Happy hours to expand in bill sent to Corbett

Beer was offered in small sample glasses at the recent International Great Beer Expo at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. (Laurence Kesterson / Staff Photographer)
Beer was offered in small sample glasses at the recent International Great Beer Expo at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. (Laurence Kesterson / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 23, 2011

HARRISBURG - Happy hour in Pennsylvania may soon get a lot happier.

Under legislation that received final House passage on Wednesday, bars and restaurants will get more flexibility to schedule the times they sell cheap drinks each week.

Bars would still have to comply with the total 14-hour-a-week happy-hour limit, but the bill increases the happy-hour period from two hours to four hours a day.

The legislation is part of a bill to address several issues in the state's arcane liquor code.

Rep. John Payne (R., Dauphin) said he introduced the bill because it baffled him that the state had such control over business owners' ability to set schedules.

"Why are we as a state dictating hours?" Payne asked. "Let restaurants and taverns pick when they want happy hour - when it's slow on a Thursday, say, rather than on a Monday night when football brings in a crowd."

Gov. Corbett will review the bill but is inclined to sign it, said a spokesman, Eric Shirk.

Passage of the bill was hailed by the state's bar and restaurant industry.

"We are thrilled with the Senate vote yesterday and thrilled with the House concurrence today," said Amy Christie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Tavern Owners Association. "We're confident the governor is going to sign on and bring our state's liquor laws another step into the 21st century."

She said the new law would help businesses operate more efficiently and respond to the demands of their patrons and clients.

A happy hour is defined as the time a bar is legally allowed to temporarily lower the price of alcoholic beverages, which under the liquor code must be set at a regular menu price and cannot be changed arbitrarily without changing the menu, Christie said.

The New Jersey Alcohol and Beverage Control Handbook contains no rules regarding happy hour scheduling.

The Pennsylvania bill also allows caterers with liquor licenses to provide liquor at off-site locations.

Under the convoluted current system, the party hosting the event has to bring the liquor and accept the liability - a hassle for anyone planning an event, such as a wedding where families have had to buy the alcohol and lug it to the reception site.

Also in the bill is a bonus for frequent fliers arriving in Pennsylvania airports from different time zones. The measure would allow airports to sell liquor starting at 7 a.m.

Lawmakers - after heavy lobbying by state liquor stores - scrapped a provision in Payne's original bill that would have allowed customers to buy up to three unopened bottles of wine from a restaurant to take home.

That disappointed restaurateurs who wanted to be able to provide wines not available in State Stores.

Payne pledged to continue to try to get that provision approved in the fall.

For now, to legally leave with wine, diners have to open the bottle they purchase, take a sip, and recork it before heading home.

But they had better not be driving - the motor vehicle code prohibits traveling with open alcohol containers.

Such is the rabbit hole that is the Pennsylvania liquor code.


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

Harrisburg bureau intern John Manganaro contributed to this article.

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