Owners of popular Hub bars voice opposition to ‘happy hour’ in Massachusetts

Looks like "happy hour" will not be returning to Massachusetts.
NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO

It appears it’s still going to be a while before you’re able to get discount “happy hour” drinks in Massachusetts.

Owners and representatives from dozens of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants voiced their strong opposition to easing restrictions on the state’s “happy hour” regulations.

“Happy hour only encourages over consumption,” said Austin O’Connor, head of The Briar Group, which operates Ned Devine’s, The Green Briar, Anthem Kitchen and Bar, The Harp and other establishments. “Happy hour is absolutely a bad thing for our industry.”

The comments were made during an Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission hearing in Boston today, which sought input on a possible change to the state’s “happy hour” regulations to prevent “unfair competition” from future casinos. The recently passed expanded gambling bill allows casinos to give free drinks to certain patrons, according to the State House News Service.

The commission is expected to file recommendations on the matter by the end of January.

Besides monitoring over consumption, the establishment owners cited concerns over openings by inexperienced restaurateurs, increases in drunken driving and being forced to compete against thousands of establishments versus a casino.

If “happy hour” regulations are eased, some owners said they would be forced to offer discounted drink to compete and it would be a “race to the bottom” in the industry.

“We make investments in our business … in some cases millions of dollars to put together a great venue, great food, great service and a nice atmosphere,” said Douglas Bacon, president of the Red Paint Hospitality Group that operates establishments including the White Horse Tavern and Avenue Bar & Grill in Allston and The Corner Tavern in the Back Bay. “If happy hours are allowed to come back to Massachusetts, an inexperienced operator who is under capitalized can take a former shoe store, set up a bar and start selling $2 drinks and undercut everyone else in the neighborhood.”

Currently, liquor regulations don’t allow for free drinks or a variation in drink prices during a day or in a calendar week.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association also expressed their opposition to easing the restrictions.

State Treasurer Steven Grossman, who oversees the ABCC, wouldn’t say yesterday where he stood on the issue, but did say he had “overarching concerns about public safety.”

The commission held its fourth hearing today, which was its only one in Boston. A commissioner said she has only heard one person speak in favor of easing the restrictions for a true “happy hour.”

During today’s hearing, one group did speak up in support of easing the restrictions, but in a limited way.

Vincent Errichetti, representing the Restaurant and Business Alliance that is overseen by the operators of the Phantom Gourmet, said the group supports limiting variations in drink prices to only two days per week versus seven.

“It’s a simple, logical and safe change in policy,” he said.


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