Ah happy hour. The best hour of the day. Celebrate the time-honored tradition of the after-work drink on National Happy Hour Day, which takes place each year on November 12.
Happy hours may seem like a gift from the gods… but in reality, they’re a gift from the U.S. Navy. In 1913, a group of enthusiastic sailors aboard the USS Arkansas began hosting a “semi-weekly smoker” for their shipmates. This intrepid group of party planners referred to themselves as “Happy Hour Social,” and their “smokers” included entertainment like music, dancing, movies and boxing matches—and, of course, liquid libations.
Soon, the USS Arkansas was hosting “smokers” not just for their own crew, but for visiting sailors as well. In June 1913, they famously hosted the crew of the Minas Geraes—a Brazilian warship being escorted by the USS Arkansas to New York City. Soon, the news of their “happy hours” was making its way through the Navy, and the entire Atlantic Fleet got on board.
The popularity of the “happy hour” eventually landed the burgeoning celebration a mention in Our Navy—a commercial magazine dedicated to the activities of the U.S. Navy. The June 2018 issue included the first documented explanation of the “happy hour”:
Then next comes the popular “Happy Hour” programs which each ship stages once a week. These “Happy Hour” programs are what is known to civilian life as a “Smoker” or “Stag” and are held on the Quarter-deck, the music is furnished by the band better known to the sailor as the ship’s “Boiler-makers.” In the early evening the spacious deck is a modern day dancing academy but which later proves to be the arena while the big gun turrets serve as grandstands. Several very good boxing exhibitions are put on and sometimes a champion match, at which time maybe a grudge is settled. Cigars, cigarettes, and programs are distributed, and after the “bouts” maybe one will find ice cream and cakes. The evening winds up with “movies” and between reels the howls for “Bando!” will ring your ears.
It wasn’t long before “happy hours” were spreading throughout the rest of the U.S. military. When Prohibition went into effect in 1920, underground bars and speakeasies adopted the term to promote drinking before dinner. Savvy diners began enjoying “happy hours” before going out to dine at restaurants where alcohol couldn’t be served.
The practice continued after Prohibition was repealed, and the “happy hour” made its way into mainstream culture after a mention in a 1959 Saturday Evening Post.
Today, the term “happy hour” is used by bars and restaurants to promote pre-dinner drink specials, and has become synonymous with going out for an after-work drink.
In the 1980s, several U.S. states banned happy hours, preventing bars from offering drink specials under the guise of drunk driving prevention. Some, but not all statewide bans, have been overturned. But even if you live in Massachusetts in North Carolina, nobody can stop you from enjoying a pre-dinner drink on National Happy Hour Day—you might just have to pay full price or make a cocktail yourself.
National Happy Hour Day is typically celebrated