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Bringing happy hour back to Mass.? A skeptical Charlie Baker is ‘a hard sell’

Governor Charlie Baker shared reservations about removing a 40-year ban on happy hour drink promotions.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Happy-hour drink specials, long banned in Massachusetts, seem unlikely to be coming back this year if Governor Charlie Baker has the final say on it — and he probably does.

The Republican governor told reporters Thursday that he is “definitely a hard sell” on allowing the practice in Massachusetts, which the state Senate wants to resurrect after a nearly 40-year hiatus.

Senators passed a bill last week that would reverse the ban on happy hour drink promotions, approving late-night language to give municipalities the option to let restaurants serve up discounted drinks, such as two-for-the price-of-one beers, or half off shots between 4 and 6 p.m. That legislation is being reconciled with a House version, which didn’t include a return-of-happy-hour provision.


“They were the precursor of a lot of traffic accidents and, in some cases, fatalities, which is why they were eliminated in the first place,” said Baker, who noted that he was “around” when the state had happy hours. “I am definitely a hard sell on going back to them.”

The state’s prohibition on happy hours date back to the 1980s, when Governor Michael S. Dukakis approved a proposal by alcohol regulators to outlaw happy hour after a 20-year-old woman was killed in the parking lot of a Braintree bar after being dragged under a car driven by an intoxicated friend, according to a 1983 Patriot Ledger article about the incident. Newspapers at the time reported that the driver and her friend had left a trivia game at Ground Round in Braintree, where they received several free mugs of beers as prizes.

Baker on Thursday took a shot at the Legislature for taking up proposals to legalize happy hour instead of taking up “a variety of traffic safety and highway safety bills” that his administration has filed over the last few years.


“We haven’t really done much to make our roads safer,” Baker said. ”That is actually proven out in the data. The last couple years have been the most deadly on our highways and roadways in recent memory. Almost all of them involve speed. I am not inclined to support [happy hours].”

Customers left Houlihan's Restaurant and Bar in Boston in July, 1984, months before happy hours in Massachusetts were outlawed.Mark Cardwell/Globe Staff/file

The Senate’s happy hour proposal was added as an amendment to a $4.57 billion economic development bill, and would allow any city or town to vote to allow sale of discounted alcohol beverages at bars and restaurants during specific hours, so long as the discount is publicly announced at least three days in advance and doesn’t run past 10 p.m. The local governments would set their own regulations on how the rules would work.

Its sponsor, Truro Democratic Senator Julian Cyr, said the proposal would bring people together and spark a positive shift in the state’s drinking culture, which he characterized as “puritanical.”

But a top restaurant industry group expressed doubts. The Massachusetts Restaurant Association, which represents about 1,800 restaurants, told the Globe earlier this week the issue could “bring a lot of red tape” through which businesses might have to navigate — and could hurt the restaurants’ earnings.

The House did not include such a provision in their version of an economic development bill. So there’s no guarantee that the version that is sent to Baker will include happy hour language.

Senate budget chief Senator Michael J. Rodrigues told reporters Thursday that he was happy his chamber took action on the item.


As for House budget chief Representative Aaron Michlewitz?

“We are having discussions,” he said.

Because lawmakers have slow-walked several bills, including their economic development proposals, Baker is likely to have the final say on what becomes law.

The Legislature is set to wrap up its final formal legislative session on Sunday.

Samantha J. Gross can be reached at Follow her @samanthajgross.