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Restaurateur Geoff Tracy Sues Virginia Over Happy Hour Restrictions

Attorneys argue that censoring happy hour deals violates the First Amendment

Local restaurateur Geoff Tracy at one of his area restaurants.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

Geoff Tracy, the founder and operator of neighborhood restaurants in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, has filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control challenging the state’s right to bar him from fully promoting happy hour specials.

Under existing law, restaurants and bars in Virginia are prohibited, among other things, from listing discounted prices in any marketing materials and can only use generic terms such as “happy hour” and “drink specials” when announcing featured offerings. Including information about the length of happy hour is fine; mentioning “two-for-one” drink specials is not. Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), the law firm representing Tracy pro bono in this case, argues that the rules are unfair.

“The Constitution guarantees Chef Geoff’s right to talk freely and truthfully about his restaurants’ happy hours — including prices and creative terminology,” PLF writes in a statement regarding its dealings with Tracy. “PLF is suing Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control in federal court to vindicate his First Amendment rights, and put bureaucrats on notice that they can’t censor truthful, non-misleading information.”

As outlined in the complaint, the lawyers say that Tracy’s business is built on beating competitors “by offering happy hour specials in a town well-known for its love of happy hour.” The legal team asserts that he should be allowed to do so in a meaningful and honest way.

“Chef Geoff does not seek to advertise to children, or to promote illegal activity, or to encourage excessive drinking. Instead he seeks to communicate truthful information about his legal business practices to the public,” PFL writes.

A spokeswoman for the Virginia ABC tells Eater the current regulations have been in place since January 2014. She says ABC does not comment on pending litigation, noting only that Tracy’s suit “is something new.”

Chef Geoff's Tysons

8045 Leesburg Pike, , VA 22182 (571) 282-6003 Visit Website

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