Alaska Life

Why Anchorage banned happy hour promotions

Part of a continuing weekly series on Alaska history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage or Alaska history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.

This article began with a relatively common reader question: why does Anchorage ban happy hour promotions at bars and restaurants? In most other states, happy hours are a social scene mainstay, with discounted drinks fueling some relaxation after long hours at work. Unencumbered by bosses, it is a time to imbibe, eat some bar food, and win some free drinks. In 40 states, it’s five o’clock somewhere. In the remaining 10, not so much, as Alaska was part of a national trend in the 1980s to prohibit such promotions.

The early 1980s were marked by a burgeoning awareness of the dangers of drunken driving specifically and the general ill effects from the overconsumption of alcohol. Amid this wave of shifting public perception, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, formed in 1980, fought for more rigorous liquor laws. And influenced by MADD advocacy, many towns and states across the country raised drinking ages, installed more severe penalties for driving under the influence, and increased funding for alcoholism treatment. MADD and its supporters likewise opposed happy hour drink specials as subsidized binge drinking.

Massachusetts was a leading battleground against happy hours. Framingham was an early indicator of public opinion when it banned discounted drink deals at bars in late 1982. Amid a litany of alcohol-related tragedies, one horrific tragedy inspired further action.

On Sept. 9, 1983, 20-year-old Kathleen Barry won several free pitchers of beer in a “name that tune” contest at a Braintree, Massachusetts bar. After some serious imbibing, she and her friends piled into the station wagon for a spin around a parking lot. Barry fell out and was dragged underneath the car for about 50 feet. Fueled by the free pitchers, the driver had consumed at least seven glasses of beer. Twenty was then the drinking age in Massachusetts. In December 1984, the state banned happy hour drink specials and free drink prizes, and raised the drinking age to 21.

There was no such precipitating incident in Alaska. More accurately, there were many such accidents and disasters but none that individually rose to the level of inspiring a movement. Anchorage’s happy hour ban can more specifically be traced back to Mayor Tony Knowles. When he took office in 1982, he identified alcohol abuse as a significant detriment to a better Anchorage. Amid his efforts to revitalize downtown, he tore down a block of notorious bars with criminal connections. As Knowles chauffeur turned politician Mark Begich told the Anchorage Times in 1987, “Tony wanted this to be more of a real city, a stable place to work and raise a family, not just a town to come into for supplies and to get drunk.”

In 1983, Knowles proposed drunken driving checkpoints, mandatory sobriety stops, that while proven effective, were at best controversial. As a step in that direction, a task force staffed with representatives from MADD and the liquor industry investigated options and took public comment. To the surprise of many, the Task Force on Drunk Drivers endorsed the proposal.


Knowles famously never lost a battle with the Assembly during his mayoral tenure. Every personal initiative, pet project, or whim passed. As he declared to the Times, he was “undefeated like Rocky Marciano.” Yet, perhaps for the sake of his 1984 reelection campaign — the incumbent defeated conservative bowtie aficionado Tom Fink by only 187 votes — Knowles did not pursue checkpoints. He compromised in favor of a police drunken driving patrol.

In April 1984, the task force delivered its final findings, including recommendations to curtail drunken driving. Their foremost suggestions were shorter bar and package store hours, and a complete ban on happy hours. By early 1985, there were statewide happy hour bans of varying strictness in Nebraska, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas. Michelle Glastetter, a research assistant for the National Conference of State Legislatures, noted, “It’s my sense that it’s just part of the general mood of the country, to crack down on drunken driving.”

A proposal to ban happy hours finally reached the Anchorage Assembly in the fall of 1985. While the public debate was divisive, actual stakeholders were in cautious agreement. In a letter to the Daily News, Katherine Bigler, president of the Anchorage Chapter of MADD, wrote, “The Anchorage Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving strongly supports tougher liquor laws that, among other things, would abolish happy hours. There is considerable data to show that as the price of alcoholic beverages goes down, consumption goes up.” Some bar owners opposed stricter elements of the proposed ordinance, such as a requirement to provide taxi rides for inebriated customers, but they generally agreed on banning happy hours to level the playing field and save money lost in promotions.

The new ordinance passed on Aug. 13, 1985 with a 9-2 vote. Assemblyman Rick Mystrom said, “It’s not perfect, but it’s the first step to solving the problem.” Assembly members Carol Maser and Don Smith comprised the minority. Said Maser, “This goes too far for an ordinance. Some of the things are very good, but others go too far and put government where it shouldn’t be.”

