Chef Geoff Tracy Fights Virginia’s Happy Hour Ad Ban


Local D.C.-area chef Geoff Tracy is a bacon lover, popular food Instagrammer, and a budding legal activist. This week, aided by his attorneys at the Pacific Legal Foundation, he announced that he is suing the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Alcohol Beverage Control Authority over its alcohol advertising ban:

Award-winning restaurateur Chef Geoff Tracy owns three restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Only Virginia, however, restricts the way Chef Geoff advertises happy hour specials. While state law allows businesses to offer happy hour, it bans advertising happy hour prices, as well as the use of any terms other than “happy hour” or “drink specials.” Also, while restaurants may offer half-priced drinks, it’s illegal to call these specials “two-for-one.” In a lawsuit filed on behalf of Chef Geoff, [Pacific Legal Foundation] argues that Virginia’s happy hour advertising restrictions prevent restaurants from speaking freely and truthfully about their business—a clear violation of the First Amendment.

As someone who lives half a mile from his flagship location on New Mexico Avenue NW, I can attest to Tracy’s skills in providing tasty and refreshing treats to the residents of the D.C. metro area. But I also know that this isn’t his first time pushing back on foolish and burdensome government policies.

In 2012 he hired a sign-spinner to stand next to a stretch of Foxhall Road in Northwest D.C., near his Tenleytown restaurant, to alert drivers to a ticket-spewing speed trap monitored by a traffic camera.  But shouldn’t everyone be driving the posted speed limit, anyway, you ask? As Tracy told The Washington Post at the time, the placement was simply designed to generate additional tickets—and the city revenue that goes with them: “I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket in 21 years. With the new camera, I got 3 in 3 days. Ouch.”

Now, of course, the issue involving the lawsuit is even closer to his heart. As a host of a popular happy hour scene at each of his restaurants, it’s obviously in his interest to be able to advertise his specials. But it’s in everyone’s interest that business owners be able to provide clear and accurate information about what they’re offering and how much—or how little—it’ll cost you.

Commercial free speech is an important concept to stand up for. It benefits us all as consumers—and even as citizens, as our friend Adam Thierer memorably explained at a few years back.

Unfortunately, Virginia’s “no drink special advertising” rules are far from the only stupid state laws regulating alcohol. As a recent award-winning short film taught us, misguided restrictions on alcohol didn’t end with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

The Washington Business Journal had a rundown in 2013 of several additional “buzz-killing” Alcoholic Beverage Control laws in Virginia alone.

See more local coverage on the restrictions from WTTG Fox 5 here.

If you’re ready to test your legal knowledge, credulity, and possibly your sobriety, play along with attorneys and regulatory experts Anastasia Boden and Jarrett Dieterle as they try to guess whether a list of wacky alcohol restriction are real or made up. Also, browse CEI’s own work on food and beverage regulation here.