The 'happy hours' of indomitable Barcelona

The Catalan law to limit the unrestrained consumption of alcohol is making waves in Barcelona.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
17 September 2023 Sunday 11:14
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The 'happy hours' of indomitable Barcelona

The Catalan law to limit the unrestrained consumption of alcohol is making waves in Barcelona. With José Montilla as president and Marina Geli as Minister of Health, the Generalitat approved the rule in 2009. The provision created the Public Health Agency of Catalonia, regulated epidemiological research and promoted occupational health, among other objectives.

Public Health Law 19/2009 had 80 articles and 42 folios. But it became known as two paragraphs of final provision one, seven lines that declared war on excessive alcohol consumption and banned promotional offers of alcoholic beverages, including free bars, 2x1 or markdowns of the so-called happy hour. happy hour

The law also created the Catalan Food Safety Agency and imposed heavy fines on those who incite alcohol excesses, directly responsible for around 195,000 deaths a year in the European Union. This is "the psychoactive substance with the highest prevalence of consumption", denounces the latest report of the Ministry of Health on drug addiction.

Fourteen years later, the reality is not encouraging. The vast majority of the industry complies with the law, but there are many exceptions. A website about tourism reports on "the best bars with happy hour in Barcelona". And there are more. Lists need updating. Some bars have closed, but you don't need the internet to discover others. A walk is enough.

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

Happy hour is just a catchphrase: combos cost the same before and after, some locals claim. Many infringers, however, advertise variable prices depending on the time. And, despite the fact that it is only a slogan, the law establishes "the control of advertising" and bans promotions. However, it is common to read posters like this: "Taste... (a Japanese blonde beer) and win gifts".

"Happy hour", announces a restaurant. "Two cocktails for five euros during happy hour", proclaims another restaurant, very close to Plaça Catalunya. Proposals in Spanglish or directly in English are frequent. "Happy hour aperitif, from 5 to 9 p.m.," says a bar. "Happy hour from 17 to 20 h every day", adds a pub.

"Ask for a beer and we'll give you a thimble." "Magnificent cocktails for 3.50 euros until 11pm". "Cocktails for four euros during happy hour" and "cheap beer (happy hour until 10:30 p.m.)"... The explanations differ if the interlocutor presents himself as a journalist or as an inquiring customer: "Policy of company" and "happy hour is just an expression".

An establishment near the port offers special prices for "beer, vodka and tequila in long glasses until 10pm". Further towards the beach, Passeig Joan de Borbó brings together one of the most important concentrations of happy hour advertisements per square meter.

An added problem is the uniformity of the offer. There are still businesses on this promenade of Barceloneta that defend variety and quality, but they are increasingly surrounded. The same cards, the same photos, the same menu prices... And the same cocktails. Nothing about combinations of euphonic names like manhattan. Sex on the beach and Kamasutra 69 are particularly successful here.

Most waiters on La Rambla don't ask customers when they order a beer. And they serve them the drink in giant glasses. In other businesses, beer pong is encouraged, a type of ping-pong that consists of introducing the ball into a glass, usually with alcohol (not always beer), so that a player from the rival team drinks it.

"Alcohol is not a way of well-being, joy and getting closer to others, but a toxic determinant of 60 types of diseases", says doctor and alcoholism researcher María Luisa Marín, who chairs the Associació Rauxa. Why is law 19/2009 still far from the goals it set?

La Vanguardia has asked this question to the Department of Health of the Generalitat, which evades the issue and refers it to the Public Health Agency of Barcelona because "it is in charge of implementing the happy hour ordinance in the Catalan capital ". This law is of regional level, explains a spokesperson for this institution, which is entrusted with the public health functions of Barcelona City Council.

From January to August, the Consistory initiated at least 349 disciplinary proceedings for violations in the sale of alcohol, including "the promotion of alcoholic beverages with contests or uncontrolled intake". Considering that Christmas, an auspicious time, is still missing, 2023 has already surpassed the records of 2021 (320) and could surpass those of 2022 (408).

The happy hour veto and law 19/2009 in general, which includes more aspects and was the first of these characteristics of an autonomous community, received multiple international praises at the time. But the Generalitat already said in 2009 that it did not have "25,000 inspectors to enforce it and we cannot put a policeman at every bar: we need the sector to self-regulate and time". Fourteen years have passed since then.