Where did Happy Hour come from?

The History of Happy Hour

\There are perhaps no two words that, when combined, bring greater delight to our minds than the words “happy hour”. Happy hour brings back memories of fantastic drinks, amazing food or hors d’oeuvres, and unbeatable company, all at a killer price— not to mention at a time in which these things are needed most: after work. However, how often do we ask ourselves, “Where did ‘happy hour’, come from?” Regardless how seldom you ask this question, don’t feel ashamed, for today we are going to discover the history of happy hour.

So, where did happy hour come from?

In response to this question, it really depends on whom you ask. If you were to ask an English professor, he or she would tell you the term happy hour has existed in English literature for centuries. For example, at the end of Act I, Scene II of Shakespeare’s Henry V (1599), King Henry remarks: “Therefore, my lords, omit no happy hour/That may give furtherance to our expedition”. In this early context, happy hour was taken to mean a happy moment or time. This is great and all, but when we generally think of happy hour, we normally conceive of it as taking place in a defined setting, in the presence of low-cost alcohol, and perhaps taking place before dinner. For a more pragmatic description of happy hour’s origins, we can turn to the end of 1920. Following the passage and subsequent enforcement of the 18th amendment and the Volstead Act, the sale and consumption of alcohol became illegal throughout the United States. In response, daring entrepreneurs began hosting “cocktail hours”, also known at the time as “happy hours”, in illegal bars called speakeasies. Clients would visit these underground venues to consume alcohol, such as Mimosas or Bloody Marys, before going out to eat at restaurants.

Thus, for many restaurant-goers, happy hour served as a crucial element of going out to eat, even if happy hour was subversive to Prohibition and the legal system of the United States. The practice of drinking before mealtime would continue after the ultimate end of prohibition. However, according to Marcus Samuelson, the term happy hour would not become widespread among the general American public until the 1959 publication of the Saturday Evening Post, in which the term was used in conjunction with describing military life. Following publication, bars and restaurants quickly began using the term as a way to draw customers in, and voila! The rest is history.

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