Omnivore - Feature: Unhappy hour

Drink specials, though ubiquitous in Atlanta's bars and restaurants, are illegal. What gives?

Chalk it up to a city that seems hell-bent on stymieing the flow of booze: Along with rolled-back bar hours, blue Sundays and Kafkaesque liquor license applications, it’s totally illegal for bars and restaurants to serve discounted drinks.

Happy hour? Nope, not unless the prices are the same during every other hour. Half-price bottles of wine? Technically, not allowed. A bottomless glass of wine for a set price? Not even close.

“To offer a special, you basically have to offer it every day,” attorney Hakim Hilliard says. “So it can’t be a special.”

What about a place that offers a particular type of liquor only on a certain day — say, a pizzeria that sells $2 margaritas on Tuesdays? Because margaritas aren’t sold any other day, that’s not a discount, right?

“I think that’s a stretch,” says Hilliard, who’s familiar with the law both as a former city attorney and as a lawyer who’s represented bars and restaurants charged with violations of Atlanta’s liquor code.

The specific law Hilliard cites has been on the books since at least the late ’70s. The law makes it illegal to sell “any alcoholic beverage at a price less than the price regularly charged for such alcoholic beverage during the same calendar week.” It also outlaws “using coupons or other special promotional items as an inducement to purchase alcoholic beverages.”

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(Photo by Joeff Davis)