The History of Bar Food

It just occurred to me today that chicken wings (Buffalo-style or not) were almost unknown in bars until a few years ago, then suddenly were everywhere. In other words, wings took over as the standard food available in bars.

Years ago, say up to 1975 or so, the bars I drank in (in small prairie towns) all had pickled eggs, some with a choice of pickled sausage. Later almost all of them abandoned the eggs and had only chips, nuts and pretzels. Later again they brought in hot dogs for a while, and finally moved on to wings.

All those transitions, as far as I can recall, were fairly sudden. One style of food would dominate for several years, even for ten or more, then within a year or so that ‘standard’ food would be replaced by another.

Have other people noticed this kind of progression? Have you seen the same sequence of foods, or is it different in different areas? Most important (though still Mundane and Pointless enough!), are the transitions as quick as I remember?

The transitions could have been fairly quick, especially if you were drinking at a place that tried to be even remotely “trendy.” The key things that all bar food have in common are:

  1. They are cheap and easy to produce

  2. They are salty/sour/hot, thus promoting greater consumption of beer

  3. They can be eaten with the hands

Whenever a new generation of drinkers hits the bars, their prefered snack foods come with them. I don’t know of any 20-something drinker who has had a pickled egg, for instance. Too bad…they are missing a wonderful piece of bar history. :smiley:

I certainly agree with all your points, silenus, but there’s one problem. The bars I started with are those in the small prairie towns I mentioned in the OP. Those are very much NOT trendy.

For example, the bar in Yellowgrass, Saskatchewan, was said to have had the same four old farmers at the same table in the corner for nearly forty years, dust and cobwebs and all. The dust and cobwebs were an exaggeration. However, the same jar of pickled eggs was on the bar for the same time, but change went on around it. The place went through the first few changes I mentioned, up through hot dogs, but each was about ten years late.

I’m a twenty-something drinker, I’ve had pickled eggs, and there’s no way in hell that those things are wonderful. I don’t care how drunk you are.


I said a wonderful piece of history…not a gastronomic delight! Scotch Eggs, on the other hand…

rjk, I’ll bet the owners of the bar read a magazine somewhere, or their beer distributor told them about what was going on in the Big City, or they caught it on CCTV reruns of Cheers.

Another twenty-something drinker here who’ll second that.

I’ll stick to Pork Scratchings.

Scotch Eggs hmmmm…

chop em in half. mash up the egg with salad cream (heinz of course) then spoon the mixture back into each of the halves. Heaven.

[hijack]You know what, the whole concept of bar food was foreign to me till I came to Canada recently (for a 4 months internship).
The people there told me that there is a law that you have to have food on the menu when you’re serving alcohol.

Around here in Germany we don’t have such a law, so most bars just serve drinks and not food. There is a law however that one non-alcoholic beverage on the menu needs to be the cheapest priced item. Usually it’s either water (water isn’t free around here either) or tomato juice.[/hijack]

In PA, in order to get a license to be open Sunday (an absolute must around here, since Steeler games will bring in a LOT of revenue), a certain percentage of sales must be food…so, the old pickled egg jar and packages of salty nuts had to go out the door…now most bars are restaurants as well, and have full-service menus.

Not that bar food is terrible by any means. I’m glad that Fathead’s in Pittsburgh has been consistently lauded for their absolutely fantastic menu, and I’d much rather go there than a stuffy black-tie joint any day of the week.

Regionality plays a big part. Here in Washington State, and old blue law demands that bars serve food. So to be in compliance most places have a toaster oven and godawful frozen pizzas.

In Wisconsin, however, the food was as much an attraction as the booze. Swiss cheese sandwiches with horseradish, fried cheese curds, landiaggers (dried sausages), and GOOD pickled eggs (not hard boiled eggs tossed into an empty grocery store jar of pickle brine).

Too many places haven’t the cultural impetus to offer this, since we’re not expected to go to bars to enjoy ourselves but rather to try to meet women (which, as I remember from my single days, was not at all enjoyable), so the food is salty peanuts or pretzyls form communal bowls. Considering how many people go into the john, piss and shit without washing their hands, then dive back into the bowl, this is even less of a gastonomic delight.

Chicken wings were a big deal in suburban Philly 20+ years ago. Still are in many pubs.

My personal intro to bar food was with a guy I worked for. We walked across the street to an old fashioned gin mill for lunch. The bartended served some awesome homemade soups, and with a grilled ham and cheese sammitch-this was a good lunch for $2. My boss asked for one of those green peppers sitting in the big jar behind the bar, next to the pickled eggs, and offered one to me. He bit it off at the stem and munched away. I did the same.

In the next thirty seconds, I learned that my earlobes can sweat. Russ and Al had a good laugh watching my eyes tear, nose run, and face turn red.

Years later-now I can bite them off at the stem, too-no sweat! :cool:

Did anyone else think this was going to be about stuff like granola bars?

The bars I frequent don’t seem to offer any sort of food beyond popcorn and peanuts except during happy hours so I can’t say as I’ve noticed any big trends.