With liquor reform, Kansas welcomes happy hour

06/29/2012 5:00 AM

05/16/2014 6:53 PM

Starting Sunday, Kansans will be able to get some of the same drink specials their Missouri neighbors have enjoyed for decades.

Happy hour discounts and free wine samples are among the changes coming to restaurants, bars, retail liquor stores, wineries and distilleries, thanks to new Kansas liquor laws.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed the legislation into law in late May. Many Kansas operations will start rolling out specials next week, giving their counterparts across the state line new competition.

The changes couldn’t come soon enough for pizza shop owner Jason Pryor.

He’s offered a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays since opening Pizza 51 nearly a decade ago near the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Now his Pizza 51 West, which opened in Fairway in 2011, will join in. Starting Monday, both operations will serve $2 domestic beers and $6 pitchers between 3 and 6 p.m. weekdays.

“It was silly,” he said. “I just wanted it to be consistent with my (Missouri) location.”

Among the changes in Kansas laws:

• Bars and restaurants will be able to offer discounted happy hour drinks for limited periods during the day.

• Retailers, including liquor stores, will be able to serve free samples in their shops and host wine and beer tastings. Liquor suppliers also can participate in the store events.

• Bars and restaurants will be able to offer discounted drink prices to specific groups, such as “ladies night” promotions.

• Micro-distilleries and manufacturers will be able to serve free samples on their premises.

• Farm wineries will be able to sell and serve their products on their premises.

• Beer and cereal malt beverages will not be allowed to be served in pitchers containing more than 64 fluid ounces and serving other alcoholic drinks in pitchers will be prohibited.

Legislation to permit the sale of wine and liquor in Kansas grocery stores did not pass this year. Missouri grocery stores can sell wine and liquor.

Happy hour started as a promotion aimed at helping customers cheaply unwind from their workday and to bring in business during a lull between lunch and dinner.

But industry experts said concerns over binge drinking led to tighter restrictions in Kansas liquor laws in the 1980s. For example, Kansas restaurants and bars wanting to offer happy hour specials have had to offer them all day and not just in their bars, but in their dining rooms, too.

That effectively “tied businesses’ hands in having to offer cheap prices all day,” said Adam Mills, president and chief executive officer of the Wichita-based Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association. “If a hotel catered a private event and discounted the wine they would have to offer that same price throughout the hotel for that day.”

Mills called the liquor law changes “a big victory. Now they can compete on an even playing field with Missouri businesses.”

Mestizo by Aarón Sánchez in Leawood’s Park Place had offered different drink discounts on different days. But starting Sunday, for example, it will offer $3 well drinks, $3 select shots and $3 off wine by the glass from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 10 p.m. to closing daily as part of a late-night special.

“We’ll have a greater discount, a bigger offering of items, higher quality drinks. I think we will bring in new customers,” said Joshua Cervantes, assistant general manager of Mestizo.

Tavern in the Village in Prairie Village will offer $5 select red and white wines and $5 house martinis from 4 to 6 pm. weekdays in its bar. Previously, it offered those same discounts as a “Wine Down Wednesday” promotion but just on Wednesdays and all day — from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. in both its bar and dining room.

Some chain operations on Friday said they were waiting for approval from corporate headquarters before starting new promotions. Other restaurants and bars, as well as some trade groups, were still confused about the changes in the law and were taking a wait-and-see approach.

Louie Riederer of Johnny’s Tavern, which has locations on both sides of the state line, is still considering what new promotions to offer in Kansas.

“I don’t think people drive a distance to drink,” Riederer said. “They are eating close to home and being responsible about it. But owners have to be financially responsible and socially responsible. Doing three-for-one drinks, where they put three drinks in front of someone, isn’t good for anyone.”

Along with traditional happy hour promotions at restaurants and bars, many Kansas retailers also will now be able to offer wine tasting.

Buckley’s Wine Market will celebrate with a sparkling wine tasting from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday. It will start regular wine tastings from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

“What is a sweet wine to one person isn’t a sweet wine to another. Wine tastings reassure them,” said Cate Buckley, co-owner with her husband, Lance. Under the old liquor laws, she said, consumers could “drive five miles to a World Market in Missouri for a wine tasting, or anywhere in Missouri. It was like having my hands tied behind my back.”

Previously, BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery in Eudora would hold wine tastings at farmers’ markets. Owner Pep Selvan said he would see $1,000 to $1,500 of his wine being consumed, with no return other than the potential that someone would later make a purchase at the winery.

“I think what’s happened is there’s been enough of a rebirth of the winery and vineyard industry in Kansas for the state to see the potential for some solid revenues from our industry,” he said.

Selvan said the wine industry in Kansas has tripled in growth in the last seven or eight years.

Despite the liquor reforms, grocers and other businesses didn’t get everything they wanted.

So Buckley’s Wine Market will continue to operate side-by-side stores in Overland Park — one for liquor, one for gourmet food items.

“I can always tell when someone isn’t from Kansas,” said Cate Buckley. “They come in and they are confused which door to go into.”

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