Why 19th-Century NYC Bars Intentionally Served Stale Sandwiches

Bar-goers beware! If you were headed to a NYC watering hole in the late 19th-century, chances are you would have been served a stale, or even worse, a rubber sandwich. In any case, the sandwich would be inedible. According to Atlas Obscura, establishments served these sandwiches not to please their potentially hungry guests but instead to comply with the 1896 Raines Law. This law was designed to curb public drunkenness and make it hard for the approximately 8,000 saloons in NYC to stay in business. 

According to Mental Floss, one provision of the Raines Law stated that bars were permitted to serve alcohol as long as a meal was served along with it. Debate ensued regarding what defined a meal. A clarification came from an attorney who informed police that a cracker was not a meal, but a sandwich could be. However, the sandwich simply had to be ordered, not necessarily eaten. And so, the Raines Sandwich was born. Sandwiches were prepared by bars, and when guests didn't eat them, they were served to the next customer. Some sandwiches were passed around for up to a week. Mental Floss claims the Raines Sandwich saved NYC bars from extinction. And coincidently, a similar 2020 law might have done the same thing in present times.

Did 'Cuomo Chips' help save the NYC bar industry?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on many bars. It's hard to run a business that revolves around people drinking when there is a mask mandate. In July 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order stating that all alcohol-serving bars must serve food along with drinks, something he believed would limit people's urge to mingle, as per Forbes

Similar to the enforcement period of the Raines Law, bars got creative in the food they served. One bar became famous for selling $1 "Cuomo Chips," which was quickly changed to "Cuomo Chips and Salsa" after it was deemed chips were not enough to meet the law's required food standard (via CNN). Like with Raines Law, some supported Cuomo's executive order, while others, like former mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, were not. "Bars and restaurants have been through enough this past year, but even still, they continue to be hampered by nonsensical pandemic regulations," Yang told New York Post. The "Cuomo Chips" order has since expired, hopefully long before rubber sandwiches were put on the menu.