I was watching television last night and, during the show, the restaurant ran out of an item and the head chef said to “eighty-six it from the menu”. I realized that even though I have said it many, many times myself I never once looked into why it is used as a term (mostly in restaurants) to remove something or, better yet, someone from a bar. I decided to do some research and here’s what I found out.
There is no clear indication as to when the phrase was coined, though there are a couple of interesting theories. The first harkens back to Prohibition-era New York City. There was a bar named “Chumley’s” which was located at 86 Bedford Street. It served as a speakeasy during that time and a lot of policeman seemed to enjoy having a drink or two there. That being said, before a raid on the place they would call Chumley’s and warn them to “86” their customers, which meant having everyone leave via the door on 86 Bedford Street while the police politely showed up at the entrance on Pamela Court. It is also said to have originated simply because unruly patrons were thrown out of the Bedford door, thus being “86’d”.
Another interesting tie to the origin of the term is actually military in nature. The U.S. Navy uses and Allowance Type Code, which is a single digit code that identifies why something is being carried in stock. Naval warships are required to carry a lot of spare parts and such due to their long travels at sea. Also, because warships have a long life cycle, parts are often upgraded. After World War II there was a rash of warships being decommissioned or sold for scrap. As parts were carried to the supply room the lead clerk would give each part an Allowance Type designation. In the case of items that were to be tossed into the dumpster, they were given the designation AT-6 which, phonetically speaking, sounds like “86”.
Another theory is that it stems from old, mobster-era Las Vegas. When someone was “dealt with” they were said to have “86’d” the troublemaker, meaning the mobsters drove him eight miles out of town and put him six feet under.
Pretty cool, huh?