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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.

                  1. Like Uncle Ira, I understood it was based on Cockney rhyming slang for "nix".

                    1. i love word/phrase origins...:o) here are some possibilities from wikipedia:

                      "The first recorded usage of this term occurs in the mid-1930s. Suggested theories of the origin of this usage include (in no particular order):
                      -Eighty miles out and six feet under; when a person who is to be killed by the mafia is forced to dig his own grave many miles away from civilization.
                      -Possibly a reference to article 86 of the New York state liquor code which defines the circumstances in which a bar patron should be refused service or "86ed".
                      -Another theory has it that this is rhyming slang for "nix." However, if so, it would be a wholly American origin, and thus would be unusual for rhyming slang.[1]
                      -Others have suggested that this usage originated from the famous Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City, as item number 86 on their menu, their house steak, often ran out during the 19th century. However, there is no recorded usage of this term in the nineteenth century.
                      -Another explanation is that Chumley's, which was a famous 1900s New York speakeasy, is located at 86 Bedford St. During Prohibition, an entrance through an interior adjoining courtyard was used, as it provided privacy and discretion for customers. As was a New York tradition, the cops were on the payroll of the bar and would give a ring to the bar that they were coming for a raid. The bartender would then give the command "86 everybody!", which meant that everyone should hightail it out the 86 Bedford entrance because the cops were coming in through the courtyard door.
                      -The term came into popular use among soldiers and veterans to describe missing soldiers as 86'd. Rather than describe buddies missing in action, it was slang to describe the MIA as being AWOL, therefore violating UCMJ Sub Chapter X Article 86.
                      -Another explanation is the possibility of a simple variation of the slang term deep six, which has identical meaning, and is simply meant to describe the approximate depth of water needed for a burial at sea.
                      -One possible origin is the public outdoor observatory on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, the site of more than 30 suicides.
                      -Another origin related to the Empire State Building is the fact that all the elevators stop at the 86th floor. Hence, everyone had to leave. The building opened in 1931, apparently a few years before the term became popular.
                      -For many baseball fans, the most popular if misplaced reference was born of the 1986 playoff debacle for the Boston Red Sox. Game 6 and (eventually) the World Series slipped through the glove of first baseman Bill Buckner in the bottom of the 9th inning. The Sox didn't recover from the letdown in time for Game 7 and the New York Mets took the '86 crown. With Red Sox fans long considering the team to be cursed from trading Babe Ruth for cash and the 1986 World Series representing the closest shot the team had at winning the World Series in decades, the term '86 took on the meaning of "not happening."