: CHARLES PLATIAU/Reuters/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    My life is less rich than it was a week ago.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

  • Rat on a train||

    Have a drink.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Virginia is a great place to do business

    The little lies we tell ourselves.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    It's certainly a place to do business.

  • Rich||

    It's a great place to greatly do great business!

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    When I need authentic Monticello knick knacks...

  • Citizen X - #6||

    +1 novelty pencil sharpener shaped like a Revolutionary War cannon

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    It's really too bad they had to discontinue the Sally Hemmings version.

  • Hugh Akston||

    At the very least, it is arguably a place.

  • Charles Easterly||

    It's certainly a place to do business.

    I seem to recall an individual that ran for Governor in Virginia who had as his slogan "Open minded and Open for Business" not too long ago.

  • soldiermedic76||

    I was stationed at Ft. Eustis I. Yorktown, VA for two years. Other than the fact that I'm a history buff, I'm not sure that there is anything belse great about Virginia.

  • Rat on a train||

    The VA ABC has its own police to abuse offenders.

  • some guy||

    I still remember when they assaulted that 20-year old girl in Charlottesville for buying sparkling water...

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Not having two-for-one drink specials is the price we pay for civilization.

  • The Pirate King||

    That assumes we have civilization.

  • Sigivald||

    Teens are already forbidden from consuming alcohol, so how does an additional ban on bars advertising cheap drinks change that?

    Obviously, hearing that it's "happy hour" will make them think that drinking makes you happy, and we can't have that! Teens must be told only that liquor is the Devil's Squeezin's, leading only to ruin and heartbreak!

    Call it "Sad Panda Time" and it'll be fine, though.

  • Libertarian||

    "Devil's Squeezins" was my nickname in college.

  • Libertarian||

    Wait, wait. Maybe it was in church camp. I can't remember.

  • Longtobefree||

    Because you were drinking?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    The men's locker room.

  • Yellow Tony||

    "Sad Panda Time"
    Oh fucking my

  • Citizen X - #6||

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    How is this the saddest story I've heard this year?

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    We need to investigate Hollywood and sanction them to force them to prevent future hackings.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    The House Un-Progressive Activities Commission is standing by.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I will now officially click on Buzzfeed links before I click on CNN links.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Do not deny the enrichment of your existence by this link. Do not.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Does it help if I say that I endorse it?

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Your liability, not mine.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

  • Tony||

    You can drink as a teenager in Britain and... well, the British are a bunch of drunken idiots who just drunk-voted their way into more obscurity even than they had previously drunk themselves into.

  • Just Say'n||

    Democracy is the worst- unless it comes out the way Tony wants it to.

  • Tony||

    How hypocritical of a person who favors democracy over tyranny to have preferences!

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

  • Rich||

    Deer have evolved to live with brainworm

    That explains a lot.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Cerviphobe.

  • chemjeff||

    It's not just the deer.

  • Libertarian||

    "Collisions with moose have claimed the lives of 19 humans in the last 20 years."

    We need common sense moose control.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    No, no, the NRA is the one deploying the tick death squads (or einsatzticken, if you will). Get it together man.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    NRA, Climate Change, or Russian meddling? I can't decide, so I'll just blame Trump who created all 3 possible causes.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Untrue. Trump did not, in fact, create Russia.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'll let Mueller decide that.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Nah, he's a German. He can't be impartial. He should recuse himself.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

  • Libertarian||

    As someone who is over the age of 14, let me just say: WHO CARES?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Someone just outed themselves an utter plebian.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    What on earth is a... "video game"? Did I get that right? Is that what it's called?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    If I remember correctly from King of the Hill, it's pronounced "Vidya Game" in your parlance.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    All I know is that the abacus was good enough for me growing up, and it's good enough for you wastrels too.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    The abacus was kind of like that analog space invaders thing, right?

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    I remember playing it while the "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast aired, so I suppose, yes.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    lol

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    BUCS, how you are gonna have time to play this game while you are running an RPG campaign for us?

  • Yellow Tony||

    How much are you being paid to shill this series, BUCS?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I suck dick for the pure love of the game, YT.

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, advocating for demon rum is hate speech, and we all know hate speech is not covered by the constitution, so where is the story here?

  • silver.||

    A guy I went to high school with wrote an app that let users create a community-sourced drink specials database in VA to circumvent this. Lasted a few years, but it eventually got shut down before the 2014 change to allow advertisements outside of the restaurant.

    VA also can't have "bars." Something like 80% of sales have to come from food.

  • silver.||

    Also, no links again, Reason? Things have really tanked since KrayKray left.

    I propose a petition to allow the interns to find and post links. I've lost faith in the admins.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    In olden times there was a late night links as well. Austerity.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I have some bad news. This morning Miss Brown confirmed the AM/PM links are no more.

  • Yellow Tony||

    I bet you insulted her like you did with Ed. Now we don't have links. THANKS BUCS

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    You best watch out, or I'll insult you too!

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Oh, what sad times are these, when passing ruffians can say mean things at will to hued Tonies.

  • ||

    A nice one.

  • ||

    I meant a nice one from Telcontar the Wanderer.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Don't worry, I always read all complimentary comments as being replies to me anyway.

  • silver.||

    [[Please be facetious, please be facetious...]]

    NO! NO! I'VE ONLY JUST BEGUN MY LIFE AS A REASON SHITPOSTER!

    What about troll polls?
    I was going to start a "comment of the day" post in the PM links! And nominate myself every day!
    What about the libertarian DnD? How will we coordinate our contraceptive activities now?

    It's not fair! There was time, now!

    All is lost... I'm just going to become a liberal. Without a safe space to circle-jerk and feel superior, what is the point of this?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    You can, and should, still do all those things.

