Imagining a New York City Without a Happy Hour

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A horrifying weekend article in The New York Post involves the death of everything good and holy. By that we mean Happy Hour. Gird your koozies; it is under siege. Maybe.

A bit of backstory, first. If you've lived in New York City for a few years, 10 or more, maybe a few less, you remember a time in which you would return home from a bar, your hair and clothing permeated by smoke. You'd take a shower, and that solved that, but still, it was yucky, at least to those who don't smoke in bars, and maybe even to some who do. Slowly, methodically, the smoking bans began; people protested loudly, and then less and less. And now, you can't even smoke outside in some locations.

Of course, we barely remember what that smokey hair smelled like back then, so numb and adjusted to it all we have become, so full of ourselves and our health and the scent of clean. If you've lived in New York City even longer, you might remember when Times Square was full of peep shows and when everything was a lot less Disney and a lot more gritty, and you may bemoan those days while also being privately a wee bit glad that your chance of getting mugged has decreased and that you can take your aunt and uncle to The Red Lobster (where they insist on going after Mamma Mia!) without fear of getting propositioned by a prostitute. You may remember, even just a few years ago, that Starbucks had not yet penetrated the East Village. Ah, but times are different now, even in Brooklyn, even in Williamsburg, where a Whole Foods is on its way and artists are being kicked out of the lofts that they, well, basically started Williamsburg in. The two most-begrudged themes of urban change in New York seem to involve gentrification and nanny-state restrictions on things considered "bad for us." You might say they go together, and often they do, but that makes these judgmental limitations on our behaviors—too much salt, too much sugar, too much soda, not enough exercise, drinking too much—no less annoying. New York wants New Yorkers healthier. And, frequently, less fun. Which is funny, even ironic, because New York City was the place people have historically flocked to live with fewer rules, not more. Where we could be unhealthy, the way we wanted to be, without our small town telling us otherwise. Living the dream, as it were. That's why having things threatened, like our right to cheaper-than-normal booze at our favorite establishments, makes us very, very mad.

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Enter an article from the Post's Gary Buiso, in which he writes that  "Department of Health policy party-poopers" (it must be inferred these power-hungry lunatics have lost their minds) are considering outlawing drink specials at bars and restaurants. Keep in mind, this intel comes from anonymous department sources and The New York Post, a paper not above working an angle. Yet, that's no reason you shouldn't be outraged. Your drink specials may be at risk! And your drink specials are a storied tradition, as Scott Solish writes on Eater

Happy hour dates back to Prohibition, when New Yorkers would gather at speakeasies to imbibe before moving on to restaurants that couldn't serve booze. Today it's known as that blissful time between the end of the work day and the rest of the night, when adults can stop off at a local watering hole for an adult beverage or two as a way to unwind from the stressful day.

Prohibition being over, thank goodness, Buiso goes on to say that not only has this ban been considered, it's been "discussed," and this is because the Health Department considers you, me, and all of us, essentially, kids: “It goes to show you the spirit with which they operate. Everyone is a child.” Not only are we kids, they are maybe serious about this! Wah! Buiso gives us a look at how the sausage is made:

High-level conversations have gone beyond merely “throwing pencils on the ceiling and seeing what sticks,” another Health source revealed.

Further, this may be cream?

Sources said the anti-booze sentiment at the agency has reached a fever pitch, with officials recently asking state officials about the “legality of liquor in ice cream,” referring to potent products infused with bourbon, rum and tequila.

Who's behind this alleged evil-doing? Allegedly, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, the guy who wants us to drink less soda, aka, No Fun Farley. He also wants to decrease risky alcohol use and help reduce booze to adolescents and communities that promote drinking among kids, and heavy drinking among adults. Back in January, the Post reported on a plan to make alcohol slightly less widely available—"a plan to reduce the 'density'’ of alcohol outlets," which had everyone freaking out, and which Mayor Bloomberg ultimately said was not a plan at all. (Buiso writes that the mayor was furious with Farley about getting any of that talk started; the mayor may also have been furious at the Post.) Flash forward to now, when this outrage-inducing rumor is not all that likely to happen either: Sam Miller, an agency spokesman, denied that there were any plans "to pursue any policy around discount-alcohol sale.” Bloomberg also denied the charges, commenting snarkily on the Post's latest anti-happy-hour story, via Gothamist:

You know, it’s good that- what one paper’s done because, as you remember, this year the committee did not award a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Now we have one - with irresponsible journalism - for next year. The Health Department has no plans. We told them we have no plans. It is a totally fictitious, made-up story, and it’s just not what I would call responsible journalism.

Well, that's a relief. But worrisomely enough, there is a precedent here. 19 other states, including most recently Utah, currently ban happy hour. What must it be like?

  • Less money in your wallet at the end of the night. Or the same amount of money, as in, none, because you still lost your wallet in that last bar. 
  • Fewer drinks in your stomach at the end of the night, which means, possibly, less cause to have done or said things that you will surely regret upon the morrow. Or fewer drinks in your stomach at the end of the night because you drank too much and got sick. Or, maybe, the exact same number of drinks in your stomach, not that you are keeping count at this point.
  • Regret. All the same regret.
  • Drinking later at night because there's no incentive to get to the bar by 5?
  • Bars less crowded by obnoxious types in search of cheap booze.
  • More drinking at home, where you can enjoy the good stuff. More loneliness from drinking at home, especially when you run out of the good stuff.
  • Less of a justified occasion to eat Buffalo wings.
  • Impenetrable human sadness; actually having to believe The New York Post's story about happy hour bans.

This sounds terrible! There is one bright spot to hang onto if this does ever go down: Just because there's no happy hour doesn't mean bars won't continue to exist‚ for a while, anyway. Hang in there, people. There's always day drinking. And doesn't your hair smell good?

Image via Shutterstock by Wollertz.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.