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How Pre-Prohibition Drinking Laws Led New Yorkers to Create the World’s Worst Sandwich

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Near the end of the 19th century, New Yorkers out for a drink partook in one of the more unusual rituals in the annals of hospitality. When they ordered an ale or whiskey, the waiter or bartender would bring it out with a sandwich. Generally speaking, the sandwich was not edible. It was “old desiccated ruin of dust-laden bread and mummified ham or cheese,” wrote the playwright Eugene O’Neill. Other times it was made of rubber. Bar staff would commonly take the sandwich back seconds after it had arrived, pair it with the next beverage order, and whisk it over to another patron’s table. Some sandwiches were kept in circulation for a week or more.

Bar owners insisted on this bizarre charade to avoiding breaking the law—specifically, the excise law of 1896, which restricted how and when drinks could be served in New York State. The so-called Raines Law was a combination of good intentions, unstated prejudices, and unforeseen consequences, among them the comically unsavory Raines sandwich.

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Three men feast on free lunch in this drawing by Charles Dana Gibson. Image from the Public Domain.

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https://getpocket.com/explore/item/to-evade-pre-prohibition-drinking-laws-new-yorkers-created-the-world-s-worst-sandwich?utm_source=pocket-newtab

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