The Barcelona that laughs at the 'happy hour' veto

The law is done, the cocktail is done.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
17 September 2023 Sunday 10:21
19 Reads
The Barcelona that laughs at the 'happy hour' veto

The law is done, the cocktail is done. Or the trap. The law to put a stop to unbridled alcohol consumption is failing in Barcelona. With José Montilla as president of the Generalitat and Marina Geli as Minister of Health, the Parliament of Catalonia approved this norm in 2009. The provision created the Public Health Agency of Catalonia, regulated epidemiological research and promoted occupational health, among others. goals.

The Public Health Law 19/2009, which was published in the Official Gazette of the Generalitat and in the BOE, had 80 articles and 42 pages. But it was known above all for two paragraphs of the first final provision, seven lines that declared war on excessive alcohol intake and prohibited promotional offers on alcoholic beverages, including open bars, 2-for-1 or happy hour sales. The happy hour.

From the beginning it was known that this would be a difficult law to comply with because it conflicted with commercial freedom. And because it could cause perverse and unwanted effects, such as making the drink cheaper. "What's worse? “Sell a drink for two euros all day or sell it for four and reduce it by half for a few hours?” asks a bartender. Disquisitions aside, the law says what it says. And not everyone obeys her.

The norm, which sought “the promotion of individual and collective health”, also created the Catalan Food Safety Agency and imposed heavy fines on those who incited alcohol excesses, directly responsible for some 195,000 deaths a year in the EU. This is “the psychoactive substance with the highest prevalence of consumption,” denounces the latest report from the Ministry of Health on drug addiction.

Fourteen years later, the reality is not rosy. The vast majority of the sector complies with the law, but the exceptions are much more than isolated cases. A tourism website reports “the best places with happy hour in Barcelona.” And there is more. The lists need to be updated because some bars have closed, although you don't need the Internet to discover that others are keeping the happy hour hook. Just a walk is enough.

Happy hour is just a motto: the drinks cost the same before and after, some locals say. Many offenders, however, advertise variable prices depending on the time. And, although it was just a slogan, the law provides for “the control of advertising” and vetoes the aforementioned promotions “or other similar ones.” Despite this, it is common to read signs like this: “Try... (a Japanese blonde beer brand) and win exclusive gifts.”

“Happy hour,” announces the blackboard of another restaurant, also visible to everyone. “Two cocktails for five euros at happy hour,” proclaims a bar near Plaza Catalunya. These complaints are frequent in the city center, with proposals written in Spanglish or directly in English. “Happy hour aperitif, from 5 to 9 p.m.,” says a bar. “Happy hour from 5 to 8 p.m. every day”, adds a pub near the Rambla.

“Order a beer and we'll give you a shot.” “Magnificent cocktails for 3.50 euros until 11 p.m.” “Cocktails for four euros at happy hour.” “Cheap beer (happy hour until 10:30 p.m.)”… The explanations about why the promotions are offered differ if the interlocutor presents himself as a journalist or as an inquiring customer. “Company policy”, “freedom of prices, which are what they are” and “happy hour is just an expression”.

The most curious arguments, however, are those referring to a bucket of ten beers with some patatas bravas. The special offer refers to the reduction in the price of the tapa, not the drink, explains an employee. It's like those ads that try to get around the resale ban: "I'm selling a Bic pen for a thousand euros and giving away two tickets to the concert of...". Other attitudes, however, are less defensible.

An establishment near the port offers special prices for “beer, vodka and tequila in a long glass until 10 p.m.” Further towards the beach, in Barceloneta, Paseo Joan de Borbó has one of the highest concentrations of happy hour advertisements per square meter. The added problem, in addition to the challenge to the law that tries to combat the promotion of excessive alcohol intake, is the uniformity of the offer.

There are still businesses on this promenade that defend variety and quality tooth and nail, but they are increasingly surrounded, such as the Gallic village of Asterix and Obelix. The same menus, the same photos of the dishes, the same menu prices... And the same cocktails. No combinations with euphonious names like Manhattan or Pisco Sour. Sex on the beach and the very elegant kamasutra 69 are styled here.

Most of the waiters on the Rambla do not ask customers, almost all foreign tourists, when they order a beer. And they serve them the drink in an XXXL size glass. In other businesses in the city, customers are encouraged to play beer pong, a type of ping pong that consists of placing the ball in a glass, usually with alcohol (although not always beer) and having a rival player drink it. .

“Alcohol is not a means of well-being, joy and closer contact with others, but rather a toxic determinant of more than 60 types of diseases,” says doctor and alcoholism researcher María Luisa Marín, who chairs an NGO awarded for its fight in this area, the Rauxa Association. Why is Public Health Law 19/2009 still far from the objectives set in the two key paragraphs of its first final provision?

La Vanguardia has asked this question to the Health Department of the Generalitat, which evades the issue and refers “to the Public Health Agency of Barcelona” because “it is in charge of executing the happy hour ordinance in the Catalan capital.” 19/2009 is a law of regional rank, specifies a municipal spokesperson for this institution, which is entrusted with the public health functions of Barcelona City Council.

From January to August, the City Council has initiated a minimum of 349 disciplinary proceedings for infractions related to the marketing of alcohol, including “the promotion of alcoholic beverages through contests or uncontrolled consumption.” Taking into account that Christmas is still missing, along with summer, a particularly favorable time, 2023 has already surpassed the records of 2021 (320) and could surpass those of 2022 (408).

The happy hour veto and the law in general, which covers many more aspects and was the first of these characteristics of an autonomous community, received praise from international organizations. But, as the Generalitat said in 2009, “we do not have 25,000 inspectors to ensure compliance nor can we put a police officer in each bar: we need the sector to regulate itself and time.” It's been fourteen years now.