The current version of the ordinance, under Anchorage Municipal Code 8.35.416.015 on the pricing and marketing of alcoholic beverages, makes it illegal for an establishment to “sell, offer to sell, or deliver alcoholic beverages to a person or group of persons at a price less than the price regularly charged for the beverages during the same calendar week, except at private functions not open to the general public.” Free drinks or “the awarding of alcoholic beverages as prizes” are similarly prohibited.

Terry Yurashak, manager of the fashionable Spenardo Da Vinci club, claimed drink sales declined 30% in the two months after the ordinance went into effect. Yurashak told the Times, “Business has dropped off considerably. We advertised just the prices, which we can’t do anymore. I don’t think it’s right. Every business in town can advertise but us. We would like to entice them to come in if the price is right.” Spenardo Da Vinci opened on Spenard Road in 1984 and was closed by early 1987.

The bar at the since demolished Northern Lights Inn likewise saw a decrease in sales if not customers. Managing director Don Cruikshank said, “I think that the same people stop for a drink, they just don’t drink as much. It has definitely had an influence on our business.”

On the other hand, the happy hour ban had no impact on the Cabin Tavern on Muldoon Road. Owner Tiny DeSapio noted, “We never had a happy hour. The Cabin Tavern’s been word-of-mouth ever since we’ve been open.” While only an anecdotal example, the Cabin Tavern, with a lineage dating back to the 1956 opening of Swifty’s Club 13, is still in business today as opposed to clubs and bars that relied on happy hours for their appeal.

In 1986, Sen. Vic Fischer of Anchorage introduced a similar bill in the state Legislature. In wording, effect, and background, it essentially copied the standard from Anchorage. And like that ordinance, the bill was a compromise between MADD and a lobbying group for bars, restaurants, and hotels. It passed the Legislature with broad support and was signed into law by Gov. Bill Sheffield on June 3.

In the decades since, there has been no serious attempt to repeal the Alaska happy hour prohibition. Decades more research has only further emphasized the negative impact of happy hours on drinking behavior, most obviously its promotion of binge drinking. For example, a 2014 study found younger drinkers were particularly susceptible to overdrinking when prices dropped and subsequently twice as likely to drive or fight while intoxicated.

The rush to ban happy hour drink specials has long since faded, and even been lifted in some states. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb just this past week signed a law repealing their 40-year-old happy hour ban. Besides Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont each have some form of a ban on extreme alcohol discounts on their books.

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Key sources:

Baldwin, Julie Marie, John M. Stogner, and Bryan Lee. “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere: An Examination of the Association Between Happy Hour Drinking and Negative Consequences.” Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy 9, no. 1 (2014): 9-17.

Campbell, Larry. “Advisors Like DWI Measure.” Anchorage Daily News, October 27, 1983, A1, A12.

Campbell, Larry. “Task Force Suggest Earlier Bar, Liquor Store Closings.” Anchorage Daily News, April 5, 1984, C1.

Dwyer, Kayla. “Gov. Holcomb Signs Law Repealing 40-year-old ‘Happy Hour’ Ban in Indiana.” IndyStar, March 14, 2024.

Frost, George. “Memory Trail.” Anchorage Times, December 31, 1987, A1, A4.


Kaplan, Brent A., and Derek D. Reed. “Happy Hour Drink Specials in the Alcohol Purchase Task.” Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology 26, no. 2 (2018): 156-167.

Lipka, Mitch. “Happy Hour Ban Hurts Some Bars.” Anchorage Times, October 18, 1985, B1.

Metzger, Andy. “Dukakis Recalls Happy Hou Ban’s Origins, Guarantees More Deaths If It Returns.” Dorchester Reporter, October 26, 2011.

Postman, David. “Happy Hours Barred Under New City Law.” Anchorage Daily News, August 14, 1985, C1, C3.

Seagrave, Jane. “Ban on Happy Hours Spreads in Northeast.” Anchorage Daily News, August 2, 1984, A9.

Vandegraft, Doug. A Guide to the Notorious Bars of Alaska, Revised 2nd Edition. Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Press, 2014.

Welch, William. “More State Hop on Bandwagon to Ban Bar ‘Happy Hours.’” Anchorage Daily News, March 3, 1985, A5.

David Reamer | Histories of Alaska

David Reamer is a historian who writes about Anchorage. His peer-reviewed articles include topics as diverse as baseball, housing discrimination, Alaska Jewish history and the English gin craze. He’s a UAA graduate and nerd for research who loves helping people with history questions. He also posts daily Alaska history on Twitter @ANC_Historian.