  • SIV||

    teens don't drink at the corner bar

    It's not the 1970s anymore.

  • John C. Randolph||

    possibly unconstitutional.

    You misspelled "obviously".

    -jcr

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    "One thing that's interesting about recycling is that it's a commodity, it's a market, and those things change all the time,"

    If you're fucking making money off my recycling, at least have the god damned decency to not charge me for it. Also, that article avoided the actual question and spoke in very vague statements, which is questionable.

    Now, after I got that little bitch fit out. I'm curious, now that I know they ship the garbage overseas, I'm curious the energy analysis of it. What's the net improvement of shipping our garbage to Asia to recycle, versus landfilling it closer?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Woodward and Bernstein that reporter ain't. She called a spokesperson for the city and she assured her everything is shipped to China India, now that China doesn't do recycling anymore. So quit asking questions. She was totally good with it. Done and done. Report filed.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    She's a radio personality. Their analysis is very low quality in general. But pretty entertaining. I like the show she's on enough.

    Man, I hate when they quote studies though, they are of the type of accept "it's science" without almost any analysis of what the study is saying, or even if it's claims make sense. So, standard popular reporter nonsense.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    "If you're fucking making money off my recycling, at least have the god damned decency to not charge me for it."

    The list of things you can't recycle here, that one might think you could, is longer than the list of stuff they take. And I just got a letter informing me that they are no longer taking some kinds of plastic anymore. I'm beginning to think they'd just prefer people put dollar bills in the blue bin.

  • wnoise||

    > there's simply no 'vice' exception to the First Amendment.

    Of course there is! See the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case, as well as the recent SESTA/FOSTA bill.

  • croaker||

    These were the idiots that violently arrested a college student for buying a six-pack of water.

  • Rat on a train||

    It's a gateway to liquor.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    They even market it under the brand name "Liquid" to lure in reckless youngsters.

  • Eidde||

  • chemjeff||

    The Demogorgon doesn't stand a chance. It will be nagged to death.

  • The Heresiarch||

    What type of fucking horse-shit is this? No P.M. links? The Glibs have links every fucking day, including Saturdays and Sundays! CANCEL MY SUBSCRIPTION!

  • chemjeff||

    Well I guess this is the new "PM Links"? Anyway. Just a couple of things.

    1. I like to watch Kennedy (who doesn't, amirite????), but tonight, I inadvertently stumbled onto part of Lou Dobbs' show, when he was chatting with Ann Coulter. So I didn't change the channel just for the lulz. And I can safely say, that science has definitively proven that Lou Dobbs is an idiot. How this man even finds the TV studio every night, let alone string together barely coherent sentences, is beyond me. He was utterly *appalled* that Ann Coulter would say mean things about Trump on Twitter. Like Coulter has some obligation not to say mean things about Daddy Trump. He would continually cut her off with ramblings of his own and you could tell that she was getting a little irritated from it. I don't know how the doddering old fool gets the privilege of a prime-time TV show. Kennedy really should have his time slot.

  • chemjeff||

    2. Both the senile moron and the huckster were of course totally fine with Trump's idea for using the military to build the border wall. Because "it's an invasion" you see. Which is the lamest justification ever for the border wall, as if unarmed civilians constitutes some military expeditionary force. But the two of them really have convinced themselves that illegal immigrants are at the root of most of the problems in this country. Coulter herself even explicitly said, "fix immigration and all the other problems get a lot easier". And that is the genuinely scary demagoguery behind the immigration talk from the Trumpists. Scapegoating the powerless minority for the nation's problems is how you get genuinely horrible things happening. Funny thing is, I don't really blame Trump himself for it. I don't think he has the self-awareness to understand the danger behind his loose-lipped rhetoric. I blame the Trump grifters, like Hannity and Coulter and the rest, along with the downright evil people like Steve King who are happy to latch on to the anti-immigrant scapegoating and amplify it for their own ends.

  • chemjeff||

    And it's the nauseating scapegoating which finally caused me to break completely from the right. Because I realized - and Trump's election is evidence of this - that this casual scapegoating is way more commonplace on the right than I really thought. The core of the American right really is a chauvinistic flag-waving hubris about how awesome America is. And America really is a great place, but they go many steps too far in their chest-thumping. Because if America is so awesome, then the rest of the world can't hold a candle to the awesomeness of the good ol' U S of A, and so screw them all. I now think THAT is what was the ethos that inspired Reagan's voters, not anti-communism per se, or lowering taxes, or any of the rest, but just the simple "we're awesome and the Soviets aren't" aura that he radiated. And Trump's attraction must be that he radiated that same Reaganesque quality of "we rock, they suck" just in a brash unfiltered way. I think that must be what Trump's superfans want to hear. That America is better than everyone else, and screw you if you believe any differently. That is why they are quick to throw around the "anti-American" charge at their detractors: because in their view, it's "anti-American" to not believe in the superiority and awesomeness of America in all things and in all ways.

  • chemjeff||

    Anyway back to the immigration. So my current evolving view is that in Trumpland, because America is so awesomely awesome, the reason why America has any problems at all is because factors outside of America are dragging her down. Because the problems can't really be originating from inside the country. Oh no. That would pierce the myth of American superiority. The problems have to arise from those sneaky foreigners. And that is I think the epistemological origin of the obsessive focus that the modern American right, and Trumpists in particular, have on immigration, all out of proportion to its actual burden on the country. And it's just morally wrong to otherize the powerless in order to prop up your own inflated sense of self-worth.

  • tlapp||

    The arrogant busy bodies in government know no level of micromanagement too petty for them to pass a stupid law.

  • Rebel Scum||

    In the Commonwealth, Happy Hour is like Fight Club.

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