Virginia bars can soon advertise happy hour (sort of)

Bottoms up! A reprieve of sorts is imminent for Virginia bars and restaurants that historically have been banned from advertising their happy hours. And more updates to the commonwealth’s draconian alcohol laws are in the works with the coming Virginia General Assembly session.

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control will ease up on the happy hour rule — which prohibited advertisement of happy hour of any kind — on Jan. 29, as Washington Post nightlife columnist Fritz Hahn noted Monday.

ABC-licensed establishments will now be able to advertise in any medium that they have a happy hour along with the timeframe in which the happy hour runs. They still will not be allowed to advertise specific drink specials, however, which makes it less useful for the consumer and the business alike.

We told you in November about a bunch of other weird ABC laws that are still on the books in Virginia, including a prohibition on pitchers of mixed drinks other than sangria and a decree that happy hour can’t last past 9 p.m.

No changes are in store for any of those in the immediate future, although there are several provisions of the ABC law that may be changed in the 2014 Virginia General Assembly session.

One of them is a bill that would ensure that wine wholesalers aren’t prohibited from participating in wine dinners — a technicality that arose last year which prevented wine sales reps from speaking about wines being served at wine dinners.

The bill, H.B. 270, specifies that ABC law should not prohibit “any … wine wholesaler licensee from providing to adult customers of licensed retail establishment information about wine being consumed on such premises.”

It will be good news for wholesalers, many of whom told me that not being able to participate in wine dinners had a detrimental effect on their sales.

Here are a few other highlights from the ABC-related bills that may come up for a vote in the General Assembly this year:

  • Allow the drinking of alcohol in limos and other vehicles: That’s right, here’s another little-known — and little followed, if any of the wine tours I’ve been on are any indication — ABC law. Currently, passengers in limousines, party buses and other vehicles are not allowed to drink alcohol. H.B. 423, from Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), would change the rule.
  • Tastings in distilleries: Distilleries in Virginia will now be able to offer tastings without limitations on time of day, duration of tasting periods or frequency of tasting per customer — provided the customer is of age and not intoxicated.
  • Wine/beer tastings at gift shops: S.B. 104 would allow gift shops with ABC licenses to conduct tastings of two ounces of wine or four ounces of beer per person.

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