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Dec 18, 2007 01:04 PM

Eighty Six in restaurant speak

As Cicero said, "Nulla sine lite dies" . This one is for today's:

“For years I’ve wondered about the origin of the term eighty-six, which I’ve heard mainly among restaurant workers. It seems to mean either that the restaurant is out of something (‘we’re eighty-six on flounder’) or, less often, that something should be gotten rid of (‘eighty-six that monkey — the health department is outside’). A television program recently reported that it originated at a New York City speakeasy, Chumley’s, located at 86 Bedford Street. During Prohibition, when a raid was imminent, a cop on the take would call and warn the proprietor to ‘eighty-six it’: hide the booze and get the customers out. The story sounds plausible, but I wonder whether you can confirm it.”

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  1. I believe the term started at Delmonico's in NYC. I seem to recall it had to do with the # 86 item on the menu no longer available.....and the rest is history.

    The item was The Delmonico Steak.


    1. I have researched this backwards and forwards, sideways and upside down for years, heard all the possible explanations in the worldwidewords piece, have heard fourunder's explanation and many others...and nothing is definitive.

      1. jfood was sitting in a meeting in Las Vegas earlier this year and one of the long time casino operators told jfood the following of the history of the term "86". Whether it is true is up to the listener.

        It related to years ago when the "body" was "taken 80 miles out and buried 6 feet deep."

        So what happens in Vegas does not necessarily stay in Vegas.

        4 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          Interesting story but I'm pretty sure the expression pre-dates Vegas.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe black, maybe red. jfood likes the story and awaits some others.

            1. re: jfood

              I like Jfood's story. It seems to make the most sense, actually. It may have started in NYC or Chicago in the Mobster days and then moved out to Vegas where it was carried on. No fishies to swim with in Vegas.

              1. re: jfood

                I was told the same story as jfood, Only referring to the NY/NJ area when uhhh... "disposable individuals" were taken 80 miles to what was then the wilds of NJ, and 'secured' 6 ft under...(Hoffa, is that you down there?) You'd think someone would know the origin. It's not as though it dates back to prehistoric times...

          2. I wondered about this for a long time too. I’ve always thought that it might have started as a kind of rhyming slang for “Nix” or “das ist nix”... No idea if this it true or not....

            Uncle Ira

            6 Replies
                    1. re: RicRios

                      seems like one of those things that started for an obscure reason and spread. the morse code reference is interesting, but did it pre or post - date the other references?

                1. re: Uncle Ira

                  is 'das ist nix' restaurant speak too? and i thought that's what 86 meant as well

                2. The way I first heard it, it was supposedly an east coast restaurant with 85 tables. If when you came in and the owner didn't approve or like you, he told the host/ess to seat you at table 86, whereas you were taken to the back door and let out.