Babysitting After Midnight: Happy Hour

by Jesse Erickson | February 19, 2015 11:07 am

It’s many people’s favorite part of the day. That moment when you get to walk out the doors, get into your car and leave work behind. The second favorite? Happy hour. With so many great options around it’s easy to find one that fits your personality and your drink of choice. But how did this great creation come into existence? Well, my darlings, let’s take a little walk down the road known as history.

Happy hour; these two tiny words that we all look forward to, have been siblings in use for a very long time. The first time we know of their use was in Shakespeare’s King Henry V when King Henry says, “Therefore, my lords, omit no happy hour that may give furtherance to our expedition…” Even back then there was a need to have a designated time for joy in the day. Since Shakespeare’s time there’s been a natural evolution of the idea, and practices, of happy hour.

Little is known about its use after Shakespeare coined the saying. It doesn’t pop up again until the 1880’s when ladies clubs were all the rage. However, I highly doubt the ladies of that time were participating in happy hour the same way we celebrate the time after work, with alcohol. I know. Their story is a sad one. To me, the meetings that took place during their “happy hour” probably weren’t the kind of happy I would like to be involved with. I’m not a crafty person, so cross stitch really isn’t my thing (or whatever other crafty thing they were probably doing). Full disclosure, I’m not completely sure what the women were doing during their happy hour. I’m just assuming it had something to do with the proverbial lady of the house duties because, in most circles, it was highly frowned upon for women, especially those who would be in a ladies club, to drink (sad, I know).

Whatever the ladies of yesteryear were doing, the idea of happy hour spread. In 1913 the U.S.S. Arkansas started to have semi-weekly meets in which all sorts of things happened. This would include live music, dancing, boxing and other shows of masculinity. By the end of the Great War (World War I) happy hour had infiltrated the rest of the Navy. These hours of happiness were supposed to help soldiers’ morale and community by allowing them to let off some steam. In the two years between the end of WWI in 1918 and the beginning of Prohibition in 1920, I can only assume that happy hour was still a regular thing in the Navy. However, happy hour took on yet another identity during the tragic years of Prohibition.

In the 13 years that alcohol was outlawed like the sinner it was made out to be by the ladies in those social clubs, happy hour took on a closer definition to the one we know it as now. Speakeasies and gin joints would open their doors to patrons before the dinner hours. They would ply libations down the throats of the thirsty in secret, so that when these risk takers went out into public restaurants that didn’t serve alcohol, because it was illegal, they’d still be well on their way to a good night. Happy hour during that time was truly happy, for it was a time during the day to drink and be social before going out into the sad world of sobriety.

We took this theme of happy hour and ran with it over the years. The popularity it had during Prohibition has only increased as the decades have worn on. Today, almost every bar and restaurant has their version of it. Before happy hour just consisted of drinks. Today, especially in restaurants that have specials of both libations and something to snack on, happy hour is a convenient way to start your day after work. It’s become so popular that there are even a few places now that offer reverse happy hour; a late night version with the same great idea.

Happy hour has been a centuries long work in progress that most of us appreciate and enjoy – sometimes too often, other times not often enough. For more information about happy hours around town, check out the map Food & Spirits Magazine has put together and go enjoy yourself a beverage after work!

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