The History of Happy Hour

Everybody loves a happy hour, right? Cut-price drinks and cheap bar snacks are the perfect complement to the end of the working day, helping busy nine-to-five employees unwind and relax after a stressful day.

So how did this popular publican tradition start? Like most historical tales in the drinking world, the details are a little hazy… 

Claims from America

If you walk into your nearest TGI Fridays restaurant, there is likely to be a written claim on their wall that suggests the founder of the business, Alan Stillman, was the brains behind the idea of Happy Hour. When he opened his first bar, back in 1965, he decided the local residents needed a break after a day at work and offered a discount on drinks for one hour each weekday. Indeed, it is a claim backed up on their website, but it doesn’t really give a full picture of the history behind the happy hour.

Happiness at Sea

The phrase is actually thought to have been coined at sea in the 19th century, where crews on US Naval boats used the term to refer to a period of time when entertainment activities were provided. Sports such as boxing and wrestling were offered for three nights a week, usually spanning a few hours, rather than just one and were often accompanied with loud singing and sometimes films.

French Fancies

Later in the 19th century, a nationwide wine shortage in France led Parisian drinkers to turn to spirits as their tipple of choice. Absinthe was the most popular option, and for some time, 5pm became known as ‘l’heure verte’ or ‘the green hour’, in reference to the time when work would finish, and employees would head to their nearest bar for a quick drink of their favorite green spirit.

The Bright Side of Prohibition

It wasn’t until the 1920s when the term ‘happy hour’ was used in association with alcohol, however. Prohibition prevented the sale of alcohol in sociable settings, but those who liked a drink before dinner in a restaurant would still seek to enjoy one. Of course, the effect of prohibition was that businesses faced closure and jobs were lost, so that many restaurants felt that they had no choice but to keep selling alcohol on the quiet.

Modern-Day Happy Hours

In the 1960s, Happy Hour really became synonymous with drinks deals. It is highly likely that TGI Fridays played a part in making Happy Hours so popular, but with bars all over America and the world adopting the practice, it is difficult to know exactly where the idea first began. lecte

This post was written by ....

Suzanna H
Hi, I am Suzanna. I would describe myself as a bit of a foodie with a side-interest in fancy cocktails. Anything sweet and alcoholic and I'm in! I am also an avid writer, proofreader and editor and work freelance through the website People per Hour.

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