The Sandwich You Don’t Want to Eat

In 1896, New York State passed sweeping liquor regulations under the Raines Law, named after the state senator who sponsored it. The law raised liquor licenses dramatically, raised the drinking age, and most importantly, it mandated that bars not open on Sundays. However, like most laws, this one had some exceptions, and those exceptions led to loopholes — and terrible sandwiches. Hotel restaurants were still allowed to serve liquor, as long as it came with food. For owners of saloons, this provided an opportunity. When customers ordered an ale or whisky, the waiter or bartender would bring it out with a sandwich. Generally speaking, the sandwich was not edible. It was usually an old dried-out ruin of dust-laden bread and mummified ham or cheese. Other times it was made of rubber. Bar staff would 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. The Raines Law was repealed in 1923 as part of an early pushback against Prohibition and its unintended consequences.