Last Call?

Internet deals allowed the thirsty among us to drink at a discount. Until the state stepped in.



Massachusetts has long been famous for our unhappiest of all happy hours. It’s illegal for bars and restaurants to mark down alcohol here (thanks again, Puritans), but lately, some establishments have been getting around this old blue law by using social discount sites such as Groupon. It works simply enough: Groupon-users agree to pay, say, $20 for a ticket that can be redeemed for $40 worth of food or drink. Great, right? Well the state says it’s against the law.

That hasn’t proved much of a deterrent so far. Plenty of local spots, including Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar and Grill and Mantra, have offered Groupons that could be used for food or drinks. And some pubs have been particularly brazen about promoting liquor, highlighting their many beers or cocktails. When the Red Hat in Beacon Hill recently offered a $10 Groupon for $20 worth of fare, the promotion featured a photo of eight double shots lined up like dominoes. The pub’s general manager, Danielle Rieck, says the deal brought in herds of customers old and new. So how’d she skirt the restrictive law? “It’s not a discount; it’s a gift certificate,” Rieck explains. “You can use a gift certificate on anything.”

But the treasurer’s office, which oversees alcohol enforcement, disagrees. “Someone may have sold them that idea, but that’s simply not the case,” says communications director Barry Nolan. “If you redeem a gift certificate for a discounted rate and use it to buy alcohol, I’m afraid that’s not legal.”

So will the good times continue? It doesn’t look good: Groupon recently e-mailed buyers of a Tremont 647 deal, telling them it was no longer good on alcohol and offering refunds. Indeed, Nolan says his office sent Groupon, which declined to comment, a “friendly letter” letting them know that deals involving alcohol are foul play here. Nolan says if Groupon continues to offer other deals on booze, the state plans to take legal action against the site. Not exactly a friendly toast.