Bill could change happy hour advertising laws in Virginia

Mad Men LMO party (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)
Bars can’t list their “happy hour” specials outside their establishments in Virginia. But a newly-passed bill could change that. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)

WASHINGTON — Figuring out where the best drinks are at happy hour is set to get easier in Virginia. The house of delegates and state Senate have each passed a bill requiring Virginia’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to allow bars to advertise the actual drinks they are offering at a happy hour.

While the need for a law allowing that may seem odd, it’s a big expansion from current rules. Even with changes made throughout the last few years allowing some promotional signs, bars and restaurants are limited to phrases like “happy hour from 4-7 p.m.” and banned from using language like “discounted margaritas,” “beer and wine specials” or anything else involving a specific drink type or price.

The new regulations would still prohibit the listing of actual prices on happy hour promotions, and wouldn’t change time limits that require happy hour discounts to end by 9 p.m.

The bills also direct the ABC to allow mixed drinks to be served in pitchers, and to be pre-made. Right now, only sangria is permitted to be premixed and served in pitchers. That permission was only granted in 2008 when the decades-long prohibition of sangria ended in the commonwealth.

If the bill is signed into law, bars and restaurants would also be allowed to give one free drink to a customer or a bottle of wine to two or more customers. The new rules would also allow tasting flights of liquors, not just beers and wines, and provide more ways to sell alcohol in larger containers like growlers.

The bill passed the house of delegates unanimously as part of a block vote on Feb. 4, and the Senate passed a substitute on Tuesday.

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