Tiny tidbits is where I will explore some culinary and foodie questions that I get asked a lot or that I hear get asked often.
We’ve all heard it in restaurants when orders are called. “86 the tomato” or also when refusing to serve a customer.
So where did the term originate?
I have heard it was from a restaurant (Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City) the 86 item on the menu (The steak and the most popular item) was the first thing they ran out of. It is said 86 originated there as shorthand for being out of an item.
I have also heard it was used because it rhymes with the word nix.
A favorite theory has to do with the a famous NY speakeasy in the 1900’s named Chumley’s that was located at 86 Bedford St. The entrance was discreet, private and through an interior adjoining courtyard. Allegedly, the cops were on the payroll and whenever they were about to raid the joint they would call ahead and warn the bartender. Again, allegedly, the bartender would say “86 everybody” which meant to get everyone out through the Bedford St. entrance cause the cops were coming through the courtyard. – I am particularly fond of this theory.
There is also the soda jerk theory. Which basically there were a lot of numeric codes used by the clerks. 86 meant out of an item. 33 meant that they wanted a cherry-flavored coke. 99 meant to be careful the manager was on the prowl. 87 1/2 meant there was a hot babe to check out.
Yet another popular theory is the soup kitchen and breadlines in the Great Depression. The standard cauldron held 85 cups of soup which meant the 86 person in line was left with an empty bowl and thus they were out of food.
There are several other theories that I an list. Like 86 being the end of the line for a Manhattan streetcar line. Or the 86 proof whiskey reserved for the ladies in the Old West which was also sold/given to rowdy cowboys instead of the standard 100 proof.