Chef Geoff files lawsuit over Va. happy hour restrictions

WASHINGTON — Chef Geoff Tracy, who owns three restaurants in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, filed a federal First Amendment lawsuit Wednesday targeting Virginia’s happy hour advertising law.

Tracy told WTOP that current legislation in Virginia regarding happy hour laws are restrictive, outdated and hurt his business and bottom line in the state. The lawsuit has been filed against the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

“I have my First Amendment rights. I should be able to tell you that the beer is $5 or it is $2 off. I think every reasonable person would agree that is kind of ridiculous,” Tracy said.

“It’s just kind of a weird limitation on free speech or creative advertising speech that doesn’t make any sense. It’s a challenge to comply with,” Tracy said.

In contrast, in D.C. or Maryland, Tracy can list the specific cost of a beer.

Virginia law also bans advertising the use of any other terms other than “happy hour” or “drink specials.” It is also illegal to call specials “two for one.” Instead, restaurants in Virginia may offer “half-priced” drinks, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation.

In a lawsuit filed on behalf of Tracy, the Pacific Legal Foundation argued that Virginia’s happy hour advertising restrictions prevent restaurants from speaking freely and truthfully about their business and that the rules are a violation of the First Amendment.

While Tracy promotes specials such as “Wine down Wednesdays” and “$5 margaritas” at his restaurants in Maryland and D.C., at his restaurant in Tysons Corner in Vienna, Virginia, the exact same ads would violate state law and could lead to fines and suspension of Tracy’s liquor license.

Top in his class at the Culinary Institute of America, Tracy has scooped numerous awards including The Best Neighbor Award (for contributions to the community) and Washingtonian Magazine’s “Best Local Chef.” He also served on the executive board of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.

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